Friday, October 25, 2013

Technology is Changing the Way We Eat

I have been doing a bit of research on food lately, and I've been particularly interested in the way technology is shaping the way we eat- from the genetically modified DNA of the corn we consume to the way we discover food trends on Instagram. Where is technology helpful and where is it harmful?

On the one hand, I am enthralled by power of human creativity: We use technology to create drought-resistant GMO seeds and test tube meat to reduce the environmental impacts of cattle farming. A globalised supply chain lets us access produce from around the world, creating jobs and access to fresh produce year round.

On the other, I'm concerned about the externalities that we create with this system- from environmental contamination to skewed economic incentives. I am personally concerned about the impact on our health, particularly from livestock pumped with hormones and antibiotics. And the food supply chain is so complex that horse meat was sold as beef for years before anyone noticed.

As much as I advocate organic/local/ethical food, I would find it hard to survive exclusively on locally grown and seasonal food, particularly in the UK. I would be cutting out salad, fruit, quinoa, chocolate, coffee, soya milk and many other staples of my diet. It's an uncomfortable realisation but an important one. It would not be realistic for me to avoid the global food supply chain. So how can I work with it to ensure that the food I buy meets my standards and my values?

One of the major challenges in understanding food quality is the mis-labelling of products. 24% of the new products that launch each year are categorised as "healthy." "Healthy" and "natural" are unregulated terms and even regulated terms like "gluten-free" are applied to products that wouldn't have gluten anyway to make them appear more healthly. Apps like Good Guide and Fooducate provide breakdowns of common products to help cut through misleading labels. I've also compiled a list of terms below:

Organic agriculture is a production system that sustains the health of soils, ecosystems and people. It relies on ecological processes, biodiversity and cycles adapted to local conditions, rather than the use of inputs with adverse effects. Organic agriculture combines tradition, innovation and science to benefit the shared environment and promote fair relationships and a good quality of life for all involved.

Seasonality of food refers to the times of year when a given type food is at its peak, either in terms of harvest or its flavour. This is usually the time when the item is the cheapest and the freshest on the market.

The most widely accepted  definition of local food is that used by farmers’ markets to identify producers who are entitled to sell there. This can be summarised as: food produced,  processed, traded and sold within a defined geographic radius, often 30  miles.

Gluten-free food is normally seen as a diet for celiac disease. The European Union requires reliable measurement of the wheat prolamins, gliadins to determine what is gluten-free.

Free range is a term which denotes a method of farming where the animals can roam freely for food, rather than being confined in an enclosure. On many farms, the outdoors ranging area is fenced, thereby technically making this an enclosure, however, free range systems usually offer the opportunity for extensive locomotion and sunlight prevented by indoor housing systems.

Cage-free  refers primarily to eggs, and are from birds that are not raised in cages, but in floor systems such as an open barn.  However, they may still be at close quarters with many other hens.

Foods that are GMO Free refer to food without Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)- products that have been altered at the gene level.

Vegetarian cuisine refers to food that meets vegetarian standards by not including meat and animal tissue products.

Vegan products contain no animal ingredients or by-products, use no animal ingredients or by-products in the manufacturing process, and are not tested on animals.

Fair Trade aims to help producers in developing countries with better trading conditions and promotes sustainability. It advocates the payment of a higher price to exporters as well as higher social and environmental standards.

The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and improve livelihoods by promoting and evaluating the implementation of the most globally respected sustainability standards.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A word from our Advisors and Connectors about...

A word from our Advisors and Connectors about...

Today, October 11th, is International Day of the Girl. Girl Up , an United Nations Foundation initiative aiming to unite girls to change the world has been promoting #11DaysofAction . We wanted to share some of our thoughts! Our Advisor, Esther Agbarakwe , shared some of her thoughts regarding girls' education: Girl Child Education: Why We MUST keep our girls in school As I picked up the phone to call my mother as she marks her birthday today, October 10th, I felt proud of her and her accomplishment in ensuring that I and all my sisters all went to school as girls because she believed that at school, we will get the right information about ourselves, our sexuality and be empowered to shape our future. She didn’t...Read More

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Reverse Innovation in mHealth: Interview with Kirsten Gagnaire of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action

I recently interviewed Kirsten Gagnaire, Global Director of the Mobile Alliance for Maternal Action (MAMA). MAMA is a public-private partnership that provides relevant information to pregnant women and local healthcare workers  text and voice messages. 

MAMA credits its success- reaching 530,000 mothers in 60 countries- with a focus on local relevance and rapid prototyping. "We don't just translate- we localise the content and target local myths. We look at the literacy rate and the level of comfort with technology," says Gagnaire. MAMA relies heavily on focus groups, bringing in the whole spectrum of healthcare stakeholders into early conversations - from community health providers to public health officials in the government. Once there is alignment among healthcare workers, the information is tested in focus groups with the target audience. In these focus groups, MAMA tests variables such as content, tone of voice, and even background noises to understand what resonates best with local women in the target demographic. MAMA experiments with multiple iterations and continuously updates its messaging.

MAMA's emphasis local relevance stems from Gagnaire's time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Mali. She saw a number of agricultural machines rusting on the side of the road. These machines were donated to the local population but because local skills could not service the machines and replacement parts were not locally available, the machines were left to rust. The technology provided was not appropriate for the local context. Gagnaire has applied this lesson to MAMA by focusing on programmes that are available no matter what the handset and creating content that is relevant to the local context.

Gagnaire emphasises the importance of partnerships in her work. “Work that blends technology, behavior change, and long term sustainability is too big for one entity to do alone.” She acknowledges the challenges of finding the right partners for complex initiatives. Gagnaire encourages organisations to understand their strengths and contribute their core competencies. She also suggests guiding partnership decisions by asking, "Who else cares if this succeeds? Who else has a stake in this? How can we effectively monetise this?" 

As MAMA moves forward, partnerships will be key to its growth. MAMA is compiling an affiliate programmes offering, expanding to Nigeria, and focusing on the ways that MAMA could provide complimentary services to  adolescent girls and mothers with young children. It is exploring a partnership opportunity with Sesame Street to provide joint messaging for families. 

MAMA is also focusing on partnerships that financially sustain the organisation. It is exploring the viability of mobile advertising and considering offering mobile financial services through banks. One opportunity in the financial services space would be an mSavings scheme to help women save for birth-related costs, such as transportation to a healthcare provider and birth assistance.

As mobile penetration around the world increases, MAMA will certainly be an organisation to watch.