Helping Entrepreneurs Helps Us All

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“Once in a blue moon, exceptional ideas turn into great companies that change the world” – Dr. Eleni Gabre-Madhin

In a recent Global Entrepreneurship Report, Africa was shown to be the region that reports the most positive attitude towards entrepreneurship, with three-quarters of working-age adults considering entrepreneurship a good career choice. This is heartening since youth unemployment and underemployment are concentrated in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), which are home to 87 percent of the world’s unemployed youth — 62 million young people, according to the International Labor Organization.

Distribution of capital invested in new ventures – capital availability for entrepreneurs in the Global South is abysmally low. Source: https://startupsusa.org/global-startup-cities/

Today’s youth are more entrepreneurial than ever, starting twice as many businesses as the baby boomer generation. However, capital availability in the global south is abysmally low, hampering these talented self-starters’ capacity to get their innovations off the ground. Since 2016, Sight and Life has been running our Elevator Pitch Contest, which helps refine, support, and launch the inventions of talented young people who are working to develop new agricultural and nutrition technologies. 

Sight and Life catalyzes theme based innovations through the Elevator Pitch Contest

Take, for example, Nicholas Myers, a chemist and pitch contest winner. His Paper Analytical Device – a lab-on-paper that measures iodine levels in salt and urine samples – helps monitor iodized salt programs at a low cost in real-time. But just because a better solution to a problem exists, like Myers’ invention, does not necessarily mean that it will be adopted. With a shift from the nutrition field to public health, Myers found additional uses for his innovation, adapting the iodine test card to also measure levels of penicillin-class antibiotics present in pharmaceuticals with greater than 95% accuracy to detect breaches in medicine compliance.  Such discoveries of multiple uses accelerate the adoption of an invention.

EPC, Sight and Life, Elevator Pitch Contest“At the time of the contest, my invention was making its way through the “Valley of Death,” which is a relatively low funding period between R&D and commercialization. The contest provided a platform on which I, a chemist, reached hundreds of experts in the micronutrient sector, and these multi-disciplinary connections are critical to pushing an invention through the “Valley of Death” and to commercialization.” – Nicholas Myers (Read the full interview here)

 

Several other barriers exist to scaling up nutrition interventions in LMICs, like access to high-quality products in a particular area, inflated costs of public health goods and services, erratic cash flow, and public health facilities that are difficult to reach, underfunded, understaffed, and understocked. To overcome these barriers, Sight and Life has studied sustainable social enterprises that integrate nutrition interventions at scale to benefit large numbers of underserved communities.

Why consider social business models and entrepreneurship when it comes to public health? Over four billion people carry the burden of a “poverty penalty” and are forced to pay more for lower quality basic public health goods and services due to market inefficiencies. Of these people, only a tiny fraction can benefit from government or humanitarian services, and even then, these resources are often plagued with piecemeal or inadequate funding. This large percentage of the world’s population is often referred to as the Base of the Pyramid or BoP. Grant-funded humanitarian projects may have limited reach and finite intervention periods, but the BoP represents a five trillion-dollar market value. Models that tap this market could simultaneously improve the quality of life for the poor and outlast the sporadic, albeit well-meaning injections of charitable sources. Enterprises with sound business models can make quality public health goods available and affordable.

My team and I have witnessed such success in improving food systems by supporting entrepreneurship and promoting effective business models in the Global South. We are doubling down, initiating Food Systems Innovation Hubs in emerging markets. The hubs will nurture entrepreneurs in these rapidly growing economies by establishing sound business models and forming partnerships with investors, donors, government, and companies in the localities where they operate.

There is a massive well of untapped entrepreneurial talent in the developing world, and Sight and Life is committed to helping them help us all in our quest to alleviate malnutrition. To learn more about Food Systems Innovation Hubs, watch the recent webinar and learn how to be part of the coordinated effort to improve the world’s food systems. Read further on the topic by clicking HERE

Sight and Life Nutrition Kiosk: Reaching the Last Mile in India

 

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The Nutrition Kiosk, a Sight and Life innovation, was conceived as a simple and effective solution to the problem of last mile nutrition in India. It aims to drive both the demand and supply of affordable nutritious foods and services for vulnerable populations.

As a new and innovative solution for low-resource settings, the Nutrition Kiosk has the potential to create demand for good nutrition and supply essential, nutritious products. Additionally, it is customizable allowing the user to adapt the stand to various contexts, conditions, lifestyles, and landscapes. There are two essential components of the Nutrition Kiosk- products and services. The Nutrition Kiosk can be equipped with products such as whole foods, fortified foods, supplements, accompaniments/condiments, and nuts while concurrently offering nutrition counseling services.

To operationalize this idea, Sight and Life used a human-centered design approach to bring the kiosk to life and piloted in Mumbai, India at the 19th IUFOST World Food Science and Technology Conference in October 2018. Those who experienced the Nutrition Kiosk confirmed the potential this idea has to improve the nutritional status of the vulnerable populations in India.

Design Evolution

The first step in the design process for the Nutrition Kiosk began with a simple question: What if healthy food was as affordable, appetizing and more importantly as accessible as fried foods?

nutrition, sight and life, healthy food

The Nutrition Kiosk was imagined as the ultimate one-stop shop for all the nutrition needs of the target consumer, in our case women and children, would include a complete portfolio of products, information, and services; with the ultimate aim to create demand for good nutrition within low and middle-income groups.

In the next step, we looked at the urban landscape around us to decide on the physical design of the kiosk.  

Pushcarts in various forms have become an integral part of the urban landscape in India. Around every corner, pushcarts are seen transporting goods in, out and around the city. They connect the last mile and are compact while in South Asia there is a strong street vending culture.  

Street vending not only provides goods and services at convenient locations and affordable prices but also self-employment to a large number of people. It links vendors to the formal sector, and keeps streets busy and safe as pushcart vendors often become the “eyes on the street”. Food and beverages companies are also adapting to this market and culture by using pop-up architecture, including using pushcarts, with new innovations to reach the target consumers.

Applying the pushcart design to the Nutrition Kiosk allows for a significant degree of adaptability, which is key in addressing the last mile nutrition in India. For example, the kiosk can be customized for a “mom and pop” store or be placed in community Push cart, urbanhealth centers, leveraging the already established public health systems. The opportunities are endless and critical to ensuring good nutrition for all, all over India.

Both the products services components of the Nutrition Kiosk was developed with the ideal user in mind, the mother.

We closely examined the needs of a mother. She is, more often than not, the person responsible for buying the food and cooking meals for the family, therefore, the Nutrition Kiosk needs to provide healthy and nutritious food options for herself and her family. Supporting her personal needs, it is also a place where she can talk to a counselor and receive actionable feedback or join a mothers’ group to share her concerns among other things. These ideas influenced the final design of the cart. 

We also spoke with street vendors who identified the following key components and challenges of pushcarts: they have four wheels on a frame, making it difficult to navigate in an urban landscape; the carts are mostly flat and do not offer variations in level so vendors have to creatively display their goods; and street conditions and crowds determine the locations and times they are active as well as their offerings.

Nutrition Kiosk, last mile, final, design

The final design of the kiosk took all of these challenges into account. We considered the need to offer a variety of products through important life stages allowing a mother, or the customer, to easily identify the products fitting the specific needs of her household. From a design perspective, this led us to the display surface having various levels making the offerings easy to be seen and visually self-explanatory in order for the mother to shop in the correct category. Optimizing the design, a table surface can be folded down when the cart is not moving and the ideal space to provide nutrition counseling directly at the Nutrition Kiosk.

Next Steps

Piloting the Nutrition Kiosk at IUFoST 2018 gave us the opportunity to gather feedback from many different groups of attendees, ranging from students and technical experts to field workers and industry. As a next step, we will be improving the prototype by incorporating the actionable feedback. We will then create a business model for the Nutrition Kiosk focusing primarily on hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Once a sustainable business model is established, we will pilot the Nutrition Kiosk.

Stay tuned for more information on the Nutrition Kiosk, including videos and a presentation from IUFoST on the Sight and Life website!

 

Below is a gallery of pictures from the conference where we tested out a prototype of the Nutrition Kiosk: