Bindis to reduce iodine deficiency in tribal women? Iron fish that combat anaemia? In combating malnourishment, perhaps the unconventional will work where the conventional has not reached.
To boldly go
This collaboration between an advertising company and an NGO caught the attention of several media outlets earlier this year. Neelvasant Medical Foundation and Research Centre partnered with Grey For Good (the philanthropic wing of advertising company Grey Group) to distribute iodine coated bindis to tribal women. The iodine from the bindis can be easily absorbed into the wearer’s skin, reducing any deficiency the wearer may have.
Ideas like these are the only research and development (R&D) that the non-profit sector can afford. With the nutritional crisis in India getting worse by the day, it’s time we explored solutions that can better deliver services to populations in need.
There are a lot of positives for an intervention like this. Development solutions tend to be top down, whereas bottom up solutions that assimilate easily into people’s lives could be more successful. The women in this target group can’t necessarily afford iodised tablets, supplements, or additional food to improve their health. The bindi is a culturally accepted icon, and thus likely to be easily assimilated and applied, giving it a higher chance of success.
Sravanthi Challapalli in The Hindu has drawn a parallel between the bindis and the Lucky Iron Fish campaign in Cambodia. Researchers found that Cambodians held a cultural belief that a certain kind of fish was lucky. Their next step? Give people iron pieces shaped like the lucky fish and convince them to place it in their cooking pots. The iron from the fish would seep into the food as it was being cooked. 9 months in, the organisation reports “a 50% decrease in the incidence of clinical iron deficiency anaemia, and an increase in users’ iron levels.” The solution was elegant, inexpensive and caught on because of its cultural context.
Another success story comes to mind. Design Impact is an international social innovation firm that brings design and innovation together to make a better world. Two of their Fellows worked with Pune NGO Deep Griha Society to create a fortified laddoo that was designed to combat malnutrition and related deficiencies. They too had success with their pilot intervention, however ran into challenges when they had to find a way to market the laddoos commercially. Surely there’s a buyer for this opportunity?
Are there any lessons for India here?
A caveat here – we do need to evaluate a solution before declaring it a success or failure. However, there’s surely a lot for us to learn and experiment with. In many cases solutions may be lying right under our noses. All it takes is a special mind to bring the problem and the solution together.