Thoughts from the Last Mile Welcome to the VillageReach Blog

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02.02 2010

Reliable delivery of medicines, vaccines, and health commodities at the last mile of the supply chain has been the focus of VillageReach since our inception. Earlier, we discussed the challenge of conveying our message and our work when the issues are complex, relatively unknown in the United States, and difficult to describe. We are happy to report, however, that awareness has been growing with help from articles like this one, found in the most recent winter issue of Global Health Magazine. Prashant Yadav, professor of Supply Chain Management at MIT-Zaragoza, outlines the many successes in Global Health but identifies critical gaps in health delivery.

“In my opinion, the weakest link in the chain now is the in-country distribution system. The costs of ignoring this key part of the health system can be extremely high.  A key reason for the poor performance of the in-country supply distribution system is the lack of an institutional and governance framework on how to organize in-country distribution.”

With keen insight, Professor Yadav articulates the challenges VillageReach faces daily in creating sustainable systems for the delivery of basic, life saving supplies. In addition to this article, Global Health Magazine posted a blog just a few days ago challenging various health system misconceptions.  The article challenges some widely held assumptions, many of which VillageReach has heard repeatedly over the years from potential donors and partners:

• Health systems can’t be measured.
• We don’t know what works to strengthen health systems.
• Strengthening health systems will be a money pit, an expensive, open-ended investment that won’t show measurable results.

Challenging these statements, the article cites the availability of measurable and proven methods within health systems, which can allow practitioners to make vital decisions. We were excited to see these acknowledgments, as a cornerstone of the methodology at VillageReach is the measurement and evaluation of our programs, and through our rigorous evaluation we have proven that health system strengthening programs can not only result in measurable impact but impact that tangibly saves lives.  We hope that these publications represent a shift of perspective within the world of Global Health towards a new view that will see “last mile” health delivery systems as a critical piece of the larger picture.

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12.03 2009

This week VillageReach President, Allen Wilcox, will be speaking at the 2nd Annual Global Health Supply Chain Summit.  The theme of this years conference is “Bringing Government, NGOs, and Academia Together: What can be learned from the for-profit world?”  We are excited to be included in this conference again this year- the theme alone could be a subtitle for VillageReach’s mission.  Allen will be speaking about what logistics and supply chain bring specifically to the last-mile.  VillageReach’s experience shows that since the last-mile is often much weaker than the rest of the health system, programs can have a disproportionately large impact by effecting change at this level.  Our colleagues at the Zaragoza Logistics Center have been doing terrific work bringing their academic backgrounds to bear on problems in global health supply chains.  As the “implementers” in the field, VillageReach has found that working with academics provides them with a useful real-life case study and provides us with access to sophisticated, cutting-edge, cross-sector knowledge and best practices, so far it’s really been a win-win and we are excited to continue the work.

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09.03 2009

Greetings from SoCap, the annual gathering of social entrepreneurs and investors here in San Francisco, billed as the largest of its kind in the world.  Yesterday was a flurry of sessions covering topics as varied as India social business developers strengthening remote tribal communities through weaving and arts and craft cooperatives, to new pharmaceutical ventures for low income countries to benefit base of the pyramid communities.

And VillageReach was there too.  Craig Nakagawa, our CFO, and Keely Stevenson, from Bamboo Finance, lead a great session on the just-announced investment in our Mozambique propane business, VidaGas. Titled “Anatomy of a Social Investment,” the session covered the development of the business, its impact on the health system it was created to serve, and Keely and Craig looked at future opportunities for social businesses in Sub Saharan Africa.Helping Hands

A couple of interesting takeaways from the session:

– the need for patient investors in social business ventures is key for both the initial development and long-term sustainability of these businesses.  In our case, VillageReach’s hybrid non-profit/social business model has proven to be very valuable.  Initial investment for VidaGas was supported by donor contributions, that otherwise would have been spent on the purchase of fuel and equipment that VidaGas sells to the market.  We see this approach as a winning formula for donors who are interested in achieving long-term impact for their contributions.

– Keely noted there are few base of the pyramid social ventures operating today.  Some businesses have been created that serve middle-income communities that then attempt to reach out to lower-income consumers, but this can be a challenge where profitability is a requirement.  Keely highlighted VidaGas’ market development approach as ideal, whereby we launched the company with the government health system as our initial anchor client, with some sales to lower-income communities also and then moved up-market to epand sales of the fuel to middle income consumers.

The investment has only just been announced, but we’re looking ahead to the future.  This week we’re meeting with a number of new investors to present a new proposal to broaden our base of household sales.  We’ve put together a comprehensive market development proposal that is intended to add new retailers for propane and stimulate greater interest from communities who have previously had to rely exclusively on charcoal for their cooking requirements.

Onward and upward.

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09.02 2009

After yesterday’s announcement of Oasis Fund’s investment in VidaGas, VillageReach has even more good news to share: VillageReach has been recognized by the 2009 Tech Awards as a Laureate in the Health Awards category!

Each year, the Tech Awards recognizes 15 global innovators who apply technology to the most critical issues affecting the world.  This year, VillageReach was selected from among hundreds of nominations representing 66 countries.  The Laureates are honored at a gala in San Jose in November.

VillageReach’s Management Information System (vrMIS) was recognized because of the significant impact it made in improving information and decision making in VillageReach’s Mozambique program.  Developing countries bear the greatest burden of infectious diseases, but they often have poor infrastructure to support critical public health programs.  VillageReach worked with the government of Mozambique to implement vrMIS which enabled health workers in the field to send and receive data in real time and as a result, empowered health workers to make the best possible decisions based on accurate and timely information.

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08.13 2009

The Rockefeller Foundation and Results for Development Institute just released their report that offers a landscape view of successful global healthcare financing and delivery models involving the private sector.  VillageReach’s model is recognized as an innovative model in supply chain management.    While the identified models span a wide variety of services and strategies, it is exciting to see a growing embrace of the role of the private sector in improving public health.  When VillageReach began in 2001, it often felt like there was mutual distrust between the public health and development professionals and the private sector entrepreneurs.  Reports like this are a nice reminder of how much and how quickly things have changed.

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