I recently attended the Karma Cola exhibition party in Sydney, and was overwhelmed by the big difference one drink can make.

From humble beginnings on Phia Beach in New Zealand, three friends decided to create a product that connected the buyers with the farmers. What goes around, comes around. This is how Karma Cola was born.

Chris Morrison is the brains behind the product. He was the founder of New Zealand’s most famous organic drinks label; Phoenix Organics. Matt Morrison is in charge of finance, and Simon, as a self professed “recovering graphic designer” ensures the products “look as good as they taste.”

“When Chris and Matt and I met we realised we shared a similar view of the world. The more we talked about these issues the more we realised we could create products that could, in a small way, balance the disparity between consumers in the developed world and producers in less fortunate situations,” said Simon.

Their research took them to the small village of Boma in Sierra Leone. Cola is actually made from a cola nut, which is grown in the tropical rainforests of Africa.  The cola nut represents many things; a gift to welcome guests, to help students study, to remember those who have passed away, help men find wives, and to help marriages prosper. “We say wherever there is cola, there is goodness,” says Chief Hindowa Kamara.

Cola NutChiefs Hindowa Kamara and Kadie BaoChief Hindowa Kamara and his wife and Chief of Boma, Kadie Bao

Chief Hindowa Kamara and Karma Cola
Chief Hindowa Kamara and Karma Cola

Karma Cola has already made a big difference in Boma. Proceeds from Karma Cola sales went into the construction of a bridge that now connects two parts of the village. Previously this area was difficult to cross due to the swampy environment that sometimes would attract crocodiles. The bridge was made with the support of the Agro Forestry Farmers Association (AFFA) and Welthungerhilfe, a German organisation who fight against global hunger and for sustainable food security. Karma Cola works with these orgnaisations within Sierra Leonne to make sure the projects they organise benefit the people who grow the cola. As well as building the bridge, Karma Cola has also helped send 45 children to school, to receive an education that is taken for granted in so many other societies.

Makenneh Bridge - Boma, Sierra Leone The Bridge that Karma Cola Built

So what does the future hold for Karma Cola? According to Simon, the company is working hard to help with the current Ebola epidemic in Africa.

“We are currently very concerned with the impact of Ebola and we’re keeping close watch on our friends in Sierra Leone,” said Simon. “Miraculously there have been no cases of Ebola infection in the Boma or Tiwai communities we work closely with… We’re sending funds to support education and medical programmes to help isolate the virus and prevent its spread.”

Simon explained that although they want to help the Ebola crisis at hand, they don’t want this to effect other projects they’re already working on in the area. “The communities we work with need a secure supply of food, education for their children and economic independence and our focus is to help them achieve this. There is a project to build a rice hulling plant they can use to process rice for their own sustenance and to sell. And we are supporting the ongoing education of the villages’ children. As we continue more of these projects will be undertaken by The Karma Cola Foundation we’ve set up the ensure money earned by the sale of Karma Cola has the maximum positive affect on the people who grow it.”

It is clear that Karma Cola is much, much more than just a soft drink.

“The world can be changed, for better or for worse, by the small things we do,” said Simon. “No one’s perfect, least of all me, but I ought to be able to make a contribution by being more conscious of the things I do and how they effect others. I’m hopeful that the stuff we’re doing with Karma Cola will make a difference.”

To find out more about their incredible story, visit the Karma Cola website.

Photos provided by Simon Coley