AIMing to end malnutrition: a business approach to better nutrition for the poorest

Doesn’t it seem contradictory when smallholder farmers and workers that produce cash crops are malnourished? Or when the poorest people only have access to nutritious vegetables during half the year? Herbert Smorenberg, Senior Manager in GAIN’s Netherlands office asks.

These are problems that the Amsterdam Initiative against Malnutrition (AIM) tackles. AIM harnesses the expertise of a range of private sector, foundational and academic partners and creates social business models that provide long-term solutions.

Key characteristic of this alliance is its market-based approach to improving nutrition. In the long run, using a social business model is financially more sustainable than providing aid. It works on three fronts: developing new ideas for solutions, piloting these new solutions through projects, and the roll-out if the pilot is successful and can be scaled up. It forms public-private partnerships, alliances between businesses, NGOs and other partners, to do the job because that’s where the best solutions come from. And, importantly, that’s where the solutions come from that last.

Partnerships work because they utilize the different qualities of those involved in the best possible way. AIM being a Dutch initiative, it uses the expertise of some major Dutch players in the food industry – think Unilever and vegetable seed company Rijkzwaan – as well as for example academic knowledge from Wageningen University to find the “win-win-win” situations that work for the ‘beneficiary’, the business and public sector.

The commercial approach means that the target groups are not simply beneficiaries, but clients, as they need to decide whether they want to buy a product or service. This subsequently changes the approach of the programs. For example, if you have a nutritious product that fits well with their nutritional needs, how do you convince them so that it also becomes something that they want? In an AIM project in Nigeria, UnileverSharpEndBoP Innovation Center  and GAIN are working on a business model, where women, trained to convey nutritional messages in a consumer relevant context, sell nutritious products to their peers. They make use of culturally relevant branding and are supported by a mobile platform to continue communication beyond the face-to-face interactions.

Thinking of people as customers involves often creating demand for nutritious foods, which can in turn create a new, local business opportunity. As one vegetable farmer in the Tanga region in Tanzania stated: “AIM has helped to create a demand for my products, even when they may not be seasonally available. So I have started coming up with ways to make my vegetables available for a longer period during the year.”

Of course the road to ending malnutrition is not free from challenges. As everyone has experienced, we as consumers are not always easily influenced or educated on how to eat better. Treating people as clients requires us to properly market nutritious products. But with the ensuing research that is done into consumer behaviour, it also creates the opportunity for longer lasting solutions and more impact.

With already some successful projects under its belt, AIM has only started to tap into the possibilities of a social business approach to ending malnutrition. And with the combined efforts of public and private sector, we have set foot on the right path to contribute to several SDGs such as 2:Zero Hunger, 8: Decent work and Economic Growth and 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.

Find out more and register for our January webinars: Marketing nutritious  foods to the poorest communities

This blog was written for the series on Nutrition and Inclusive Business, launched in partnership with the The Practitioner Hub for Inclusive Business in December 2016. The Hub is an online platform where practitioners that are implementing or facilitating inclusive business can gain information, insights and networks to help inclusive business grow. It supports the effective implementation of inclusive business by providing a gateway to information on inclusive business as well as offering insight, analysis and guidance to practitioners.

Published 26 December 2016

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