In the quest to secure global funding for nutrition, the Power of Nutrition is exploring a model to bring new donors into the sector. The charitable foundation, which launched three years ago, promises to match any initial investment, which is then doubled by partners who implement the programs.
The model arrives as experts in the sector worry that without new investments, they will miss global targets to reduce malnutrition. The deadline for achieving those global nutrition targets, including a 40 percent reduction in child stunting and reducing child wasting to less than 5 percent, is only seven years away.
In 2016, the nonprofit Results for Development estimated there was a $69.9 billion resource gap between what was being spent on nutrition and what needed to be spent to reach those goals over 10 years. Funding does not appear to be meeting those ambitions, according to experts, which has encouraged the nutrition community to seek out other ways to increase spending.
As part of its work, the Power of Nutrition looks for people or foundations who might not have been involved in the nutrition sector specifically to invest in creating nutrition projects that will ultimately achieve sustainability. Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi, who heads the investment team, told News Deeply that the foundation’s approach appears to be working.
The Power of Nutrition currently has a portfolio of projects totaling $360 million and is active in five countries, with a project in a sixth – Rwanda – set to begin soon.
Malnutrition Deeply: What makes Power of Nutrition different from other funders and donors working in the malnutrition sector?
Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi: We are the only charitable foundation that does absolutely nothing but fund nutrition programs. We have a very singular focus that makes it easy when you’re trying to attract funders who have never considered nutrition or are keen to expand into nutrition.
Our foremost mandate is to help national governments take to scale the 11 nutrition-specific interventions. That’s our first mandate. It’s about trying to get that golden dream of 100 percent coverage of these interventions wherever possible.
Our mandate is to help governments get to that scale in a country, but it has to be done in a sustainable way. We don’t want to just go into a country and do a massive vitamin A campaign. Over time, you can get to a 100 percent [coverage] on vitamin A campaigns, but when the project ends, that’s the end of it. Where’s the sustainability? What happens to children in the community or country after that?
Our ambition is to ensure that, with our support, these interventions are embedded in government systems. So, for vitamin A, a campaign might be ideal in the short term, but in the medium term, how can it make the transition to child health days? And eventually, how can it become part of a country’s primary health care system?
Malnutrition Deeply: How do you actually do that?
Owusu-Gyamfi: We are unusual as a foundation in the sense that we are both a fundraiser and a funder. We fundraise from private sector donors who could be foundations, high net worth individuals or corporates.
We try to get individuals and organizations who have invested in nutrition in the past to do more. Or to encourage funders who have invested in the early years but never nutrition to the see the link between their current and past investments and nutrition and consider nutrition. Finally, we try to get organizations who have never considered nutrition or early years to really think about nutrition as a viable social investment option.
We’re also trying to bring funders to a platform on which they can support national nutrition programs at scale, rather than a myriad of micro-projects. By investing in a national program, they are really supporting a national government to both embed nutrition in its health or agricultural system at scale and in a sustainable manner. By using The Power of Nutrition platform, we offer them the added assurance of accountability and transparency for their funding.
If the donor interest does not align with the country’s needs or we fundamentally think it is off track, we won’t proceed with it. If we have a donor who has a great “silver bullet idea,” but it will not contextually work, then we will have a difficult conversation about why it does not make sense using national and global evidence.
Our aim is always to get the funder to see the rationale behind the direction of travel that is proposed by the government. If we cannot align the money with the national ambition, we just need to be brave and say the money isn’t going to work in this context. You don’t really want to waste a donor’s money, and you don’t want to frustrate a government.
Most of the time we can help both sides to see a common alignment, and our partners at times come with skills and experiences that can help national governments realize their nutrition ambitions. Alongside this, we work with our implementing partners to ensure the government programs that our funders are investing in are robust.
Malnutrition Deeply: Can you offer an example of how a project comes together? There was a recent announcement, for instance, that The Power of Nutrition would be working with the World Bank, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Rwandan government and others to introduce a $55 million project to reduce stunting. How did that happen?
Owusu-Gyamfi: As an organization that does not implement, we work with implementing partners such as the World Bank and UNICEF. Our partners share with us ideas for national programs for countries that meet our criteria on national stunting rates, government commitment and ability to match our funding.
We had a high net worth individual who was very keen to fund nutrition in Rwanda. In looking at the analytical work that had been done by the government of Rwanda and the World Bank, he was especially interested in finding a balance between nutrition-based conditional cash transfers as well as deepening and broadening poor people’s access to nutrition services in the health sector. This was in response to the immediate and underlying causes of undernutrition in the country – poor access to critical nutrition, unhealthy behavior and poverty.
We initiated a discussion with the World Bank about a possible investment and what the component parts might be. During these discussions, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation expressed an interest in funding the program. Their investments unlocked platform funding from our main donors. That really kick-started the earnest conversation with the World Bank, who was also in conversation with the government about what was viable.
It was evident from the start that the government of Rwanda is not only interested in scaling up sustainably what works, but understanding “how” and “why” it works. They were very clear about the program being underpinned by an independent evaluation, a really rigorous process, so they could learn lessons for further scale up in the future.
Malnutrition Deeply: And once the program is in place and evaluated, what comes next?
Owusu-Gyamfi: Our ambition is to reinvest in countries to drive down stunting rates even further. Assuming we see progress in the countries where we’re working, we want to be able to get additional investments in to try to tackle the problem even better. Through the World Bank and UNICEF, we now have commitments in Tanzania, Liberia, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Cote d’Ivoire and Rwanda. It would be great, assuming the results are looking positive when the independent evaluation comes in, to go back into the country and do a second investment. To have a partnership with a country that truly takes stunting rates down to a negligible level would be excellent.