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Crowdsourcing for ColaLife: How the Internet revived a life-saving idea

   /   Apr 14th, 2010Business, News

We’ve talked about the potential (and potential pitfalls) of crowdsourcing in previous posts. Today, we’ll look at ColaLife, a remarkable example of the power of online collaboration to mobilize a movement and revive a decades-old, heretofore unrealized idea.

Simon Berry has been obsessed with Coca-Cola for decades. Not the drink itself, but rather the way it has been distributed to every corner of the world. During a stint with Britain’s aid program in Zambia, Berry had an idea: What if Coke’s distribution channels could be used to deliver oral rehydration salts to developing countries like Zambia, where one in five children die from dehydration before age 5? It seemed simple: just make one compartment per 10 Coke crates the “life-saving compartment.”

Like many inspired ideas, Berry’s was jotted down on a piece of paper and buried in a drawer. Had this idea occurred to him two years ago instead of 22, he might have thrown it on his blog, and shared it with the whole wired world. Instead, it lay dormant for 20 years.

Then, in July 2008, he put it on the Web. “I still think it’s a good idea,” he wrote on his blog. “Coca-Cola, are you listening?”

Well, not at first. But the Internet was. Within days, his post ignited the imaginations of scores of digital would-be advocates. Berry wondered: if a simple blog post could attract this much attention, what might a coordinated social media campaign accomplish?

Berry set up Facebook and Google groups, curated a Flickr pool and created the #colalife hashtag on Twitter. Through his efforts and the crowd’s word of mouth, ColaLife garnered international media coverage. It inspired chapters on American and British university campuses, attracted thousands of Facebook fans, and, ultimately, led to meetings with Coca-Cola executives.

The result: Coca-Cola has entered into a partnership with the Academy of Educational Development and the bottling company SABCO to conduct field trials of the ColaLife concept. Funds are now being raised to prototype, manufacture and test the “AidPods” intended to fit in the crate space between the necks of Coke bottles. (See it in action here.)

In the pre-Internet age, Berry’s idea would have required vast marketing investments and major institutional support to garner global attention — and cause Coke to listen. But, today, with the power of web-based crowdsourcing, it makes one wonder how many life-altering ideas are laying around in desk drawers waiting to ignite change. Maybe you have one in yours?

UPCOMING EVENTS: ColaLife’s International Campus Chapter Coordinator, Samira Daswani, will be speaking at the Clinton Global Initiative University Summit at the University of Miami on April 17, and at the IDEAS Competition at MIT on April 26.

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