A little over a month ago I wrote about attending the Global Social Business Summit in Germany. Today, I would like to share 3 business cases that were discussed during a workshop at that meeting. For a quick refresher on Social Business please read my blog titled On Social Business.
Over 100,000 children die of Thalassemia every year. It is the most widely spread fatal genetic disease. Bone Marrow Transplantation (BMT) was developed as a cure in 1984 in Italy by Dr. Lucarelli. The procedure has a 94% success rate and very low risk. This initiative has the ambitious goal of curing all Thalassemia cases by 2025! It is a partnership between Grameen Healthcare Trust and Cure2Children Foundation of Italy. To achieve this, Cure2Children will supply the know-how and medical expertise while Grameen Healthcare Trust will provide local knowledge and access to its extensive Bangladesh network. The promise is to offer Dr. Lucarelli’s clinically proven Bone Marrow Transplant technology to the poorest segments of society. The business model is fairly simple: create a network of Bone Marrow Transplantation (BMT) clinics in Bangladesh, each with 2 paying beds and one free bed. The cost of the procedure is a tenth of the cost of the same procedure in Western Countries. The service is run like a Social Business: the venture is set-up as a business but the objective is a social one-cure Thalassemia. The small profit made by charging patients who can afford to pay the procedures helps offer the procedure to those who can’t. The first BMT clinic is planned for Dhaka and future expansion plans include India.
Another social business focused on Thalassemia was created by Eugenio La Mesa late in 2010, it is called Cure Thalassemia.
Malaria kills millions of children every year. The carrier of the disease is a mosquito that strikes predominantly at night when people are asleep. The populations most at risk are children and pregnant women. Insecticide-treated bed nets have proven to be an effective way to protect populations. For many years the international community has organized mass bed net distribution campaigns. Some of the challenges associated with these campaigns are their sustainability and high costs. Having witnessed myself one such campaign a few years ago in Madagascar when I was working for the Red Cross, I can attest to the complexity of the logistics: the bed nets have to be distributed widely, in difficult to access rural areas, and installed properly over the beds- which requires an army of volunteers. BASF is teaming up with Grameen Healthcare Trust to sell and distribute Fendonatm-treated bed nets. BASF provides its technical know-how while Grameen Healthcare Trust brings an extensive network in the country.
The key strategy of this JV is to create awareness about the benefits of the nets, use a diversity of sales and distribution channels to reach the end-user, and set-up regular customer and channel partner meetings to share information. The first bed nets were sold in 2009 and the goal is to provide nets for a population of about 3 million. A production plant is being built in Bangladesh and should be fully operational by March 2011. It will reduce bed net costs to a fraction of the current costs and therefore improve the affordability of the product.
59% of the population of Bangladesh lives on less than $3 per day and many rural poor do not have access to affordable health care services. Grameen Healthcare Trust was created in 2006 by Prof. Yunus with the goal of offering quality and affordable healthcare services to the poor. Services include an eye care program which has already performed over 7700 eye surgeries, 53 community-based health centers treating 250,000 patients on a yearly basis, mother and child health programs, awareness and health education. Services are offered at an affordable price for the target population and are subsidised for the poor. They are free for the ultra-poor. Micro health insurance is available for community health services.
These 3 case studies are unique in that they all seek to address specific health issues (thalassemia, malaria, healthcare for the poor), without relying on government funding or ongoing charitable donations beyond the initial investment. It remains to be seen how close to Yunus’ definition of social business these three initiatives are. The intentions are noble, the solutions creative, let’s hope they are economically sustainable.