Distributing drugs to the last mile in developing countries
US, South Africa, India
Personal project; Fellow of the Madeline Albright Institute of Global Affairs, Wellesley College
children, in India, die each day from preventable diseases
of India's population lacks access to modern medicines
of children with diarrhea have access to oral rehydration salts
But, Coca-Cola is found everywhere
As a fellow of the Albright Institute, I began to explore the idea of piggy-backing on Coca-Cola's established distribution chain to deliver over-the-counter medications to rural parts of India.
My first step was to build a small team to work on this project. After recruiting 3 students from Wellesley College, we began to conduct research and build a business case.
A few months into our journey, we discovered an entrepreneur called Simon Berry who had established ColaLife, an organization with the same mission. ColaLife was well underway prototyping and experimenting with their product. With an experienced veteran such as Simon Berry at the helm, I decided to join their team.
Year 1 Goals
- Prototype and test feasibility: ColaLife had designed a rendering of the Aidpod, containers that were designed to fit in between Coca-Cola bottles in crates. These containers could be packed with Oral Rehydration Salts ("ORS") to treat diarrhea. We wanted to test the feasibility of deploying Aidpods across different countries, including South Africa, India and Zambia.
- Gain social support: We wanted to build a cohort of supporters, especially through college campus networks to gain traction on social media.
What we achieved
- Successfully pitched the idea to executives of The Coca-Cola Company (TCCC) in India to gain support for the program; they connected us to their foundation arm for seed funding
- Successfully conducted preliminary field testing of the Aidpods in India and South Africa
- Built system dynamic models to capture the distribution and scaling mechanism for ColaLife in India
- Established 4 campus chapters across universities in the U.S. and U.K.
Why I stopped working on ColaLife
1) The myth of improved distribution
The magic of ColaLife was the availability of an established end-to-end distribution channel at scale. However, what we learned was that Coca-Cola's distribution network is fragmented and de-centralized. Each bottling plant functions independently from the mother-company and is individually responsible for establishing and operating their own distribution. This meant that for ColaLife to be successful we would have to partner with every individual bottling plant (typically 4 or 5 in each state in India) to operate at scale.
2) The myth of easily supplying medication
While The Coca-Cola Company was supportive of the theoretical idea, they would have to modify their legal and regulatory architecture to be able to add the distribution of medications, often highly-regulated products, into their supply chain.
The two impediments made me realize that to achieve our end goal – giving rural areas access to basic medication, it would be far better to invest resources in setting up a dedicated medication supply chain, rather than piggy-back off Coca-Cola's supply chain.