How a Pharmaceutical Giant is Battling Malnutrition on the Ground in Haiti

Friday, August 26, 2011

All too often, corporate philanthropy involves dropping a wad of money on organizations that are doing work on an issue that the corporation “cares” about, and then saying goodbye. But sometimes, corporations actually bring their know-how and human capital to bear on a problem, in addition to just giving money. The global pharmaceutical company Abbott is taking the second path, focusing on long-lasting initiatives that can grow local economies in struggling areas. Case in point: Abbott’s work to combat severe malnutrition in Haiti.

Abbott has long held an interest in the country, where it has offered up $48 million in grants and product donations over the years to deal with Haiti’s health needs. About two years ago, the company sent a team of people to Haiti to check out Partners in Health’s production facility for Nourimanba, a high-protein, high-calorie fortified peanut-based paste that is similar to Plumpy’nut (the latter product’s patent isn’t registered in Haiti). It needed work. Partners in Health’s facility was partially outside, and the rest of the operation was located in a one-room building.

“We wanted to build a facility, and make a process that is appropriate for the Haitian context,” says Kathy Pickus, VP of global citizenship and policy at Abbott. Unfortunately, Abbott’s Haiti trip took place right before the 2010 earthquake, and so the company had to think about building the factory from scratch. The devastation was so bad, there were no longer even any roads going from the local peanut farms to the site of the future facility.

So Abbott and Partners in Health went to work, planning everything from the type of equipment that would be used (low-maintenance, of course) to a diagnostic process for Nourimanba that tests for local toxins. After Abbott employees noticed that Partners in Health workers were mixing vitamins with peanut paste, they suggested that they instead mix the vitamins with sugar to ensure a more equitable distribution of product. “We have a certain expertise as a business that these economies are hungry for,” says Pickus.

The new Nourimanba facility is about to break ground in Cange, located in Haiti’s central plateau region. Local workers are performing the construction, and when it is complete, the whole operation will be run by locals–including 60 employees to deal with production and hundreds of local farmers who will provide peanuts. Eventually, Haitians could use the facility to sell regular peanut butter to locals. Proceeds would go back into production and ensure that Partners In Health could continue giving away Nourimanba for free.

“We want to make sure that organizations have the tools to make a real change,” says Pickus. If only every corporate philanthropy took such care with its projects.

Source: Fast Company (link opens in a new window)