Our business model is simple. Build a robust network of people, provide locals with our idea, and support their vision of implementation.
Achieving the aims of an effective humanitarian organization
Through the advice we received from our HP experts, the core foundations of an effective humanitarian organization have started to emerge into a clear picture. At the center, lies a support network working together with a shared goal.
This is why Oviita bases our business model around people and the community.
We believe this is reflected in our activities, which range from developing social enterprises that enrich a community through support, and forming partnerships with organizations at all levels. We believe that by creating a rich network, we can maximize efficiency by coordinating on projects, reduce overhead costs by sharing resources, and gain opportunities through general networking. This is how we will develop a sustainable organization.
It’s not all warm feelings, though; in conversations with HP such as Dr. Warren Wilson and Robert Gough, we identified three key issues that cause humanitarian initiatives to fail, which we plan to learn from and address.
1. Addressing issues without proper knowledge
Sometimes, the best intentions create the worst problems. While speaking with Dr. Warren Wilson, he strongly stressed how fallible our perceptions can be and how something that seems like a good idea while we sit at our desks can do more harm than good. He mentioned one example about a humanitarian group that decided to build a fish pond for a village in the Amazon. They were unaware that the villagers already used the nearby river as a source of food, and worse, the stagnant water provided a breeding ground for mosquitoes, bringing malaria to the villagers. Sharing his experiences with humanitarian projects taught us that such operations, if done thoughtlessly, could cause far more harm than good. He stated that this can be avoided, however, by listening to the needs of the people you're trying to help, and always involving them in the decision making process.
OUR PLAN: ADDRESSING NEEDS WITHIN THE COMMUNITY
Every step of our process is in conjunction with data and the community, especially at the local level. Before going to an area, we will first compile data from our partners and sources like The Demographic Health Survey Program. With our Randle Cell Testing Device, we can then work alongside community health workers and policymakers to determine where Oviita can do the most good. We will ensure strong HP and constant consultation with the help of our local partners like the West Nile Empowerment centre. Only when we have identified all of the facets affecting a community’s health and their individual concerns can we begin work on implementation.
2. Unsustainable aid
A significant hurdle for providing aid to a large number of people is managing the logistics and incentives. As seen with the distribution of vitamin A supplements, if a supply chain experiences a break or funding becomes sporadic, a ripple effect travels until the end-user becomes affected. If the proposed solution requires more effort than the perceived value, there will be no motivation to maintain that solution. This leaves communities reliant for their health on external initiatives that can disappear at any time.
OUR PLAN: SUSTAINABLE SOLUTIONS
Oviita’s entire model has sustainability in mind. Our network of partners alleviates the costs of operation and implementation. Our yeast is recultureable, allowing continuous batches to be produced from the same source with minimal work or monetary input. The FAB bioreactors are very basic and require little maintenance, and the use of self-sustainable microenterprises encourages locals to continue to consume and distribute our product without outside support.
3. Too narrow a solution
Often, a solution isn’t as straightforward as it seems. A group might solve one part of the problem and still fail because it was only one piece of the puzzle. For instance, nutrition deficiency isn’t just about nutrients; sometimes, parasites and other organisms can disrupt the gut microbiome to the point of ineffective micronutrient uptake, or a lack of supplementation in an area may be due to missing nutritional data.
OUR PLAN: A BROAD SOLUTION
Oviita doesn’t just provide a source of vitamin A; it also produces a deworming compound, and a diagnostic device. Its holistic approach tackles VAD from multiple angles to help with as many aspects of deficiency as possible. Additionally, by working with our partner organizations which provide clean drinking water, solar panels, and informational workshops, we can ensure that we address all facets affecting a community's health.
To see our business model put into action, click here.
In many parts of the world, gender inequality remains a pervasive problem. Female oppression can have many detrimental effects on society. An initiative that we found inspiration comes from Western University, called “Western Heads East.” Gregor Reid, one of their founders, had this to say:
“We hypothesized that societal change could occur if women received training on the production of probiotic fermented food as a means to allow them to generate income and financial independence, and provide nutritious, health-promoting food to their family and community.” (Reid, 2020, 2)
With Western Heads East providing the initial training and resources, these women can then use the monetary value of the yeast to start a self-sustainable microenterprise.
Rather than developing a complex distribution network, these microenterprises can act as a means of distribution,which also promoting sustainable development. Considering there is also monetary incentive to sell this yeast, it will also encourage populations to sustain the project.
Figure 1. Yogurt Mama's, a microenterprise initiative by Western Heads East.
Building a sustainable device
It is not economically feasible to provide the resources for a bioreactor to
everyone individually. To ensure our product can reach as many people as possible,
our bioreactor design must be adaptable such that communities and enterprises can source most of the materials locally and inexpensively making use of whatever is available to them. This is the basis for the Field Adapted Bioreactor, or FAB.
We will present locals with design suggestions and requirements for the bioreactor, and supply them additional resources to acquire some materials if need be. They will then be able to build it in a way they best see fit. This is based on the suggestions of Dr. Charles Mather, who told us that populations in developing regions are extremely capable at working with the materials they have on hand and solving problems in a way that will work for them, even with limited resources.
Teaching locals how to be self-reliant
Dr. Gregor Ried and Robert Gough both emphasized the training required for a project like this. With the help of materials given from CAWST, we hope to develop training programs that can teach locals about:
Figure 2. A workshop led by CAWST on good health practices.
An essential part of our project
In this day and age, partnerships and outsourcing are critical for effective business models since they improve efficiency, reduce overhead costs, allow for better-tailored and specialized service, and more. Given our multifaceted approach to Vitamin A deficiency, it would be easy for resources to be spread too thin and become ineffective.
Community Health Workers will be a vital part of our business model, as suggested by both Dr. Warren Wilson and Kelly James. They are the face of healthcare on the local level and invaluable in determining FAB placement, as well as bridging the gap between the locals and us. They also often have existing training workshops centred around health and nutrition, and our contacts have confirmed that we will likely be able to implement our training material into their current programs.
“There is robust evidence that [Community Health Workers] can undertake actions that lead to improved health outcomes, especially, but not exclusively, in the field of child health.” (World Health Organization, 2007)
We will also be creating partnerships with Universities. There is a strong need for research that covers many disciplines, such as bioreactor effectiveness, development of microenterprises, community impact, and nutrition. Thus, we believe it is only ethical to conduct this research in association with the locals in the areas we wish to bring implementation.
CAWST: A global organization with a focus on Water, Sanitation and Health. Capable of bringing clean water to communities, introducing us to an extensive network of partners and clients and an immense amount of resources for training material, workshops, and general education.
Western Heads East: An established organization that closely resembles Oviita, who have provided 160 000 people with probiotic yogurt in an effort to empower locals through microenterprises.
West Nile Youth Empowerment Center: A youth-led, community level, non-profit in Uganda, willing to implement our training programs and bioreactor.
Our potential partners
Association of African Entrepreneurs: an African wide organization that supports the development and growth of local enterprises.
Little Sun: a global organization that provides solar panels to communities.
What can we gain from our partners?
How can we fund Oviita?
A majority of our funding will come from sources such as:
These sources will fund most salaries and other large ticket items. In between those capital injections, we will rely on our crowdfunding platform
In order for our solution to be sustainable, our microenterprise system needs to balance being profitable and providing the product at a reasonable cost for the users. Given the low cost of maintenance, we believe this is easily achievable.
If a FAB costs around $50 (USD) and a single serving sold for $0.05, it is estimated that a FAB can produce 80 servings a day therefor, it would take 12.5 days to pay for the FAB. After that, the estimated cost of electricity to run the pump is $0.60, therefor would have a small effect on profits.
We believe offering our product at this price is reasonable considering that Yogurt Mamas sold a single serving of yogurt for $0.25. In addition, our research found the minimum raw cost of a vitamin A pill was $0.10. Making our product the cheapest solution and when paired with our microenterprises as an effective distribution system, the easiest option.
Figure 4. An example of a common expenditure sheet.
Raising funds through collective efforts
One common complaint with charities is that people don’t know where their money goes, causing people to be hesitant to donate. To combat this, we will be creating a platform that will allow for complete transparency of funding and allow for microtransactions and targeted donations. By giving people the choice of where their money goes, visually showing what their money is doing, accepting smaller donations, and allowing public recognition, we hope to improve upon an archaic system.
Anything that requires funding requirements can be added to our organization’s website—things like air pumps, wages, shipping, etc. Then people can then choose how they wish to spend their money. Given the small costs and the ease of donation, this platform is perfect for running social media campaigns; this is where we believe we will get the most traffic.
Some of our partners have offered to share our website through their social media to increase traffic in exchange for adding a product or service of theirs to our platform.
In the future, we would like to partner with a mobile game developer where the microtransaction built to enhance the gameplay is attached to the funding of these things.
Figure 5. An example homepage for a crowdfunding platform.
Registering under new classifications
As we progressed through the summer, we slowly built up a pool of industry contacts to network and build partnerships with. These partnerships and the intentions they carried pushed forward the truth that if we were going to continue with this project, we would need to form an identity that would outlive our time with the iGEM team. Towards this end, we decided to incorporate Oviita as a non-profit organization. We have filled out the forms and sent them into the mail ether and are currently awaiting the government's reply. We will operate under the trade name Oviita Nutrition for all future business dealings. As we searched for different grants, funding opportunities, and partnerships, we found that being a recognized organization was a standard requirement. We are therefore in the process of registering as a charity in order to be able to legally accept money through fundraising. These non-profit and charity classifications will help us deliver on our promises, and facilitate the journey of propelling Oviita from the lab bench into the communities it can most help.
Reid, G. (2020). J Glob Health. Empowering women through probiotic fermented food in East Africa, 10(1), 1-5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7242885/
World Health Organization. (2007, January 01). Community health workers: What do we know about them? WHO. https://www.who.int/hrh/documents/community_health_workers.pdf