I think it’s a source of pride for many English people (myself included) that our default setting is “cynical”.
It’s so easy to be cynical about everything, isn’t it?
Reality TV? It’s all fake. Politicians? They’re all corrupt. Multinational corporations? They’re all evil.
This month, I was invited to spend a few days in Tanzania with Coca-Cola, looking at some of their social and philanthropic projects in that country. I could be cynical about the evil multinational corporation but… I’m not.
Because what I’ve realised is that a corporation or society or government might be imperfect in lots of ways, but that doesn’t mean they can’t also deliver programmes that make a huge difference to millions of lives. Sometimes they can save lives, in places where nobody else is offering that help and support. And sometimes – just sometimes – a corporation like Coca-Cola is in a better position than anyone else to make a difference.
A great example of this is something called Project Last Mile.
It’s a huge problem – one billion people today don’t have access to vital medications, and that includes 50% of people living in Africa. Imagine getting sick and not having access to antibiotics, or anti-malaria medication.
We met with the team responsible for Project Last Mile in Tanzania and learned that the problem often isn’t that the medicine isn’t available in the country – it’s that the medicines don’t reach the right people, at the right time. One of the executives told us that every single Tanzanian sitting around the table had lost someone they loved because of a lack of medication. That’s a shocking statement to hear in 2014, isn’t it?
Maybe there’s no truck to take supplies to a rural area. Or the truck makes it to the hospital but there’s no working fridge to keep vaccines at the right temperature. Maybe the journey over dirt roads and broken bridges takes so long that the medication is out of date by the time it arrives. Every year, millions of pounds is wasted because medication has to be destroyed because it hasn’t been used in time, or stored properly. In some ways, I find this idea even more heartbreaking than the idea the medicine simply isn’t available. It’s such a senseless waste.
Project Last Mile is working to address this issue by helping governments and medical agencies to build and maintain effective supply chains. It’s all about ensuring agencies understand what medicine is likely to be needed, when, and where. It’s about understanding how the medicine will reach those people, and what will be needed to store it once it gets there.
That’s no easy task in a country with a very basic infrastructure, and many remote communities. But who better to advise than a company with decades of experience in setting up and managing supply chains in new markets? As one of the executives told us, “If you go tracking gorillas up a mountain in Ghana, somewhere up there, you’ll find a working cooler stocked with Coca-Cola. We want to share that expertise so that the same principles can be applied to medicines.”
In Tanzania, Coca-Cola is working closely with the Medical Supplies Department (MSD) to help deliver medicines to people in need. We toured the MSD warehouse in Dar Es Salaam and saw thousands of boxes of medicines – contraceptives, malaria tablets, antibiotics, and piles of boxes of Plumpy Nut, a product used to treat thousands of children suffering with severe malnutrition.
I looked at the stacks of boxes and thought about how much we take for granted. Imagine more than half of this medicine – potentially life-saving medicine – not reaching the people who need it. To an extent, it doesn’t matter who helps the medicine get to the people that need it. It just matters that it gets there. And personally, I think it’s amazing that corporations like Coca-Cola, which has unparalleled expertise in getting product into new places, is using that knowledge to help people get something that I’m lucky to be able to take for granted.
And I can’t find it in myself to be cynical about it.
I’ll be explaining more over the coming days about some of the projects I learned about in Tanzania, but if you’d like to find out more about Project Last Mile, this infographic explains a bit more.