Nigerian babies were dying mysteriously. In 2008, 84 infant lives were lost before the culprit was identified: a counterfeit teething syrup laced with industrial chemicals.
In the U.S., Ashifi Gogo, a Ghanaian-born engineer and businessman, read about the tragedy and knew he could have helped prevent it.
Gogo had just developed a label system that helps consumers around the world avoid fraudulent products. Just scratch a panel on the product's label to reveal an ID number, then text that number to Gogo's social enterprise, Sproxil. Sproxil will reply instantly, telling you if the product is genuine.
To protect Nigerians from phony medicine, Gogo approached two big pharmaceutical companies, Merck and GlaxoSmithKline, with his label idea. They immediately agreed to a partnership.
Since 2010, teething syrup, and many other drugs, now bear the Sproxil fraud-proof label. The social enterprise has helped more than five million people across Africa and in India verify that their medicines are safe.
Innovative business approaches, like social enterprise and public-private partnerships, hold the key to solving some of the trickiest global health challenges. One World Health, founded in 2000 by American entrepreneur Victoria Hale, is an example we admire of using social enterprise to tackle a health conundrum -- in this case, the availability of medicines.
Cryptosporidiosis bacteria lurks in water contaminated with sewage, causing diarrhea and killing over 100,000 people in developing communities every year. A powerful antibiotic, paromomycin, is effective in treating the parasite. But people and healthcare professionals couldn't get the drug. It wasn't being made because the company that owned the patent didn't see high enough profit in it.
One World Health saw the situation with fresh eyes. It purchased the patent and, starting in 2003, partnered with pharmaceutical companies and drug stores in countries like India, Kenya and Mexico to sustainably manufacture and sell affordable paromomycin.
The solution is brilliant because social enterprises like One World Health do not need to make the same profit margin to please shareholders as a pharma company. And income is reinvested back into the business to produce and distribute more medicines, doing more good.
Medicine360 is another social enterprise that connected with a pharma giant to make its impact.
Throughout the developing world, heavy menstrual bleeding causes many girls to skip school during their periods out of shame. Often they use unhygienic methods like dirty rags to stop the flow, risking dangerous infections. Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) that release hormones can be effective in controlling heavy bleeding. Unfortunately, hormonal IUDs are expensive and almost entirely unavailable in places like Africa, according to Dr. Jessica Grossman, CEO of the social enterprise, Medicines360.
In 2014, Medicines360 got approval to market a new, low-cost hormonal IUD in the U.S. A partnership with pharmaceutical giant Allergan provided the distribution network to reach clinics serving women in low-income American communities. The profits from U.S. sales are now fueling Medicine360's growth to reach women and girls in places like Kenya.
Social enterprises aren't the only way of applying business solutions to global problems. Charities and other non-profit organizations can use partnerships with business to access resources like research facilities and distribution networks.
PATH, a non-profit organization, is a great example. It's taking down malaria, working with for-profit biotech and pharmaceutical companies. Two years ago, PATH developed a synthetic version of artemisinin, which is considered the best treatment for malaria. In 2014, 39 million people received PATH's life-saving malaria treatments in 23 countries -- an epic development no charity could have achieved without private-sector partners.
Business often gets a bad rap -- especially in the area of high-profit pharmaceuticals. But if there's one thing we've seen time and again, it's that business models can offer the most effective and sustainable solution to global social challenges.
We look forward to more innovative social entrepreneurs, and corporate-charity partnerships, that create a healthier world.
Brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger founded a platform for social change that includes the international charity, Free The Children, the social enterprise, Me to We, and the youth empowerment movement, We Day. Visit we.org for more information.
Correction: A previous version of this blog misstated the name of Medicines360's CEO. It is Dr. Jessica Grossman, not Jennifer.
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