Coca Cola cough medicine

Well… almost. It’s been a hot and stuffy Friday afternoon in the office and I’m finding myself trying to find inspiration in clever design when I came across this innovative idea by a charity called ColaLife.

 ColaLife works in developing countries to ‘bring Coca Cola, its bottles and other together to save children’s lives by opening the distribution channels which Coca Cola uses to enable ‘social products’ such as oral rehydration salts and zinc supplements to use similar routes’ (http://www.colalife.org/about/)

This began with the concept of using space in Coca Cola crates transported around developing regions, this is currently being trialled in Zambia. In case you aren’t aware, in some countries it is common practice for Coca Cola and other bottled drinks (for which we, in the UK, would expect plastic bottles) to be sold in glass bottles which are then recollected by the seller and sent back to the company to be refilled. This earns the seller extra money (they get paid a small amount for each bottle that they return), eliminates waste material and means that Coca Cola spend a lot less on material.

On a recent trip to Tanzania I noticed this trend and was impressed with how resourceful the locals were with the materials that they could get their hands on. There is no throwing half a bottle in your bag for later or reusing it personally as a water bottle for a few days, plus there is something about drinking from a glass bottle that is (dare I say it) a bit classier. Having said that, I’m not sure drinking from a glass bottle while building a toilet for the local village can be called classy…

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Going back to ColaLife, they have noticed a gap in the market and a need that needs to be addressed. As a charity they have worked with a current service at no inconvenience to what is already in place. ColaLife realised that Coca Cola is something that is available virtually anywhere in the world but in developing countries there are areas where one in nine children die before their fifth birthday from preventable diseases like dehydration or diarrhoea. This is a heartbreaking statistic when you consider that this is sixteen times the average for developing countries where the same statistic stands at 1 in 152.

One girl I met when I was travelling was called Joy, she was a part of the village that we were building in and she was clearly very ill. While we were in the village she was extremely shy – we would be playing with the other children and she would join in when everyone else did but she would never be the first to run to catch the bubbles or chase after the ball. After a couple of days we gained her trust and she liked nothing more than to sit on our laps and watch what was going on. On one of the days we went to the village there was a change, she was quieter and kept falling asleep… it was horrible to know that we had food in our backpacks and clean water but couldn’t give it to them (under orders from our team leaders and the fact that we couldn’t give everyone something) but eventually our team leader came and took a look at her and told us she was very dehydrated so he subtley took her parents aside and gave them a bit of food and some clean water to give to her away from everyone else. It is heartbreaking to know that now, two years later, she or someone she knows may have died from such a simple, preventable problem.

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So ColaLife have developed this system, see the photo below to see how exactly their products fit in with the Coca Cola bottle system that is already in place. 

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The AidPod (as it’s known) fits between the necks of the bottles and utilises the unused space in the crate to take vital aid to areas where Coca-Cola is a commodity (now most places)

As well as carrying some simple but potentially life-saving products, the AidPod has other features. First and foremost it is a container for the products shown below but it also acts as a measure for the water needed to take the medicine and a cup for future use.

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So all in all this is an incredibly well thought through and resourceful product for use in a culture in which aid is often difficult to distribute. It has often been said that to get aid out into a community that isn’t ‘westernised’, we have to be sensitive to how their culture works – throwing medicines at them won’t work but integrating them into an already seamless system and making the most of the free (well, perhaps it’s not free but it won’t be super expensive) transportation and distribution systems that Coca Cola already has in place.

This really is a truly inspirational product and while I’m sat at my desk designing leaflets/posters/brochures etc I can’t help wondering whether we, as designers, could lend a little of our time to thinking about how we can help those who aren’t in our immediate environment. We hear about poverty all the time, and I’m not blind to the fact that there is poverty to an extent within the UK, but the fact that one in nine children are dying from something that could be fixed with an AidPod fitted inbetween bottles distributed by a global brand? That’s something the designers within ColaLife should be insanely proud of.

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