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Social Entrepreneur

290 EpisodesProduced by Tony Loyd: Business executive and mentor to social entrepreneursWebsite

Social Entrepreneur exists at the intersection of profit and purpose. We tell positive stories from underrepresented voices, focused on solutions.


From Iron Deficiency to Iron Man, with Gavin Armstrong, Lucky Iron Fish

Iron deficiency is a massive, but preventable condition. Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise is dedicated to reducing iron deficiency rates around the world.

In high school, Gavin Armstrong was bullied severely. “I took it that I needed to make lots of money to prove bullies wrong,” Gavin explains. “The image I had of bankers was, they were all successful, driving expensive cars. And, I thought if I could live that life, I would prove to bullies, and maybe even to myself that I had worth.”

Gavin attended the University of Guelph to study finance. However, he described his coursework as “miserable.” While at the university, he took a field trip to Botswana. While he enjoyed experiencing the culture and the people, it was the first time that he had a chance to see abject poverty up close.

After the trip, Gavin realized, “I was on such a selfish trajectory to prove someone wrong who I probably would never even see again.” He began to work with nonprofits related to hunger and malnutrition. He arranged conferences, helped his university get into Guinness Book of World Records three times for emergency meal packing. These activities introduced him to the World Food Programme.

His volunteer work took him to Dadaab in Northern Kenya, one of the largest refugee camps in the world. It was there that he began to question the sustainability of his work. “We were raising money, to give food, only to have to do the same thing over again,” he describes. “That’s when I became re-engaged with business. I thought business could be a sustainable solution…to this crisis.”

Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise is disrupting how the world is getting the iron that they need. Gavin states that “Iron deficiency is the world’s largest nutritional disorder.” In fact, this disorder affects about two billion people, almost one-third of the world’s population. Gavin shares that current solutions such as iron supplement pills are simply not working. In fact, “iron deficiency rates have gone up by 10% since the year 2000.”

Iron deficiency can impair cognitive development in children. It can lead to susceptibility to other diseases, and in extreme cases, can lead to death. The World Bank estimates that the iron deficiency removes $70 billion from the global economy each year.

Lucky Iron Fish provides a simple solution, small iron fish. “When boiled for ten minutes in one liter of water, it can provide a person with a significant proportion of their daily required iron intake.” The Lucky Iron Fish doesn’t change the smell, taste or color of the water. A family can use a single Lucky Iron Fish for up to 5 years.

Lucky Iron Fish started in Cambodia. Their first product was a simple iron disc. However, customers did not want it. “Women didn’t want to cook with it,” Gavin says. “They would laugh us out their household and say that looks like a piece of garbage, I am not putting that in my food.” In his research, Gavin found that a fish was a symbol of good luck in Cambodia. They changed the iron ingot to look like a fish, which increased customer acceptance.

Not only did Gavin have to change his product, but he also had to abandon his original business model. “I thought that we had a very clear value proposition, and so we could go door to door in Cambodia, sell the product for five dollars,” he admits. “Knowing how much iron supplements cost, we could say ‘this is better for you, it’s lucky, and you’re going to love it.’” However, the company lacked trust in the community, so sales were slow.

Gavin started sharing the story of the Lucky Iron Fish at conferences. He soon found that there was a demand for his product in industrialized countries. So, he changed his business model. “For every fish we sold; we would donate one for free in Cambodia.” The company continues to use the buy-one-give-one model today.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Gavin Armstrong

“Iron deficiency takes 70 billion US dollars out the global economy each year.” @GavinA09, @LuckyIronFish

“There is a big macro and micro impact of iron deficiency.” @GavinA09, @LuckyIronFish

“Social entrepreneurship is possible.” @GavinA09, @LuckyIronFish

“These challenges that seem very daunting can have solutions.” @GavinA09, @LuckyIronFish

“A little bit of success doesn’t equal a guaranteed success.” @GavinA09, @LuckyIronFish

“I think it’s important for everyone to be speaking the same language.” @GavinA09, @LuckyIronFish

“You can be a social entrepreneur in how you create your business.” @GavinA09, @LuckyIronFish

“I was on such a selfish trajectory to prove someone wrong who I probably would never even see again.” @GavinA09, @LuckyIronFish

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