A Holistic Approach to Fighting Child Malnutrition in Bangladesh: the Story of Renata
“Business is my true north, my compass, my calling,” says Kaiser Kabir, CEO of the Bangladeshi pharmaceutical company Renata. More than 3,500 employees, US$ 74 million in annual turnover and a US$ 350 million valuation on the Dhaka stock exchange - on paper Renata looks like a typical aggressive private company. These figures, however, do not tell the whole story as the company is also rooted in making a difference in the everyday lives of Bangladeshis.
More specifically, Renata is on a mission to increase access to affordable nutrition so children get the right start in life to live to their full potential. While Bangladesh has made significant progress in reducing deaths of children under five years old, its child malnutrition rates are still among the highest in the world. One of the main problems is that millions of Bangladeshi children suffer from insufficient essential nutrients in their every day diets. Poverty also remains a reality. Half of Bangladesh’s 160 million people live on less than US$ 1 per day. And rising food prices of basic staple foods are making getting a balanced diet even harder.
Renata is helping to address these challenges through a comprehensive approach that aims to secure a better future for more than 50 percent of children under two years old. Production, marketing and distribution of a locally adapted vitamin and mineral powder product called Pushtikona is one part. The company produces the single serving sachets containing 15 essential nutrients in powder form for the equivalent of US$ 0.02 (2.50 taka) per sachet. It then distributes them through its 1,100 medical representatives across the country who are in contact with 50,000 doctors every day. Mothers simply sprinkle the vitamin and mineral powders, which complement breast milk, onto the local solid foods they feed to their infants. The aim is to build enough product volume and consumer demand so Pushtikona can be sustained entirely through the expanded commercial market.
“Our approach to addressing child malnutrition is holistic, starting with educating mothers about the importance of exclusive breastfeeding until an infant is six months old, appropriate complementary feeding in combination with breastfeeding from six months to at least two years of age and then the benefits of our solution,” emphasizes Mr. Kabir. Renata recently used money it saved in royalty fees waved by Dr. Stanley Zlotkin, the Canadian inventor of Sprinkles, a brand of multi-nutrient powder, to produce a commercial focused on the importance of exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of a child’s life.
Renata, which is Latin for “renaissance” or “rebirth”, reinvented itself out of Pfizer Bangladesh, a subsidiary of Pfizer. Mr. Kabir’s father served as Chairman and CEO of Pfizer Bangladesh and also started Sajida Foundation, a family charity he named in honor of his wife on their 25th wedding anniversary. The foundation, which started as a school for 12 underprivileged children in the family’s garage, now has an annual budget of about US$ 50 million and more than 100,000 people are benefitting from a range of programs from microfinance to education to health. It owns fifty one percent of Renata.
Growing up with this kind of example, it is not a surprise that reaching out to poor, underserved communities is in Mr. Kabir’s blood. “I try to motivate and remind my field force not to forget about the people whose lives they are changing,” he says.
Interview by Karie Atkinson, Writer/Editor, GAIN [email protected]
Note: BRAC is a key distribution partner for Renata as it has a network of 80,000 community health volunteers who go door-to-door selling essential health products, which now include the multi-nutrient powder Pushtikona. A US$ 3 million contribution from the international organization the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) is helping cover initial costs of subsidized Pushtikona, marketing efforts and trainings in nutrition education.