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Will businesses be willing to get knee deep into sustainability efforts if they’re not able to make a traditional business case for it?
That’s one of the crucial questions Paul Murphy, CEO of Valid Nutrition, faces as he works to partner with for-profit corporations to treat and prevent childhood malnutrition in developing countries.
“It does require them to look at a different business model, one that is less beholden to short term shareholder demands and much more focused on long term impact,” says Murphy.
Valid Nutrition was founded by Dr Steve Collins, who also established Valid International, a 13-year old company which developed the methodology known as Community-based Therapeutic Care. “Severe acute malnutrition affects about 25 million kids globally at any point in time,” says Murphy, and the community approach conducts treatment through local health centers rather than hospitals. Children are prescribed ready-to-use therapeutic food in one-week rations, and return regularly for assessments while living in their homes. That’s easier for parents who don’t have to split their time between home and hospital and more convenient in locales with limited hospital facilities. Because of the community aspect and related improved understanding on nutrition, it is also a fundamental change from a supply to a demand led dynamic for such products. “This is now the preferred intervention method for treating severe acute malnutrition in developing countries,” says Murphy.
To realize its full vision — of rolling out the distribution model to more countries, working with governments and NGOs to train locals and using social marketing at the community level to encourage parents with young children to come forward for prevention as well as treatment — Valid is working to partner with corporations that have the finances and the vision to fund this kind of work.
It hasn’t been easy. Murphy, who spent 27 years with Unilever and was the chairman and chief executive of Unilever Ireland before joining the social enterprise sector, says Valid is ready to scale up its projects but doesn’t have the deep pockets to do so.
In a conversation with Nina Kruschwitz, an editor and the special projects manager at MIT Sloan Management Review, Murphy explains what companies are skittish about and how he’s trying to get them to embrace “an entirely different business model” in their sustainability-related projects.
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