Unlocking Private Sector Approaches to Address Malnutrition
With funding from USAID and Feed the Future, the NOURISH Project helps to accelerate the Royal Government of Cambodia’s efforts to reduce stunting, the most common manifestation of malnutrition in Cambodia. Led by Save the Children in partnership with The Manoff Group, SNV, Wathnakpheap, Operations Enfants du Cambodge and Partners in Compassion, the project utilizes a multi-sectoral approach, working side-by-side with rural families, community leaders and volunteers, health workers, and local businesses to stimulate better child nutrition and growth.
Where we started:
In Cambodia, one in three children under the age of five is stunted because of chronic malnutrition. Stunting can be prevented during the critical first 1,000 days from the start of pregnancy until the child turns two years old by addressing underlying factors including the lack of diversity in the diets of children, especially the inclusion of animal-sourced foods. While Cambodians consume the largest amount of fresh fish per capita in the world, our formative research showed that children under two were not eating the fish with their families. Inspired by local practice, NOURISH staff developed a simple processing technique to prepare a powder from small fish naturally available in rice fields. The powder addresses caregivers’ hesitancy to feed fresh fish to young children, and the process ensures that the powder can be safely stored for up to four months. Designed so that young children can receive the animal-sourced foods that they need daily for optimal growth and development, the powder is a tasty, affordable and easy addition to their normal complementary foods.
As NOURISH promoted home-based production of this small fish powder and interest in it grew, it was clear that not every family would be willing and able to make their own; some would rather purchase it. We commissioned a market analysis that concluded there was a potential market for the small fish powder among rural households.
Building on an opportunity:
We needed a strategy to build both the supply and demand for a new food product, and we wanted something highly practical and easy to use. We turned to The Lean Canvas, a methodology created by Ash Maurya that allows users to quickly design and refine a concise, practical business plan. The Lean Canvas features nine conceptual areas which, when completed in order, guide users through the design of a business plan.
In the three months following the launch of our plans for producing and marketing small fish powder in rural Cambodia, we have increased from one to thirteen active producers, who sell on average 90 jars a month, realizing a profit of $0.50 per jar. Small fish powder is now for sale in local markets across three provinces, and it is included in food baskets given to NOURISH program participants.
What we learned from using this private sector tool:
- Start with your assumptions…
The Lean Canvas starts with a collection of hypotheses and best guesses. There are nine boxes with key questions on every element of a business plan. We created two Canvases — one for recruiting producers, and one for marketing the product to consumers. For both of our Canvases, we found it easy to write down something for the key question in each of the nine conceptual areas based on our experiences in communities. There was no pressure for it to be right from the first try. Using this tool iteratively and collaboratively created a team dynamic where everyone could contribute any idea, even wild ones.
- ...but don’t stop there. You must test and validate what you think you know.
Every assumption must be validated. We tested our assumptions through focus group discussions and in-depth interviews with potential customers and producers. It was enlightening for the team to see where our assumptions were spot-on and when we were way off. For example, when we developed the value proposition for producers, we were right that money was a motivator, but other considerations included family support, knowledge on production and managing a business. We also did not fully understand how the program could support production start-up. We found that we needed to support a potential producer when he or she prepared to talk to his or her family about their decision to join the program. We continually refined our Lean Canvas marketing plans, making two rounds of quick trips to communities to talk to potential consumers and producers to validate all elements of our Canvases.
- Know your customer.
When exploring the product’s perceived value, consumers often raised the issue of quality. We worked to understand how potential consumers defined quality, and found that they meant product features such as fresh ingredients, as well as outcomes like a healthy family and having multiple ways to use the product. These features are now communicated clearly on our logo and tag.
Currently, NOURISH is carefully monitoring quality in the production process through spot-checks, quality testing with the Pasteur Institute and troubleshooting. However, NOURISH will not be an active community participant forever. Therefore, the project is pursuing two strategies to ensure sustainable production quality.
First, NOURISH has engaged local officials by delivering a training for District Agriculture Officers under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). The training is similar to the producer training but builds officials’ confidence and expertise in monitoring quality. Second, NOURISH is creating a community of producers linked to the new Small Fish Powder product. Each producer has responsibility for and a stake in maintaining the quality and reputation of the product. Instead of competing for customers with each other, the network provides support for each producer and enables the group to collectively reach a larger market.
- Fall in love with the problem, not the solution.
Had we not fallen in love with the problem, we never would have expanded beyond in-home production. In the communities where we work, although food is available, families lack nutritious food options for young children that are easy to prepare, tasty and at the fingertips of caregivers. We thought we had solved this problem by encouraging parents to make small fish powder at home. But our solution was still not convenient enough; we were only halfway there.
- Be prepared to meet implementation challenges and pivot.
We are grateful for the support to design, fail, iterate and scale. This approach gave us the evidence we needed to make smart changes in our approach to bring small fish powder to market. By using an iterative process, facilitated by the Lean Canvas, to logically think through our approach and create a strategic plan, we were more prepared for and better able solve challenges that arose during implementation.
To learn more about Lean Canvas, see: https://leanstack.com/is-one-page-business-model
To learn more about NOURISH, see: https://www.usaid.gov/what-we-do/global-health/nutrition/countries/cambodia-nutrition-profile
Melissa Antal was a former Behavior Change & Nutrition Advisor at The Manoff Group. She is completing her MBA and has a start-up, Foublie. For more information about human-centered and behavior-centered programming contact [email protected].