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How can innovation help solve acute malnutrition?

With 104 million Indian people living in urban slums and 46.6 million children who are stunted by a lack of nutrition, acute malnutrition in India is a huge and complex challenge.

Although there are many successful malnutrition programmes in India, such as the Government’s Integrated Child Development Services Scheme and Midday Meal Scheme, and initiatives from NGOs such as Annamrita Foundation and Akshaya Patra Foundation, there is also a growing understanding that we need new, scalable, and crucially cross sector approaches to taking on this giant challenge.

Nesta and Delhi-based Innovation lab Vihara are partnering with the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF) to pilot the Acute Malnutrition Prevention Lab, a new way of finding and developing implementable solutions to address acute malnutrition in India. By bringing together people from different domains like nutrition, health, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods), and urban development, from organisations including research institutes, NGOs, government bodies and the private sector, we hope to generate new and more sustainable solutions.

CIFF has a long and proud record of funding and supporting world-leading programmes to support nutrition in India, especially in rural areas. This innovation lab, which will take place in Delhi from May – July 2019, seeks to find new ways of addressing acute malnutrition, bringing people together from across sectors that wouldn’t usually be directly engaged with each other for a short sprint to see what ideas can be generated.

We’re inviting participants from across sectors to come together to answer the following question:

What is the best combination of actors and interventions for a specific location to prevent acute malnutrition?

The problem is multifaceted

The challenge isn’t just about what children eat; it’s driven by many factors. That is why CIFF has chosen to take an ‘innovation approach’.

Vihara Head of Operations Aditya Brahmabhatt sees the challenges as complex and interlinked: "Food preferences play a huge role in the health of families and kids, especially in urban settings such as Delhi. People aspire to eat foods that are marketed extensively through various channels, foods which don't provide the necessary nutrient inputs that mothers and children need for good health.

"Sanitation and hygiene also play a huge part in the health lives of families in urban settings. Children grow up in densely packed environments that are full of human waste that is inefficiently disposed of. When you add poor quality water to the mix, you have the perfect setting for a host of diseases to thrive, which pushes a child's immune system to its limit, and takes away vital nutrients required for growth and development."

Aditya says that the idea of a multi-sector lab is new for India, therefore it’s been easy to find people who want to participate.

"The context of the lab – Acute Malnutrition in urban settings – is fairly new and unexplored, so that in itself is quite exciting. The integrative approach that we are trying to take is going to be extremely challenging as well as new. What's most exciting is the process of figuring this out with the wonderful partners we have on board, and the process of collaborative sense making."

Acute Malnutrition Prevention Lab - the ecosystem graphic

The multiple factors that can lead to malnutrition in children in urban areas

How will the lab work?

Participants will explore, through an innovative “idealised design” process, creating a future system that performs 10x better than the current one through two high-powered sprints, with 30 days in between to reflect and iterate. Sprint one will span four days in May; this will be followed by a second, three-day sprint in June, including a 'demo day' on day three. In the space between the sprints, the participants will explore individually how their product/programme can improve 10x and connect to other projects.

At the end of this, participants will pitch to a range of funders. Following the funding decision, we will enter an 18-month period of prototyping and scaling. The funding will be based on a selection criteria and participating in the lab does not guarantee funding.

What does success look like?

We are measuring two things in the lab; firstly, how the participants’ way of working changes, including their mindset, their approach and whether they intend to make changes to the way they work long term. We are keen for participants to set up longer term partnerships and collaborations, and the lab has been designed to do just that.

We are also measuring the number and quality of the ideas generated from the lab. We expect many of the ideas to already be in the market and the work we do in the lab will join those solutions with other ideas and networks to support scaling. We also expect to see new, viable and implementable ideas.

How can you get involved?

We will be hosting a demo day in June and are keen for any global donors interested in the solutions being proposed or the approach that CIFF, Nesta and Vihara have taken to join us. Please contact [email protected] if you would like to join in person or remotely.

Author

Kate Sutton

Kate Sutton

Kate Sutton

Head of Corporate Social Innovation

Kate is responsible for managing Nesta's Corporate Social Innovation and Inclusive Growth work

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