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Ruth, 24 mum-of-two, holds her second child, Brian, who is four months old. 

Photo: Lindsay Mgbor/DFID/CC BY 2.0

ColaLife - learn to fail; don’t fail to learn!

ColaLife

ColaLife, a small UK-based NGO, worked with mothers to co-create a new diarrhoea treatment kit to save more children’s lives across Zambia.

They famously tried distribution innovation by putting kits into Coca-Cola crates, but a robust trial showed that their novel approach to distribution was not important at all. It was their innovative product, combined with understanding how consumer goods penetrate markets (the ‘value chain’), that was successful.

Lack of knowledge, lack of equipment – a fatal combination 

Each year diarrhoea kills around 760,000 children under five, making it the second most common cause of death in children in this age group. ColaLife worked with mothers to develop an affordable kit to address this issue and increase the correct use of oral rehydration salts (ORS). They created Kit Yamoyo, an anti-diarrhoea kit containing everything needed to treat the illness, along with the instructions which would teach parents how to administer the kits.

Jane Berry, Business Development Director at ColaLife said: “This was the first time that anyone had ever asked mothers what they would like from a diarrhoea treatment product. Existing solutions had been developed by clinicians with little thought about practicality in the home in developing countries.”

Product and distribution have to work together

ColaLife worked with mothers to develop an affordable kit to address this issue and increase the correct use of oral rehydration salts (ORS). They created Kit Yamoyo, an anti-diarrhoea kit containing everything needed to treat the illness, packaged in a container that serves as both a mixing and storage device and a cup to take the solution. The container clearly marks how much water should be added and has diagrams to reduce confusion about the correct dosage.

Jane Berry, Business Development Director at ColaLife said: "This was the first time that anyone had ever asked mothers what they would like out of their product. Existing solutions had been developed by clinicians with no thought for how they might actually be used in the home."

ColaLife believed access to treatment was also part of the problem. So they asked themselves why Coca-Cola seems to get everywhere in developing countries, yet essential life-saving medicines don’t.

Instead of distributing the kits via health clinics, they decided to sell the kits in local shops, particularly in rural areas.

They also designed a new container for the kit that would fit into the unused space in between plastic coca cola bottles and piggybacked on Coca-Cola's distribution system in an effort to reach more people.

A different kind of innovation: focusing on the product

ColaLife believed they had discovered an innovative way to distribute the Kit Yamoyo, in the unused space in between Coca-Cola bottles, but in fact only 4% of retailers used the space in Coca-Cola crates for transport – “It was the space in the market, not the space in the crates that was important,” said Berry.

So ColaLife refocused their efforts on re-developing the product and its value chain: costs, functionality, desirability and distribution – all together. The demand for our kits, coupled with the profit retailers make fulfilling that demand, ‘pulled’ our kits into villages. In the end we didn’t need the space in Coca-Cola crates. But our partnership with Coca-Cola was invaluable: we mimicked what they do, but for a health commodity: create a product that is valuable to mothers and is attractive, functional and affordable, and addresses all the customers needs, then introduce it into the supply chain at a price that enables everyone involved to make a profit.”

Compelling results

An evaluation of the 12-month trial in Zambia found that more than 45% of children who needed treatment had received it, compared to 1% previously, and there were significant improvements in the way the treatment was administered. A Lives Saved Tool (LiST) estimate suggests that three lives are saved for every 1,000 kits sold. As of March 2016, 70,200 kits had been sold. 

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