When thinking about the core functions of nonprofit organizations, manufacturing(opens in new tab) probably isn’t top of mind. Yet, for NetSuite.org grantee MANA Nutrition(opens in new tab), a four-year-old nonprofit based in Charlotte N.C., manufacturing a nutrient-rich packet of fortified milk suspended in peanut butter has helped it, by its own estimates, to save the lives of more than one million children.
MANA’s core mission is to help highlight, alleviate and eradicate severe acute malnutrition, a life-threatening condition which affects children aged six months to five years of age. A grantee of NetSuite.org(opens in new tab), the corporate citizenship arm of NetSuite, MANA is using NetSuite software to help advance that mission.
Right now, according to international aid organization UNICEF(opens in new tab), around 20 million children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, which is both treatable and preventable. MANA, which stands for Mother Administered Nutritive Aid, manufactures, tests and packages what is known as Ready to Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) in its factory in Fitzgerald, Ga.
A combination of peanut butter, milk and micronutrients, MANA’s vitamin-rich peanut butter paste RUTF packets can best be thought of as “food by prescription,” according to Troy Hickerson, who heads up organizational development at the nonprofit. When children with severe acute malnutrition are brought to a therapeutic feeding center, they are so sick that their stomach is a tight knot the size of a ping pong ball, they can’t handle local foods and have ceased being hungry. “They are brought in pretty lifeless,” Hickerson said. If their malnutrition is untreated, they risk first brain damage and then death.
“We need to get their bodies back on track and RUTF can get them over the hump,” Hickerson said. “The great thing about RUTF and the inspiration for us to start a nonprofit is that it’s really a one-time treatment. Studies show that after a six-week RUTF treatment cycle, 95 percent of children with severe acute malnutrition will never go back to that level of starvation.”
Prior to the adoption of RUTF as the standard of care in 2007, a child with severe acute malnutrition would need to be treated in a clinical setting with fortified milk (milk powder mixed with water) administered by medical professionals through feeding tubes for a period of six weeks or more. The discovery that fortified milk could be suspended and stored in peanut butter has made it possible for doctors to treat children with severe acute malnutrition more on an outpatient basis. Once diagnosed, the doctor prescribes the RUTF packets – three packets a day for six weeks - and then the child can return home with their parent who will administer the food as prescribed and bring the child back to the medical facility for regular weekly check-ups. Unlike fortified milk, the RUTF packets require no refrigeration, have a two-year shelf life, and, most importantly, are highly palatable to children and safe and easy to use without medical supervision.
MANA manufactures the RUTF packets to a very specific formula required by UNICEF, the largest purchaser of RUTF. The specification is akin to the rules and testing for the production of baby infant formula or pharmaceuticals in the U.S., Hickerson said. MANA choose NetSuite as its ERP solution partly for its ability to manage the recall process from both the raw materials and the finished product perspective and the log tracking of all ingredients and vendor qualifications to meet UNICEF’s exacting standards. MANA staff pull product off the production line every two hours for testing purposes and all that real-time data is entered into NetSuite and is accessible by factory staff via smartphones and Chromebooks.
MANA manufactures about 500,000 packets per day -- enough to feed 1,500 children over six weeks. Most of the packets are purchased by UNICEF and USAID which then work with local ministries of health to distribute the RUTF to therapeutic feeding centers around the world, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In some cases, MANA also works directly with international aid organizations such as Doctors Without Borders, Save the Children and World Vision.
“Fortunately, MANA has been able to grow its fundraising efforts so we can continue to donate containers of product every month to aid organizations,” Hickerson said.
MANA is unique as a nonprofit operating in a for-profit market.
“By having MANA show up as another RUTF provider, we were able to bring global prices down. This last year, we were pleased to be the lowest priced producer of RUTF in the world.” Hickerson said. “As a NetSuite.org grantee, any savings we get on NetSuite allow us to turn around and lower the prices of RUTF for our customers.”
As a nonprofit, MANA is keen to share its knowledge with local providers by open sourcing its recipes.
“Over time, we definitely want to see a shift to local production wherever that’s possible,” Hickerson said. MANA had hoped to have an operational facility in Rwanda up and running, but the nonprofit wasn’t able to secure funding to make a go of the manufacturing plant. “We’d love to go back there and make it happen,” he added.
There is some good news about the fight against world hunger. “We have seen a decline in severe acute malnutrition since the RUTF food has been available on the ground in the past few years,” Hickerson said. “The good news is that the cure is working.”