BRUSSELS – Project Last Mile, a unique public-private partnership that transfers Coca-Cola’s supply-chain management and marketing expertise to help governments and health systems deliver life-saving medicines and supplies to hard-to-reach communities across Africa, is to expanding to Liberia and Swaziland, bringing the total number of countries supported to seven.  

The Coca-Cola Company and its foundations, together with The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, announced the expansion today at the European Development Days summit.

“With its unique public-private partnership model, Project Last Mile develops simple answers to extremely complex problems, and supports African Ministries of Health in providing life-saving medicines to patients and communities who need it most. What started with a single vision and vast ambition is now making a difference to millions of people across Africa, and we are delighted that we can now apply Coca-Cola’s operational experience to strengthening health systems in Liberia and Swaziland,” said Dr. Susan Mboya, president of The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation, who will share Project Last Mile learnings today in Brussels on a European Development Days panel titled Harnessing the Power of the Private Sector to Achieve the Health SDG.

The Project Last Mile (PLM) initiative which began in 2010 with a mission to transform the delivery of medical supplies in Tanzania, was expanded in 2014 with more than $21 million additional investment and an ambition to help support 10 African countries by 2020. Project Last Mile teams have since worked with Ministries of Health in Ghana, Mozambique, Nigeria and South Africa to improve the availability of essential medicines. “Our work is expanding, both in the countries where programs are underway and to new countries that face severe challenges in the delivery of medicine and medical supplies,” said Adrian Ristow, Project Last Mile director for The Coca-Cola Company.

Tapping into Coca-Cola system’s experience gained from almost 90 years in Africa, each project is unique and carefully designed to address local challenges in healthcare delivery. In Swaziland, the Ministry of Health will leverage Coca-Cola’s marketing expertise to increase awareness and demand for critical HIV prevention and treatment services in a country where nearly one-third of the population between the ages of 18 and 49 live with HIV –  one of the highest prevalences of the disease in the world.

“The Swaziland project is exciting as it represents a new focus area for the initiative, but remains centered on an area that is core to our business in Africa – speaking with consumers,” Ristow said. “With Swaziland’s high HIV/AIDS burden, we will work with local NGOs and civil society groups to create powerful communications about the importance of testing and appropriate treatment and protocols.”

Project Last Mile partners are helping rebuild Liberia’s health systems, which were severely tested and strained by the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Working closely with local partners and the local bottler Liberia Coca-Cola Bottling Company, Project Last Mile is sharing route-to-market and logistics expertise to help set up a more efficient and sustainable distribution network for medicines and medical supplies. Phase one of the project launched in May and is expected to run for one year.

'We’re applying to the same rigor we put into creating the best possible solutions for our business in each of these countries in building capability to address supply chain challenges for local health systems.'

“We’re working with donor partners and the Liberian Ministry of Health to identify opportunities to support the design of a new supply-chain for medical aid, with a particular focus on the distribution network into hard-to-reach communities,” Ristow said.

In participating countries, Project Last Mile partners with local Coca-Cola bottlers to build capability and share information with  government agencies on everything from supply logistics and route to market, to planning and procurement, to marketing communications. “We share the essence of our business model to help the public sector operate more efficiently and help them to adapt these models to their context,” Ristow said. “In the same way that we aim to take our portfolio of products to within an ‘arms reach of desire’ in communities around the world, we’re sharing that expertise to take essential medicines closer to the community where they are needed most.”

He continues, “One of the greatest strengths of the business in Africa is that our system is really passionate and proficient in finding distribution or other business solutions in what may appear challenging environments. We look to bring that same attitude and capability through Project Last Mile. But this is only possible through partnership with the governments involved and our donor partners, who each bring unique expertise and capabilities that together are highly complementary.”

Projects are led by current and former Coca-Cola employees with relevant experience. For example, a former senior marketing director is spearheading the Swaziland pilot, and a former country manager is leading the Mozambique project. They are supported by volunteers from local Coca-Cola bottlers and business units. 

“There’s a real vibrancy and passion shared by everyone involved,” Ristow said. “We’re applying to the same rigor we put into creating the best possible solutions for our business in each of these countries in building capability to address supply chain challenges for local health systems.”