Why Nutrition Needs to Find Blue Oceans

By Lawrence Haddad, GAIN’s Executive Director

Funding for nutrition has increased significantly over the past 10 years, which is a very good thing. So has the number of initiatives, organisations and programmes addressing nutrition. But is this an unqualified good thing?

On the plus side, this could lead to a greater diversity of partners, approaches, ambition, reach and influence, and could result in stronger alliances and a bigger impact on nutrition status. But, if we have a monoculture—everyone chasing the same funds to do the same things without coordination– that is a likely to be bad for coherence, bad for nutrition outcomes and bad for eradicating malnutrition.

Business strategists call the latter outcome a Red Ocean scenario (everyone is fighting in the same space for the same resources, the red signifying blood) and the former a Blue Ocean scenario (stakeholders are trying to expand the nutrition space by venturing into waters where few nutrition actors are to be found). Here is the original Harvard Business Review article from 2004.

Clearly we need nutrition to move more quickly into blue oceans. Every Global Nutrition Report since 2014 has stressed this with calls to reach out to new sectors, new stakeholders, new disciplines, new alliances and new geographies. So we can clearly talk the talk. Our increasing realisation of the centrality of what we eat in preventing all forms of malnutrition should keep us less fractured and more coherent. But how do we get into those blue oceans? It is hard.  We all want to belong to a gang.  It is so much more comfortable to interact with people who use the same language, have similar frames of reference, and who commune regularly in the context of a series of major meetings.

I would argue that we have to do more to get out of our comfort zones, to meet people who don’t think much about malnutrition but who offer a new opportunity to advance nutrition all the while getting their own development goals met more sustainably. (We have one big advantage here, every family, community and each human being eats every day! So unlike advocating around many other critical topics, we have a common starting point.)

This past year I have written several blogs illustrating the benefits of ocean-going nutritionists! The mobile phone providers who can spread nutrition messaging, cold chain firms who can provide low cost refrigeration solutions, trade regime lawyers who can help strategize about how to reduce tariffs on key inputs to healthy food systems (e.g. insulation material), consumer rights groups who can work on class action litigation, human rights organisations that can document nutrition rights’ violations, infrastructure experts who can advise on what works and does not work in the PPP space, education specialists who can help design school based nutrition programmes that appeal to students. The list goes on……

Nutrition institutions need to give their nutrition champions the license, skills and support to roam in the blue oceans. And all of us need to share our nautical charts on where those oceans are and what is in them. The blue ocean is big. We need to operate in it.


This blog is also available on Development Horizons

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Published 9 February 2018