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Is Coca-Cola it?

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Rupert Allman | 14:13 UK time, Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Simon Berry and others on the blog have been keen for iPM to to hear more about his big idea. For more than ten years, Simon worked all over the world as part of the British aid effort. He thinks there is a simple way to help the one in five children in Africa who die from simple causes - usually diarrhoea. And the answer is Coca-Cola. Not the product - but its distribution network. Eddie has been speaking to Simon about him and his idea.

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This just in from Coca Cola -

"This is an extraordinarily interesting discussion. And it is one which goes to the heart of the key question of how we can make better use of the successes of business to serve the development needs of the world in general and of Africa in particular. The recent Millennium Development Goal Call for Action by Prime Minister Gordon Brown stems from this simple starting point.

It is also something we take very seriously at Coca-Cola. We are proud of what we are already doing through the Africa Foundation - for example, providing safe drinking water to communities throughout the continent. But we are also asking ourselves how our core business operation can do more. And this includes whether we can use our distribution network to deliver other goods which will help improve lives in local communities.

The challenge, of course, is to do this without undermining the successful model which helps explain why you can get a Coke across Africa. Because the very success of this network rests on the fact that it is not owned by Coca-Cola but made up of many small independent local distributors.

Our bottlers do help these small firms get started with training and start-up capital. But the system works so well because the better they distribute our drinks, the more money they make. It taps into Africa's entrepreneurial spirit of and gives people the means and the incentive to develop their business and create more jobs.

So what we are considering is if, and how, this system can be tweaked so it remains economically successful but can be extended so it does more to help the common good.

We don't have the answers yet. As often happens, it is not as straightforward as it looks at first glance. But I can promise we are working hard to find solutions.

This summer, we are beginning a research project and pilot in Tanzania to analyse in depth our distribution model and examine how it can be used to enhance its development potential. The Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the International Finance Corporation are helping with it.

Our hope is that this research will come up with concrete measures we can then apply to our distribution systems across the African continent and beyond.

Together I hope we can come up with the right solutions. And I am happy to have a chat on this subject with Simon in the near future."

Salvatore Gabola, Global Director Stakeholder Relations, Coca-Cola.

So, no on air debate yet - but perhaps some progress.

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