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Facebook, Coca-Cola and Medical Aid in Africa


By Hesseltje S. van Goor

A recent development on Facebook has shown that social networking may be more powerful than simply a vehicle for gossip between friends, co-workers and ex-significant others. When Coca-Cola executives responded to a Facebook-based call for humanitarian action, it showed a new opportunity for dialogue between consumers and corporations: smart organizers can harness this kind of rapid message-spreading medium to foster a conversation between the decision-makers at the top and the masses at the point-of-use.

252388996_c1cc2b2c3a.jpgIncensed by the irony that remote African communities had limitless access to bottles of Coca-Cola, but no infrastructure to get medicines to sick children, innovator Simon Berry decided to speak up and ask Coca-Cola to dedicate a fraction of its distribution network to carry medicines for simple, widespread and life-threatening ailments like diarrhea.

At first, Berry's ideas fell on deaf ears; after all he was the only recruit in a one-man army. Now, a modest Facebook publicity campaign has catapulted Berry's message into the Coca-Cola boardroom. Salvatore Gabola, global head of stakeholder relations for the beverage giant, took notice of the social networking momentum and has invited Berry to Coca-Cola's European headquarters to discuss his idea (read their recent correspondence here).

The size of the campaign's Facebook following – 3,811 at our last visit – is still tiny relative to Coca-Cola's consumer base. But the viral, self-publicizing nature of Berry's campaign is nothing to sneeze at when you're an executive of a company like Coca-Cola, facing significant skepticism from the kinds of creative-minded, marketer-wary users who populate Facebook and other sites like it. If Coca-Cola can indeed facilitate a medical supply network, the company stands to gain enormous approval from some tougher consumers. I, for one, hope Coke decides (for any reason) to act on Berry's suggestion. Allying the social conscience of global multinationals with a worthy cause may prove to be an important first step towards a better world.

If you are interested in reading more about this campaign, check out Simon's blog for the latest on his work and his growing band of eager volunteers. Also, if you have some ideas that might be useful to the project, or would like to get involved directly, feel free to do so here.

Hesseltje S. van Goor is a soon-to-be-Media-Management-graduate with a day-time job as marketing executive for Systemlink Ireland. She spends her spare time working on her dissertation and researching green technology.

Photo credits: Flickr/Nick Gripton and Flickr/Tielmann; bike image appeared on Simon Berry's blog.

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Hi Hesseltje
Thanks very much for your support for this campaign and for bringing it to the attention of your readers.

As you say, numbers matter, and if people want to help, then signing to the Facebook Group is a good start. There are other ideas here:

With best wishes

Posted by: Simon on 6 Aug 08

Boy, this is a swell idea. I've invited all of my friends to the group. Thanks for alerting us to this initiative! I think this is where social networks/media can really raise awareness in a hurry.

Posted by: Daniel Bachhuber on 6 Aug 08

Coincidentally, this is a plot point in this month's issue of The Invincible Iron Man, written by Matt Fraction. Tony Stark buys Coke ("Okle-Cola") and plans to use vending machines to "distribute retrovirals and--once we get it--the AIDS vaccine, all across the Third World."

Posted by: Drew Bell on 6 Aug 08

I hope Coca-Cola will come up with a more effective plan rather than just distributing medicines for diarrhea, like retrovirals etc. Of late, Coke is facing a lot of criticism over its production process. Indians, however, have subdued the cola giant to some extent. Read this

Posted by: Saad on 7 Aug 08

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