Over-reaching is the enemy of scale
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24 August 2019 Share article

By Felix Brooks-Church, Co-founder & CEO of Sanku 

The increasing interest in new technologies to solve intractable problems in the developing world has led to life-saving breakthroughs. The challenge of how to scale these technologies, however, is often more complex than the technology itself. Based on our experience at Sanku, we think of solutions as ready to scale if they address a broad and critical need within a current context, instead of relying on changing conditions in order to clear a pathway to scale.  

Too often, attempts at technological disruption in the development context are unable to achieve scale because their designs rely on assumptions that underlying market conditions will change, such as a government adopting favorable policies in the future, or some kind of consumer behaviour change. 

This usually does not work. 

If the solution relies on changing upstream and downstream conditions, then a technology will never scale beyond the local level. Development actors should understand their technology or solution as strengthening one link in a chain and be wary of efforts to influence conditions beyond their control. 

Myself and the team at Sanku learned this over the course of several years and trying out different approaches. Our focus is addressing micronutrient malnutrition, otherwise known as “hidden hunger”. Micronutrient deficiencies affect two billion people globally and compromise the immune systems of over 40 per cent of children in the developing world. This increases their chances of dying from curable diseases like measles, malaria, and diarrhea, by about 35 per cent. 

The fortification of staple foods with critical micronutrients is widely accepted as one of the most cost-effective interventions with the best health outcomes for the overall population. For many years, before Sanku, fortification technology in East Africa was only applicable to large-scale milling companies and, unfortunately, this only reached a small portion of the population, as most people consume flour produced at local, decentralised mills. 

To address the majority of the population in need, Sanku designed its technology to work for small-scale millers, without changing the way they do business. Our “dosifier” technology works as an extension to the existing mill hopper, micro-dosing micronutrient premix automatically. Furthermore, we neutralised the cost of fortification by bundling flour bags sales with micronutrient premix to these same millers. In short, we have been able to create significant change – without changing how the market works. 

Of course, all of this has been our experience and the rapid adoption required of technological breakthroughs can only be achieved if the technology fits within existing conditions. To this end, our advice to other innovators in the development space is that they look to create focused change and avoid over-reach in their solutions.