Our client Vestergaard Frandsen recently launched a $20,000 Challenge seeking designs or materials for a storage bag, container, or vessel that protects seeds and grains against rodent infestations. Vestergaard Frandsen makes life-saving products available to individuals around the world who are the most vulnerable to communicable diseases. We recently spoke with Navneet Garg, Chief Development Officer at Vestergaard Frandsen, about the Challenge.
Hello Mr. Garg – thank you for joining us today. Vestergaard Frandsen has a unique “humanitarian entrepreneurship” business model. Could you tell us more about it, and some of your accomplishments over the years?
We are a small but impactful global company headquartered in Switzerland. Our scientists, public health professionals, and regional staff on five continents are dedicated to developing and implementing tools to keep people healthy in the developing world. Innovation is at the core of all of our work because the stakes are so high. Breakthrough new ideas fostered by Vestergaard Frandsen will save the lives of the most underserved people on the planet.
We manufacture the best-selling and longest-lasting insecticidal bed net called PermaNet®. These bed nets have protected half a billion people – most of them in sub-Saharan Africa and under age five – from malaria, one of the leading killers of people living there. Our LifeStraw® water purification technology has been deployed for virtually every major international emergency since 2005. We were also the first company to leverage carbon offsets to fund the world’s largest privately financed water project. It is currently providing sustainable access to safe water for 4.5 million people, most of whom have never had access to safe water in their homes.
What are your objectives for this Challenge and what motivated you to crowdsource it through InnoCentive?
Our guiding star for innovation has been the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals (MDG), and our major focus is providing access to safe water and preventing disease such as HIV and malaria. But we also recognize the need to tackle the vital problem of hunger and malnutrition (also an MDG). We can do this by contributing to food security, and in this regard, we are taking one of our core areas of expertise – vector control for public health – and using it to spur breakthrough ideas to prevent rodents from gnawing into food storage bags.
The amount of food that is lost or goes to waste between the time it is harvested and consumed is staggering. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates the waste at 1.3 billion metric tons per year. Processing and packaging is identified as a key problem contributing to wasted food.
Food security is important everywhere, and the more brilliant minds we have to work on solving this problem, the sooner we can help farmers decrease waste and loss and reduce hunger. InnoCentive was the natural place to find and attract bright new ideas in a short time frame.
What are some of the limitations that you’ve identified in solutions currently being used?
There are few standardized methods of processing and packaging seeds and grains worldwide. In developing countries, they are very often transported in jute bags, which makes for easy pickings for rodents. In Africa alone, rats and mold can cause up to 20% of crop losses. We want to find a solution that is as applicable to farmers in Malawi as it is in India or Costa Rica. Regardless of location, the end result would be the same: a reduction in post-harvest crop losses and an increase in food supply.
Could you elaborate on a few of the key requirements or criteria that you envision seeing in a winning solution?
All of our products and solutions must have three characteristics: (1) they must be long lasting to minimize the need for repeat intervention, (2) they must be appropriate for many contexts, and (3) they must have the ability to be scaled up rapidly. This means that the products must be highly effective, can take a beating in a variety of harsh environmental conditions, and be very easy to use, along with high user uptake.
Are there particular regions of the world or characteristics of users that you’ve identified?
Food security is a problem everywhere. A new food security product we design for the developing world may very well be attractive to agricultural sectors in the developed world.
Thank you for speaking with us Mr. Garg. We look forward to all of the innovative solutions that will result from the Challenge. Any final words of wisdom to our Solvers?
When working on developing world problems, which are price sensitive, Solvers should take a “keep it simple approach.” Most innovative solutions in the world have made our lives simpler, more convenient, and safer.