Sustainable Innovations That Improve Health and Combat Diseases

New Business Models for a better world

Two remarkable innovations sprang from the challenge to combat waterborne diseases. The first is called 'ColaLife', which provides remote communities with ORS/Zinc to combat dehydration from diarrhoea. The 'Drinkable Book' refers to the second innovation, and provides tools to purify water. The ideas sound quite simple, but a lot of time and refining of the concepts was spent before the concepts became alive. 

Crate as 'Piggy Bag' health vehicle 

To start with the prime innovation: You can buy Coca-Cola virtually anywhere in developing countries but in these same places, drugs that cure diarrhoea are not easily found. ColaLife uses the same principles and networks that Coca-Cola and other commodity producers use, to open up private sector supply chains for ‘social products’ such as oral rehydration salts and zinc supplements. The project started with the concept of using space in Coca-Cola crates, but have extended into a range of innovations, some based on Coca-Cola’s expertise and networks. 

What's transformational about ColaLife's work

From the start, Johnson & Johnson and its Corporate Citizenship Trust fund backed ColaLife’s remarkable strategy: using donor funding to carry out the kind of research and development into a new health commodity (Kit Yamoyo), that are often not affordable for local small pharmaceutical companies in developing countries. 

The Trust was the first to pledge ‘seed corn’ funding, and sponsor Janssen EMEA put the ColaLife initiative through a ‘Dragon’s Den’ type of challenge in 2010/11, which helped sharpening the model. The unconditional funding allowed to support the private sector partner in Zambia, with the practicalities of manufacturing and assembly of Kit Yamoyo. The resulting wide-ranging partnership is a true ‘unlikely alliance’ – including UNICEF, the Zambian Ministry of Health, the local Coca-Cola bottler and very small not-for-profit organisations like Keepers Zambia Foundation.

The resulting model of delivering ORS/Zinc to rural areas has challenged the status quo and holds promises to make better use of the local private sector to manufacture, supply and retail medicines in rural areas across the world: a strategy that needs to be pursued, to improve child survival, local skills, expertise and employment.


A book that is not only food for thought 

“The Drinkable Book,” is the first-ever manual that includes safe water tips and serves as a useful tool to kill deadly waterborne diseases through providing the reader opportunities to create clean, drinkable water with each page. It features a brand new type of paper invented by McGill University and the University of Virginia chemist, Dr. Theresa Dankovich. The book works like a scientific coffee filter. Each page is coated with silver nanoparticles, which kill diseases like cholera, E. coli and typhoid.

The book itself works in three easy steps. Simply tear along the perforation. Slide the page into the book’s packaging case. Pour the contaminated water through and the result is drinkable water. After passing water through the filter, there is a reduction of greater than 99.99% in bacteria count, which is comparable to tap water in the United States. Each book contains 24 usable pages, and each page contains two filters which last 30 days. In total, the book can provide clean water for up to four years for one person. 

Since most victims of contaminated water usage didn’t know the water was unsafe to drink in the first place, “The Drinkable Book” isn’t just a tool that purifies water, it teaches proper sanitation, too. The content on each page, printed in food grade ink in both English and Swahili, educates people about safe water habits – providing life saving information, such as keeping trash and feces away from your water source. More information about the drinkable book you can see in a YouTube video.

Material issue at the heart of innovation

What both concepts have in common is that they are aimed at providing solutions for innovation of providing health care products from the clean water issue. By redesigning the process with the end user and his challenges in mind, the concepts resulted in ground-breaking make-overs.

How to drive sustainable innovation?

If you are interested in developing new business models and making your portfolio future proof? Please contact Josée van der Hoek, Founding Partner, at or call +31 6 28 02 18 80. 

Photo ColaLife: Simon Berry 



About Josée van der Hoek

Experienced strategic issues management specialist with expertise in strategy development, ESG benchmarking, ESG Equity Stories and food. |

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