The Boston Globe has launched a weekly Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses, conducting ground-breaking research, and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to reporter Edward Fitzpatrick at email@example.com.
This week’s conversation is with Navyn Salem, founder and CEO of Edesia Nutrition, a nonprofit that manufactures ready-to-use foods for malnourished children.
Question: When was Edesia founded and how many children has it helped feed since then?
Answer: I founded Edesia in 2009, and since opening our doors in 2010, we have reached 10 million malnourished children across 55 countries. Three million children die every year from something that is 100 percent preventable. We don’t need to do research -- we know that they need the right food and nutrition to not only survive, but thrive. Edesia works with UNICEF, World Food Programme and USAID to deliver these life-saving foods to countries devastated by war, political unrest, or drought that force people to migrate in search of food and safety. My dad is from Tanzania, and I have four daughters. So the issue of global health and children has always been an important issue to me personally. I had seen too many children waste away for no reason and could not stand by and watch this happen, so Edesia was born.
Q: How much food can Edesia produce at its North Kingston manufacturing plant?
A: We make 1.2 million packets every single day. In 2019, 45 million pounds of fortified peanut butter will have left this factory in 1.5 million boxes and traveled in 1,600 containers to 35 countries and reached 2.7 million children with full treatments. Every time I see a box sitting in a clinic in Uganda or Sierra Leone or Guatemala, I have a small moment of pride for our little Ocean State.
Q: Where does the name Edesia come from?
A: Edesia is the Roman goddess of food who presides over banquets. Mythology states that she ensured that feasts went well and the food was excellent. Her name comes from the Latin verb “edes,” which means “to eat.” Between feeding four daughters at home and making sure this factory keeps running 24 hours a day, it felt like Edesia and I had a similar job description!
Q: Edesia has been recognized by Beautiful Day for its work with refugees. Can you tell us about those efforts?
A: At Edesia, we have 100 employees from 25 different countries, and many of them are former refugees from countries such as Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria, and Myanmar. There is no group more resilient, more dedicated, or more knowledgeable than those who once depended on humanitarian aid. I feel so lucky to know their stories and work side by side with them serving the 70 million refugees that are still in search of a home. I encourage other business leaders to consider hiring refugees, not because it is a charitable effort, but because it’s good for business.
Q: What is Edesia’s goal for 2020?
A: Now that we have 10 years of experience under our belt, I thought we should turn our attention to the United States for the first time. Many of my friends and family over the years have asked if they can use Plumpy’Nut: My nephew Henry, who wasn’t growing at the same pace as his friends; my best friend Annie, who was going through chemo; my father-in-law Emil, who stopped eating and was losing weight. So it was all of these needs that inspired me to launch a new brand called MeWe -- good for me, good for we. A line of nut butters with purpose – to solve your unique nutritional challenge depending on your age and stage of life. And we give 100 percent back to help end malnutrition globally. Good for me, good for we.
Q: What advice would you give to those starting new nonprofits?
A: My advice to those wanting to start a new venture is to just start. You will never have all the resources you need. There is never the perfect time. You may worry you don’t have all the answers. But think about this instead: What if you don’t start? What will happen? For me, I witnessed a child die in a hospital in Tanzania. I told myself: You need to go home and figure it out – this cannot happen again. There are three words hanging on my door: “Find a way.” Every step is painful and challenging. But the rewards, well, they are indescribable.