SUMANI Trendster Blog: Soluminos

Journey to a Pilot Plan: Soluminos

Students join SUMA Net Impact for the opportunity to work on pro-bono consulting projects for their clients. The Soluminos Spring 2020 team was particularly excited to have the chance to work with one of our classmates, a fellow SUMA student. Cynthia Leung, the Founder of Soluminos, had the vision to create portable solar charging stations using refurbished panels to be deployed as a solution for disaster relief. Soluminos had already developed an initial product design and business plan with the assistance of a previous Net Impact team. The Spring 2020 team’s key tasks were to use the last team’s work to create a pilot plan for product deployment in Puerto Rico and identify the logistical challenges and solutions in the supply chain. Our team consisted of 6 members with diverse international backgrounds. They were Amira Maryana, Greg Hopper, Joaquin Rosas, Julie Hurewitz, Niki Shah, and our project Manager was Sally Bingfeng Song.

PROCESS

With guidance from Cynthia, the team created a mind map to visualize the scope of our project and the key tasks that needed to be accomplished. We broke down our work into two buckets: 1) Background that can be used as input for the plan, and 2) Develop the strategic plan by using the background information as input. We focused first on background, as that would shape our strategic plan. Sally researched case studies in Puerto Rico and New Orleans to identify best practices for disaster relief deployment and the opportunities and challenges associated with local renewable projects in disaster relief situations. Greg developed a GIS map to understand the demographics of Puerto Rico and gain a holistic understanding of the local population, income, and energy sources. Joaquin focused on identifying critical policies in the U.S. and Puerto Rico that would impact our strategy and reveal new opportunities for grants. Julie and Amira concentrated on the challenges associated with shipping Lithium Ion batteries overseas and how we would overcome logistical challenges. Nikki dug into the finance plan and focused his research on the choice between a Non-profit and a For-Profit financial model. Our team knew we would need to take this background knowledge and apply it to our Strategy Plan, which included Deployment, Stakeholder Mapping and Analysis, Customer Engagement and Survey, and Business Model. We focused on the strategic plan for the second half of the semester.

THE CHALLENGE

Luckily, our client worked closely with us, and it was never a challenge to meet with her to brainstorm, validate ideas, and get the information needed to do our work. We found a problem working on a Pilot Plan for a product that had not yet gone through Beta testing. We quickly realized that Soluminos would not be able to launch a pilot without first conducting a beta test. With this realization, we added create beta test outline to our preparation for pilot and project deliverables. 

DELIVERABLES 

Our final deliverables were built off the background that was conducted in the first half of the semester. Using this background knowledge and personal business experiences, we created a preparation for a pilot for our client. This preparation plan included a framework for tasks and timeline, stakeholder mapping and recommendation for collaborators, beta testing framework, and customer survey draft, logistics recommendations, and a plan for a pilot in Puerto Rico. 

MOVING FORWARD 

While our client had initially planned to launch a pilot in June 2020, the impacts of COVID-19 pushed this date back. We hope that the frameworks and opportunities we recommended for our client to use in the Beta testing and Pilot Plan Implementation provide value for Soluminos. Overall there were a few key takeaways from this project. Project members developed a fundamental understanding of beta testing and product deployment. We got experience with the challenges that start-ups face in product deployment and learned about expanding a project scope as the client work evolves. 

SUMANI Trendster Blog: The Recycling Partnership

Leveraging the power of reuse schemes to boost the transition towards a circular economy

In February 2020, the project in collaboration with The Recycling Partnership was launched. The Recycling Partnership is a leading nonprofit organization transforming recycling for good in states, cities and communities all across the U.S. For this particular project The Recycling Partnership chose to expand its horizons and gave us the task to conduct a landscape analysis of reuse initiatives across the country. This analysis aimed to provide the organization with a detailed list of potential scalable solutions that could be in the future expanded and taped into with the help of TRP.

Process

We have been in charge of exploring the waste management industry with a focus on researching current reuse schemes and models across industries and international boundaries. Our second task was identifying gaps in reuse models and present opportunities for The Recycling Partnership. Ultimately our goal was to identify scalable investment solutions to protect resources, empower sustainable action and unlock opportunity.

Challenges

We faced challenges while selecting the most scalable alternatives. At the end of the day reuse is a fairly new field and one initiative over another is hard to compare. Audiences and services may differ a lot and all initiatives are needed so it was hard to deliver the ultimate recommendation.

Result

This encompassing landscape analysis of reuse schemes enabled us to gain knowledge on the ambitious initiatives that have been undertaken so far in the reuse space. Additionally this research will be an asset for TRP to leverage for the expansion of their outreach.

Takeaway

The team members were exceptionally thankful for the opportunity to work for first hand with the client. We gained circular economy and waste management knowledge, developed research and analytical skills along with relationship development. At the same time, TRP provided fast and efficient responses that allowed the team to tackle each barrier quickly.

SUMANI Trendster Blog: The Detox Market

A Roadmap to Sustainability

Since 2010, The Detox Market has been curating the best of green beauty to provide customers with confidence in their choices. Their focus has been primarily on avoiding toxic, chemically-charged cosmetic products, and although being environmentally conscious has always been key in their business, they realized it was time to take it to the next level. Our team members – Arianna Bottome, Blair Diehl, Emma Lawrence, Laura Shutack and Zoë Gaston – were tasked to create a sustainability beauty framework to inspire brands sold at The Detox Market to implement responsible practices. Additionally, the client requested we develop a strategy specific to their in-house brand, Detox Mode, currently producing a line of 8 all-natural, safe and effective skincare products. 

Our Approach

Part of our goal for this project was to simplify the complex idea of sustainability to provide small brands with opportunities to create a positive impact regardless of the resources available to them. We wanted to make our strategy accessible, clear and easily digestible. 

We started by researching common environmental and social challenges across the cosmetics supply chain. The stages we selected include: raw material sourcing and processing, product manufacturing, packaging, consumer use, and end-of-life. Once these challenges were identified, we used them to guide our strategy formulations, and, by gathering information individual to the Detox Mode, we created a separate plan with specific steps unique to them.

Knowing that we had to create an industry-wide framework and propose solutions that could be adopted by multiple brands, we also developed a “Self-Assessment Workbook” so that any brand using this material is able to connect where sustainability falls in their business model, and select the solutions that fit their operations the best.

Our Deliverable

Our final product was divided into 4 main parts, including:

  • A Cosmetics Supply Chain Analysis: Including an overview of each stage analyzed, a ranking according to the level of risk associated to each stage, the drivers behind the impacts, and targets and strategies to address them.
  • A Self-Assessment Workbook: A tool to guide brands in finding an alignment with sustainable goals based on where they are today. In this section we also provided suggestions for measuring, benchmarking and tracking their progress.
  • Best Practices for Detox Mode: A set of actionable steps and recommendations specific to the Detox Mode. 
  • Resources: A selection of tools and helpful resources for any brand to get started in their sustainability journey, including greenhouse gas calculators, certifications, reporting frameworks, and more.

Concluding Thoughts

It is essential to understand where you are to understand where you can and need to get. There is no single right way to improve sustainability, and before setting any goals or targets, brands must measure their impacts to identify the potential for change and reduction under their individual circumstances. It is ok to start small, and our aim is that our work can be used as an incentive for continuous growth.

SUMANI Trendster Blog: Ilara Health

Ilara Health is a start-up diagnostic company based in Kenya that is trying to change the way healthcare is delivered.  Started in 2019 by Emilian Popa, Ilara provides lab-quality diagnostics to healthcare clinics that serve a low-income population in peri-urban locations. The need is great in communities like these across sub-Saharan Africa. The challenges are summed up by some sobering quotes, “3 million people across low and middle-income countries die yearly from lack of access to care” and “5 million people die yearly from receiving low quality health care.” Emilian saw a chance to change the staggering inequity of healthcare where “…500 million people across sub-Saharan Africa struggle to access or afford even a simple blood test.” He began to import mobile, high-tech diagnostic equipment that has replaced the large bulky equipment of the last decade in developed nations. Ilara currently offers four diagnostic devices (see appendix below) focused across chronic diseases, infectious disease and maternal care. There is a lack of awareness in this region about the growing pervasiveness of chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In addition, preventative medicine is not a common practice as seen by the lack of a simple ultrasound for pre-natal care. Ilara is trying to change this by increasing awareness among doctors at the clinics of how to screen patients for chronic diseases, so they can manage their symptoms better, while expectant mothers can be screened for easily identified pregnancy complications. 

Our Net Impact team, comprised of Pamela Kauppila (project head), Alexandra Failla, Jeff Robertson and Will Zurier, was initially tasked with determining key social impact metrics and implementing processes to track those KPI’s. While Ilara had data from specific clinics and expected data directly from the devices themselves, we soon learned that the integrity of this data was compromised as inputs were inconsistent or not specifically relevant to the impact we were trying to measure. After this determination, our team decided to pivot to a new strategy to help create the relevant data for KPI’s. Our updated scope was to generate new and original data from clinics that Ilara serves and we did this by creating a “survey” for its clinic customers designed to reveal impact metrics. To ensure relevant data, we first had to discern Ilara’s key objectives:

  • Create a market: democratize access to diagnostic tests
  • Create awareness around chronic diseases: for both doctors and patients
  • Enable positive outcomes for patients: follow-up for patients once diagnosed
  • Increase profitability of clinics

We used input from management as well as the IRIS+ framework for guidance in crafting our questions. During the process, Ilara management was eager to expand the survey to not only to re-engage with their existing customers for KPI data but to also get feedback from them on how prepared they felt in using the devices, patients reactions to them and their ability to grow their clinic business given the addition of the new services they now offered. Once completed, Ilara’s reps began to administer the surveys to their clinic base. 

The early survey results began to shed some light on progress towards Ilara’s key objectives. In terms of awareness of chronic disease, clinics cite a slight-to-significant increase in awareness of diabetes while they see only a slight increase in awareness of cardiovascular disease (see image 1 below). Clinics confirmed that the convenience of having the tests provided “in-house” significantly increases the likelihood of a patient getting tested versus a referral to a lab, tying back to their objective to democratize testing (image 2). Clinics are showing increased percentages of patients returning for follow-up care after being diagnosed with a chronic disease (image 3). In addressing the growth factors associated with the clinics themselves, 40% of clinics indicated a higher level of trust among patients due to the offering of “high tech” devices while another 40% indicated that they were now able to attract a broader base of clients (image 4). While these results are early indicators, we expect to have a fuller picture once they have surveyed all ~50 clinics in their network. While the anecdotal nature of the output may not provide quantitative KPI’s, they will at least be able to show initial indicators of how they are impacting the healthcare clinics as well as the local communities they serve. More importantly, this provides valuable feedback to Ilara on how it is serving it mission and areas for improvement. 

Over the longer term, Ilara will begin to collect its own data directly from the devices utilized at the clinics and this will become a new project. Once they have this device data in hand, it will need to be analyzed, measured to benchmarks, and linked to the patient’s follow-up care. In our parting discussions, we recommended that they make comparisons of the results to other data sets to ensure consistency. This should include comparing device data with survey results, clinic results ‘pre’ and ‘post’ Ilara implementation, and test outcomes versus the national averages.

It has been a truly gratifying experience to work with a start-up with a big mission – to change the way healthcare is delivered. We saw first-hand the challenges Ilara faced and the opportunities they are pursuing. We wish them the best of luck as they continue to grow and expand! 

Appendix: 

Ilara Health currently offer four devices (clockwise from upper left): 

  • PixoTest device for diagnosing diabetes 
  • Kardia AliveCor EKG device for diagnosing cardiovascular disease
  • Hematology device for diagnosing certain infectious diseases
  • Butterfly IQ Ultrasound device for pre-natal maternal care 

SUMANI Trendster Blog: Azada Verde

Solid Foundations

Xima is a staple in Mozambican meals. This pliable paste made by heating cornmeal and water serves as a perfect canvas for rich sauces and vegetable, seafood or meat dishes. For many inhabitants of the Sofala province in central Mozambique, however, xima might be the only food on their plates every day. In Mozambique, it is beloved for its ability to fill stomachs and impart energy for working on farms. Taste, texture, and nutritional value are less pressing concerns. 

Our client, Azada Verde, is changing that through their mission to build sustainable local food systems in Mozambique. As part of this mission they seek to diversify meals. Their website asks plaintively, “Would you eat the same thing over and over again, 365 days a year?” 

The brief given to our team appeared straightforward at first blush. Azada Verde wanted a three-year sustainability strategy aligned with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We got to work, poring over its website, social media accounts, financial records, and program documentation in search of information that would eventually be organized into a coherent strategy.  

The team was fortunate to be in constant and direct contact with Azada Verde’s founder Hugo Dalmau Coll. We interviewed Hugo endlessly, in person and through emails. He remained available for video chats even as Covid-19 forced our team and client into three different time zones. 

It was quickly evident to us that Hugo cared deeply for his constituents and was eager to expand and make a greater impact. But the information we studied told of a need for deeper organizational foundations. Azada Verde and their programs appeared to have emerged organically, as needs arose, before Hugo and his partners had time to formalize an overarching organizational strategy or program-specific plans. 

Azada Verde is not alone in being galvanized to action faster than one can strategize. Nonprofits come into existence precisely to address problems, often critical ones, that have fallen through gaps in government or business structures. For better or for worse, government and business rules still apply. It is not sufficient for a nonprofit to simply do good. They must also convincingly demonstrate how that good is accomplished. It should also be backed up by rules and systems to ensure that positive impact can be continually achieved. 

To that end, the team produced two deliverables. The first is a brochure to introduce Azada Verde to external partners. With the masterful touch of Professor Anne Burt, who teaches a class on communications for Columbia’s Nonprofit Management program, we reformulated Azada Verde’s Mission, Vision, and Values. 

The second report was internal. We identified six SDGs to focus on. We critiqued the liberal sprinkling of sustainability buzzwords throughout their content. We suggested a limited pool of stakeholders to engage with. We proposed ways to concretize the nuts and bolts of their existing programs before leaping to expansions and other ambitious endeavors. In short, we were asking our client to not overextend themselves until the basics were indubitable.    

Our recommendations, if you will, were serendipitously similar to xima. The seemingly mundane parts of running a nonprofit might not be as appetizing as accomplishing lofty humanitarian goals. But they are part of a solid foundation that needs to be done right for a strong organization to thrive.