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Member Profile March 2014


Micronutient initiative


Mining Watch Canada Profile

A health worker doses a child with vitamin A during a Child Health event in Bangladesh Credit to the Micronutrient Initiative

This month, CCIC met with the new Executive Director at the Micronutrient Initiative, Joel Spicer, who joined the organization in February. We talked about the Canadian roots and global outreach of MI, the importance of nutrition in development and the successful partnerships with local private actors...among other things!


CCIC - The Micronutrient Initiative (MI) occupies a unique and specialized niche in the Canadian international development sector; how would you describe it for our readers?

Joel Spicer - MI is a made-in-Canada organization with a multilateral approach. We are fortunate to have a strong Canadian identity, as well as a global reputation for high-impact results. Our purpose is to ensure that the world’s most vulnerable – especially women and children – in developing countries get the vitamins and minerals they need to survive and thrive. We work to encourage governments and donors to shine a brighter light on the importance of nutrition.  Nutrition provides a gateway into so many international development issues: health, food security, education and economic development to name just a few.

I think Canadians can take pride in the leadership that this country has shown in supporting global nutrition and MI has made a tangible contribution to this effort. We show real results at scale; while the organization is relatively small, only about 150 staff around the world with additional consultants in the field, our work touches the lives of almost 500 million people each year. We have a small footprint but are having a big impact.

We know that the fight against poverty cannot be won while entire generations are being born stunted, malnourished, and with their development potential impaired because they don’t have access to good nutrition.  Our focus is on nutrition, yet we work to ensure our efforts have impact in many areas: for example, child and maternal survival, health and economic development. The strongest part of any health system is a person’s immune system, as well as the resilience of the people across the health system. MI is working to strengthen both.


CCIC - Who are your main partners in developing countries, and what is their role in making sure that your programs reach the ones who really need it?

Joel Spicer - MI adheres to the Paris Principles of putting countries first, supporting government partners to lead and prioritize and then offering technical support to achieve results.

We also have a solid history of working with the private sector in-country. For instance, our work in salt iodization has connected us with tens of thousands of medium and small salt processors. By supporting them to iodize their product, we’re able to reach a large number of people, protecting populations against iodine deficiency disorders and we help them produce a better quality product. We’ve done this with other staple foods as well: with cooking oil manufacturers in West Africa and small flour millers in the Himalayan hills of Nepal. In this way, we are able to reach a vast number of people with essential vitamins and minerals while supporting industry in improving their business models and making communities stronger.

Our NGO and civil society partners in-country help us implement and amplify our work, helping to reach those who are hardest to reach.

We have very strong relationships with other multilateral organizations, including UN agencies. Our strategic partnership with the World Food Programme works on delivering the right foods at the right time. UNICEF is an essential partner in our vitamin A supplementation success and, with WHO, we are contributing to the global evidence base so that we can influence major health targets and report on global progress.


CCIC - Your organization has developed successful partnerships with Canadian private sector actors; can you tell us more about it and on what are the conditions to make it a win-win equation in the fight against global poverty?

Joel Spicer - MI has developed strong principles with respect to working with the private sector and, in Canada, we’ve modelled our relationships after our long history of working with the private sector in our countries of focus.

If we can work with private sector enterprises that reflect our values and are consistent with our approach, we can have a productive relationship. The one relationship CCIC members might be familiar with is the Zinc Alliance for Child Health (ZACH), our partnership with the Government of Canada and Teck, one of the largest diversified mining companies in the world. This model is achieving significant results: already 28,000 health workers in Senegal have been trained to treat diarrhoea, one of the leading causes of child death, with zinc and oral rehydration salts (ORS); more that 2.6 million cases were treated in 2013. It is also allowing us to explore new opportunities with the private sector as people begin to see what is possible to achieve when we work together, as we want to ensure that any private sector partnerships will result in an increase in our impact to save more lives. In addition, we are seeing a hunger from companies to do good in the world, supported by the fact that employees are increasingly looking for that from their employers. Teck has 10,000 employees around the world and many of these employees have volunteered in their communities to spread the message about not only the issue of diarrhoeal disease in the developing world but also what the company they’re working for is doing to increase the odds for children and their survival through ZACH. 

If these partnerships are set up properly and have strong principles determined in advance, we can achieve more; it’s a win for the people we serve, a win for us and a win for the company.


CCIC - MI is a member of the Canadian Network for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health (CAN-MNCH). Can you say a few words on what your expectations are for the upcoming Summit in May?

Joel Spicer - The Prime Minister’s announcement that Canada will host a high-level Summit on maternal, newborn and child health at the end of May in Toronto is evidence of Canada’s ongoing leadership and commitment. At the Summit, we can take stock of successes since the G8 announcement of the Muskoka Initiative, which have been significant. For example, through ZACH, which is part of Muskoka, we have launched four national zinc and ORS scale-up projects in Africa, helping to save children’s lives that may otherwise be lost to diarrhoeal disease. Further, our Community-based maternal and newborn health projects in Ethiopia and Kenya have a strong nutrition component and reach women earlier with prenatal care. These projects are not only helping pregnant women survive their pregnancies and deliveries but also ensuring that next generation is born healthier so we can create a virtuous circle. The Summit will be about pushing the global accelerator to the floor so that all of us can play our part in ending one of the greatest sources of injustice in the 21st century and, in my view, the strongest evidence of inequity in the world right now – and this is the enduring preventable deaths and damage suffered by millions of children and women each year.

We want nutrition to be a key priority at the Summit. Our role will support bringing Canadian nutrition partners together to amplify change. Our collaborative work is strong but we all want to be stronger and to find new ways to have more success on the ground, to level the playing field so that all children can get to life’s starting line – no matter where they are born.


CCIC - You recently joined MI as new President; what do you bring to the organization and what do you identify as key challenges for MI in the upcoming years?

Joel Spicer - When I first learned about the MI, I could see the scale of the impact it was having, working with governments and building strategic partnerships – but the potential for additional impact is also clear.

I bring a combination of perspectives and experience to the role, which helps identify new approaches and builds partnerships for collective impact. I’ve worked as a donor, with the UN, the World Bank at country level and with global health partnerships. I hope these different perspectives will help contribute some insights on some our challenges, including the scale-up of our most successful programs to increase our reach so we are benefitting the most people.

My challenge in this position and approach is to take the motivation and dedication of the highly-skilled staff we have, transform it and use it to take the organization to the next level; to increase the level of impact and influence MI has in the world. Our mission is to achieve greater results for the people we serve.  We are at a global crossroads today, where we have never before seen the level of interest and political commitment for improving global nutrition. The time is now to seize and expand on this momentum we are witnessing – through the Scaling Up Nutrition Movement, through powerful commitments from governments, donors, civil society and the private sector. It is truly an inspiring and exciting time at MI.


CCIC - The Micronutrient Initiative has been a valued and active member of CCIC for the past two years; why it is important for MI to be part of CCIC in the actual context?

Joel Spicer - CCIC brings together organizations working to end the injustices seen in the world – it takes that diversity of perspectives and seeks to ensure connection between them. By working together we can accomplish more: we have a stronger voice and we can keep track of our individual efforts, whether through nutrition, health, education, governance, infrastructure or human rights. This is why it is important for MI to be part of CCIC. We also work to bring together different perspectives to solve the health challenge of malnutrition, which crosses all sectors and creates inequality. Inequality in all its forms is at the core of the injustices we see today. Inequality creates instability which leads to conflict no matter where you live. We value working together, because when a child cannot grow to their full potential – cannot grow into the next Gandhi, Mandela or Beethoven – we all lose. MI is one organization working in partnership with others to change that. 



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