In March, Coca-Cola installed two first-of-their-kind vending machines in shopping malls – one in Lahore, Pakistan, and a second in New Delhi, India – and invited consumers to put their differences aside and share a simple moment over a Coke. The Small World Machines provided a live communications portal linking strangers in two nations divided by more than just borders, with the hope of provoking happiness and promoting cultural understanding.

Moiz Syed and Saad Pall are part of the Coca-Cola Pakistan team that supported the project in Lahore. Here’s their story:

Who would have thought that the first time we would get to meet Ajay and Ayaaz from Coca-Cola’s India office, after months of conference calls and emails, would not be in person or even on Skype, but through an interactive Coca-Cola vending machine? Or that – despite the fact that they were on the other side of the Pakistan-India border – we would get to join hands, draw a smiley face and connect in a simple moment of happiness by sharing with each other an ice-cold Coke?

It all started in July 2012, when we first heard about the Small World Machines. A concept Coca-Cola had been working on since 2011, Small World Machines was a story about dissolving differences and creating simple moments of connection between two groups of people used to living with past conflict. The state-of-the-art vending machines are portals that allow you to not only view, but also interact with people in a completely different part of the world – all in real time.

Jackie Jantos Tulloch, Coca-Cola’s global creative director and Small World Machines project lead, got in touch with the team in Pakistan to share the concept and evaluate if we would be interested in collaborating, along with India.

It was an easy decision… the idea was simple, yet powerful, and it was a unique way of bringing together people. Moreover, Pakistan and India were ideal locations for the story, since these were nations with historically delicate relations, but a shared history, common language and similarities in culture. Small World Machines would be that live portal of communication that would bring together the common man in Lahore and the one in Delhi, and show that what united them was stronger than what set them apart.

And so started our journey. For most of the ensuing six months, we had weekly conference calls between Coca-Cola Global, Pakistan and India offices, as well as with Leo Burnett, the global ad agency that gave birth to the Small World Machines idea. Working across five cities and four time zones, it was a truly diverse team that was set in motion to bring the idea to life.

But despite months-long planning and efforts from the team, it seemed that the project would not materialize. On Jan. 16, a day before the Small World Machines were set to go live, the team on the ground had to evacuate due to security challenges, and the activity was postponed indefinitely. Months of preparation and carefully mapped out plans were laid to rest. The project was put on hold, even before it went live.

Despite this setback, the team remained undeterred. The very next day, we received a note from Jackie, planning for the return of Small World Machines, this time with tighter plans for security.

Thanks to unwavering support from Rizwan Ullah Khan – general manager of the Pakistan & Afghanistan region, who was leading the Pakistani side – the team regrouped to take the challenge head on. And this time, it did happen. On March 20, Small World Machines were simultaneously installed at the Mall of Lahore in Pakistan, and MGF Mall in India.

Coca-Cola Pakistan

The Coca-Cola Pakistan team offers a thumbs-up to their colleagues across the border in India.

I remember vividly the looks on the faces of passers-by when they saw the machine. And I couldn’t stop smiling when I saw their reactions – looks of surprise at being able to see Delhi live, and the enthusiasm with which they joined hands with strangers across the border. I remember the old man dancing to the beat of an imaginary dhol, with the enthusiasm of a 15 year old. I recall the young woman waving a peace sign to her newly made friend across the border. I remember the little girl, who was shy at first, but then ran up to high-five a stranger and gave her a priceless smile. 

But most of all, what I remember from that evening is that moment when these people weren’t Pakistanis or Indians. For that one moment, they were simply human beings. Connecting. Sharing. Smiling.

Check back tomorrow to hear from Ajay Naqvi from Coca-Cola India, who supported the Small World Machines project in New Delhi.