UNDP Moldova is keeping the doctor away from more than 3000 school-age children
07 Dec 2016 by Dumitru Vasilescu
The idea of tackling the problem of low fruit intake in Moldova came during a banal lunch. We were intrigued by the paradox that in a country that is a regional “garden”, abundant in fruits and vegetables, the average consumption of these goodies constituted only 60% of the minimum WHO recommended quantity.
We then thought about connecting the private sector represented by the fruit producers with the educational institutions, targeting the young generations of our country, where the culture of fruit consumption is just about to be shaped.
Our mission was to increase children fruit consumption, by offering them local fresh apples, sliced and delivered in an attractive package, thus making the consumption process “cool” for them.
The challenges were numerous:
- skepticism voiced by many (“I can buy a kilogram of apples and feed my child with them, why all this fuss about slicing apples?”)
- skepticism voiced by the private sector (“if I invest in the production of apple snacks, how do I know that the project is sustainable, wouldn’t people buy apples from the market instead?”)
- skepticism voiced by the public sector (“why give kids sliced and packaged fruits, we already provide them with whole fruits, part of the daily menu?”)
We believed too much in our idea, however, so proceeded with collecting the necessary knowledge, people and money. Whereas knowledge is what UNDP can bring in by helping with development of new products, people and money was the most difficult part. And here UNDP again proved to play innovatively. The office in Chisinau launched its first crowdfunding campaign and raised over 12.000 US dollars in less than two months from local private companies and individuals from more than 20 countries. Whether we owe our success to the dramatic apple story , the endorsement of Jamie Oliver, or the support of all those who believed in this initiative, is left to be discovered. We believe it was a mix of all of the above and many more mesmerizing processes that come with handling a “newborn” project.
The most interesting part, however, was about to follow: the design of the snack package that we developed together with the children beneficiaries of the project by democratic vote, the nutritional sessions organized in schools together with a medical institution and the launch of the product itself in schools.
What we have learned:
- Engagement with the private sector is key and the only way to proceed if undertaking such complex challenges. UNDP has still much to improve in the process, but the first steps proved successful, in particular through testing MICS (Moldova Innovation Challenge Scheme).
- Communication with kids and parents is crucial. Understanding the reasons of the reduced fruit consumption in kids and the ways in which they prefer their food to be delivered to them helped us adapt the product to their needs in terms of content, packaging and convenience.
- The possibility of extending the program is another very important aspect. By starting small with only 5 schools and over 3500 kids that we connected to two local producers, UNDP managed to showcase how fresh fruits consumption can be sustainably improved and inspire more schools and kids to join the “Make apples cool project”.
When starting the distribution in schools, we witnessed various reactions from children and teachers. Children played for ages with the package, counting the vitamins on it, stated that the slices are cool and the tastiest they have ever tried (we will consider here the margin of error driven by the childhood enthusiasm), while the teachers were amazed that even those children that don’t normally eat fruits, ate all the apple slices. Those few moments were the ones that made the game worth the candle.