"5,500 children die from dehydration in Africa every day. That is a scandal. A scandal and an absolute tragedy."
Images from Le Craic
Simon Berry is visibly disturbed by this fact. His distaste at the thought is evident, and he's almost emotional. “One in 5 children under 5 die every day. African teenagers are dying of crime, AIDS and worse but these children are have such potential. They are the future. How could I not do something?"
Simon is at 2gether08 in London to look for help. He has been working on raising awareness of this fact for twenty years, but 2008 has been one where action is being taken.
His Facebook group “Let's talk to Coca Cola about saving the World's children” has over 2,900 members and is growing by almost 50 people a day. Since its creation Simon has raised awareness in Ireland and the UK (I found out about it through AJ over on Le Craic) and has met Salvatore Gabola, the Global Director of Stakeholder Relations for Coca-Cola, in Brussels to talk about his idea.
"Although Africa is a huge continent", says Simon, "because of the power of Coca-Cola's distribution network, almost everywhere you go you can almost be guaranteed to find a bottle of Coke for sale. What we're trying to achieve is using Coca-Cola's massive distribution system to deliver rehydration salts to remote places where children need them".
"This is in no way anti Coca-Cola. All I'm trying to do is ask them to help, but without the major complications that can come with campaigns like this. They have a lot of innovation in many areas and I'm hoping to capitalise on that and have people get out of the “corporate box” and into a place where dialogue can happen".
Simon's involvement dates back twenty years, when he worked in a very remote part of North East Zambia, but back then "there was no internet, no traction, no visibility" - he was only one person and there was a fear of a “who does he think he is then” reaction. He used Facebook mainly for keeping in touch with his grown up children.
It was when Gordon Brown set up the "business call for action" conference gathering together the CEOs of Multinationals with the aim to discussing the eradication of poverty in Africa that he decided to use the internet to help in raising awareness.
"I blogged about it but got little reaction. It seemed it was only me talking about this, that people didn't seem to know. But then I was driving home one evening and in a wonderful moment of synchronicity heard Annie Lennox on Desert Island Discs. She was speaking of the same crisis. I stopped the car immediately and rang my wife Jane. “Did you hear that?” “Yes, it was amazing” she said."
"We can distribute Coca Cola all around the World but we can't seem to get medication to save a child from something as simple as diarrhoea and I think that that is wrong. You know, you have a choice you either get involved with an issue or you walk away from it. I think it's a human rights issue and I feel very passionately about human rights." (Annie Lennox)
Simon set up a group on Facebook on May 18, 2008 and invited his friends to join, asking them to invite their friends and sent them status updates. "It grew from there" he says. Indeed, the membership grew from zero to 2,115 in 26 days.
On iPM, a BBC radio 4 programme where listeners formulate the programme, they got Eve Graham from The New Seekers, singers of possibly the best known Coke jingle to sing new lyrics. (Hear that here.) It has resulted in a telephone conference in early June and a subsequent invitation by train to Brussels to meet “the right person in Coca-Cola to help with this. They are very enthusiastic, very eager, but it has to be sold to the company on many levels."
Coincidentally Coca-Cola had been looking into doing this, and have started a research project in Tanzania. Simon is in contact with him and will be telling his story over on his blog.
Facebook has been for Simon a blessing. "I started this project 7,350 days ago and hadn't achieved much. Since I started the Facebook group there are over 2,800 people behind the campaign, I've spoken and met with Coca-Cola and we have a real opportunity to do something about this. The next big challenge is to get an international NGO involved and then some local agencies, to really start making that difference."
So how can people help?
"Go to Facebook and join the Coca-Cola group. Invite all your friends to join. This isn't about spamming or bothering people - it's only because of all the people who have become involved so far that this has been a success. You can help make a difference.
If bloggers could share the information; if, like AJ people could design graphics or banners; if people could offer the campaign help or advice in communications, in marketing or technology; if anyone has any contacts or idea that they think could contribute to helping make this idea a reality, it would be great if you could get involved.
5,500 children die every day in Africa before the age of 5. This initiative could save thousands and thousands of children's lives through collaboration between the private and NGO sector. And now we are talking."
I'm joining AJ at Le Craic, the Galway Greens and Caricatures Ireland in the bloggers (that I know of) who are raising awareness for this. I hope you'll help share the story as well.