Tackling Malnutrition:
Harnessing the Power of Business

Malnutrition negatively impacts individuals, families, societies and economies around the world. Now is the time to align corporate, government and third sector efforts to relegate it to the past.

Many people are aware that the scourge of malnutrition affects a vast number of individuals and communities around the world. However, most tend to view it as a problem to be addressed by governments, charities or donors, rather than the corporate sector.

Certainly, when considered at a societal scale, malnutrition makes the complexities of delivering inclusive growth all the harder. It ratchets up the public health burden while restricting the potential for at-risk populations to take part in productive employment.  Economies are hindered, lives are blighted and the potential for people to reach their full potential can be severely limited.

A number of upcoming summits represent a window of opportunity to address nutrition in the context of resilience, particularly in the wake of COVID-19 and the much-referenced ambition for governments to ‘build back better’. The opportunity is there to foster a true partnership between governments, third sector organizations and businesses of all sizes, sectors and geographies to work for the betterment of society and deliver benefits to all participants in such a partnership.

So what is the role of business in relation to nutrition – where does it sit on their list of priorities and why should it matter to them? A new Chatham House report represents an important contribution to the discussion about the role of business in addressing malnutrition. Through thorough research and direct engagement with businesses, it seeks to find out if malnutrition is on the corporate radar and the extent to which it is considered a material issue.

Surprisingly, whilst many large corporates recognize malnutrition as a matter for concern, this is typically defined only in the context of CSR programmes or related ambitions. These types of commitments have their limitations though; most notably the fact that the communities more severely affected by malnutrition typically sit outside of the sphere of influence of the multi-national companies with the greatest ability to mobilize resources and make an impact. Where populations are marginalized, operating within the informal economy and living in settings that are too fragile for large-scale business investment, corporate CSR programmes are unlikely to have a meaningful impact.

Report Launch: The Business Case for Investment in Nutrition
As COVID-19 pushes UN targets to end global hunger and malnutrition even further off-course, now is the time for businesses to step up and improve nutrition in their workforce and beyond.

The report also asked businesses whether they considered malnutrition to have a material impact on their ability to create value, protect value and manage risk. In the majority of instances the answer was no. This may be surprising, particularly given the evidence provided by new modelling – done for this report using a purpose-built model by Vivid Economics – that illustrates the costs posed to business by malnutrition within a population. On an immediate and direct level, the impacts can be considerable due to lost or reduced productivity from the employee base. However, if even that immediate impact is addressed, the externalities associated with malnutrition can come back and have a negative effect on businesses and investors alike.

When reflecting on externalities and the landscape of risk within which business operates, it is worth considering climate change by way of comparison. Climate change is well embedded in the risk profiling of most progressive and well-managed corporates – although in some instances meaningful action may be well overdue. That said, it is recognized that the direct and indirect impacts have the potential to conspire and permanently reduce shareholder, stakeholder and societal value.

Similarly, if left unchecked, the externalities associated with malnutrition will undoubtedly contribute to an increased level of risk in terms of both operating and investment environments. This is both an issue of social equity and enlightened self-interest given that good nutrition is key to the success of many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and is essential to driving sustainable economic growth. One of the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic is the manner in which widespread malnutrition can significantly reduce the resilience of populations to external risks, including the outbreaks of infectious disease. We need only to look at the impact of climate stress and related events to understand how closely linked malnutrition is – or may become – to the incidence of social unrest and armed conflict in low-income countries.

Progressive companies and investors have already identified the ability to drive inclusive and sustainable growth as a compelling imperative for investment. In this context, the potential for improved nutrition – both in the workforce and amongst the communities upon which the firms depend – should be a true priority. As fund managers seek increasingly meaningful insight into the way that companies within their portfolio(s) create value, protect value and manage risk, the scope of environmental and social governance is expanding. Many recognize the link between delivering on the SDG agenda and protecting or enhancing shareholder value into the longer term. This is a powerful lever for change, particularly when considering that good nutrition is integral to the success of the ambitions laid out by the various SDGs. Successfully delivering against nutrition-focused targets could unlock growth in developing markets and create an enabling environment for achieving the broader SDG agenda. This may in turn help companies to deliver enduring shareholder value in a way that does not undermine their corporate sustainability commitments.

So, given the insights provided by this report, what can businesses do that have the potential to make a practical and effective impact? There are three main action points around which the private sector can galvanize its efforts and work in partnership to deliver a meaningful impact.

The first action point is a basic requirement to be proactive and make supportive interventions with existing and future workforces, ensuring that staff are well fed and have appropriate facilities for breastfeeding and childcare. Beyond that foundational commitment, the second action point is to work to build impactful and well-governed partnerships to work within local communities and deliver outcomes at an appropriate scale. The third and final action point sets out the importance of reporting. Businesses should thoroughly assess the impacts of their operations, investments and influence. They should be transparent about those impacts and report both on the current situation and the commitments made to deliver on measurable targets.

Malnutrition is a scourge; it negatively impacts individuals, families, societies and economies. Now is the time to align corporate, government and third sector efforts to consign it to the past. We just need leaders to be bold enough to seize the opportunity.

What our clients say

Project Rome worked with us to develop a purpose-driven strategy for Yorkshire Building Society, aligning our commercial ambitions with our societal and environmental responsibilities. The team were an absolute pleasure to work with, and their knowledge and experience were invaluable. We couldn’t have delivered the work without them.

Tanya Jackson, former Head of Corporate Affairs, Yorkshire Building Society

Project Rome has helped shape, challenge and then support the further development of original thinking, critical to the successful transformation of our sustainable business and asset strategy. They are also hugely well connected regionally and nationally. Their work has led to enhanced customer value and environmental performance for Yorkshire Water – an important outcome at a pivotal time.

Jon Brigg, Manager of Innovation, Yorkshire Water

The team at Project Rome are great to work with; consistently delivering results and adding valuable contributions but also easy and enjoyable to collaborate with. They are impressive in their ability to build rapport with different audiences and quickly apply a strategic mindset and technical expertise to bring structure, clarity and direction.

Gordon Rogers, Head of Sustainability, Yorkshire Water

It has been my pleasure to work with Project Rome over a number of years.  Simon has always brought clear strategic thinking and analysis at corporate level and worked with me as a member of the executive team in WYG plc over an extended period as we grew the business.  I have greatly appreciated his wisdom and help in setting direction for growth and implementing strategy.

Douglas McCormick, Executive Chairman, Gleeds UK and former CEO of WYG

I would sum up Project Rome in three words: diligence, expertise and accuracy. But what’s more, they are a true pleasure to work with. If we have a complex project, Project Rome is our first port of call.

Jeremy Biggs, CEO, NCL Technology Ventures Ltd

Project Rome worked on a one-to-one basis to quickly build relationships and gain the trust of key stakeholders, from clinicians and support teams to Executive Directors. The result was a significant leap forward in our ability to effectively collaborate at all levels. They were also an absolute delight to work with, bringing humour and a sense of fun to the team. We loved every minute of working with them!

Rebecca Malin, former Programme Director, Acute Provider Collaboration, Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

The Project Rome team has an open, approachable style that worked well with our entire team, from Executive Directors to junior admin colleagues. They were politically and culturally sensitive to the need of the population and the multiple stakeholders, and creative and thoughtful about ways to get the optimum outcome from their work.

Stacey Hunter, Executive Director Acute Provider Collaboration Airedale FT and Bradford FT NHS Trusts, Chief Operating Officer, NHS Nightingale Hospital Yorkshire and the Humber

Project Rome provide FirstGroup with excellent regional intelligence and wise political counsel. They help us engage with our key stakeholders in a meaningful and focussed way.

Mike Katz, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, FirstGroup plc

Project Rome

Platform
New Station Street
Leeds
LS1 4JB