Can you imagine starving to death? It doesn’t sound pleasant. Now imagine it was your little boy or girl wasting away in front of your eyes. How would you feel about that? Would you want to help?

Even if you can contemplate such a horrific situation, the chances of it happening in Britain are remote. But elsewhere in the world the number of children dying every day from hunger is staggering. Every 15 seconds a child dies from hunger. That’s four every minute. Or 240 next time you take an hour for lunch. It’s two million children dying every year because they don’t have anything to eat.

It’s been 30 years since the Ethiopian famine forced the plight of starving children into the national conciousness, yet almost half of the children that die every day die because of hunger. The causes are many, including (but not limited to) war, drought, cuts to foreign aid, rising populations and plain old poverty.

Fortunately, attempts to help combat the problem are equally numerous, with different charitable organisations seeking to make a breakthrough. But one is trying something “high risk” to make a difference.

Action Against Hunger has fought against hunger for 40 years in 50 countries. In 2014 it received £900,000 from the Innocent Foundation to trial a pilot scheme it described as a “game changer”.

“We gave a substantial amount for a charity to provide a breakthrough,” says Innocent CEO Douglas Lamont. “It was a high risk project. One of the things that has really surprised me is how conservative the charity sector is, but you are dealing with very sensitive issues. And when corporate donors give money, they want to make sure it’s spent in the right way and that they have made a difference. You can’t knock that, but it does mean ways of doing things stay the same for 30 years and there isn’t the funding available to try new methods. What we have done with Action Against Hunger is to try a new method.”

Inflection point

The new theory proposed by Action Against Hunger was that trained community health workers (or even trained mums) living in villages could treat twice as many children suffering from severe malnutrition just as effectively, and for the same amount of money, as health centres.

“We have proved you can save a substantial number of lives,” says Lamont. In fact, the results of the pilot were so impressive the Ministry of Health in Mali has changed its national policy. “Mali is now training community health workers to treat children in villages,” says Kate Franks, manager of the Innocent Foundation. “And the Innocent Foundation is investing £450,000 in expanding the original pilot across a much larger area of Mali to prove the model works at scale.”

Even better, Lamont says the “UN are paying close attention. They are talking about changing global policy. So this is an inflection point.”

To scale up the project to a point where the UN might act, Action Against Hunger needs the fmcg industry to help - and not just financially. It also wants your ideas, your supply chain knowledge, your NPD, and your creativity.

“The reason we are appealing for help from the fmcg industry is that it comes down to some very practical things like logistics, cost engineering and marketing,” says Lamont.

“We have to prove we can do it in a cost-efficient way so other national governments will do it too. So the call out to the industry is to say money would be great, and helpful, but resources you already have in your teams, like nutritional developers, product developers, supply chain knowledge and experience, are all things the charity sector has a limited amount of.

“If fmcg could act in a pro bono way, that would make a massive difference. Pro bono is very common in the law industry but not so common in fmcg. How can we lend time and resources to stop children dying? Around the world, 16 million kids have severe malnutrition and two million die every year.

“So how do we get to a point by 2025 where children are not dying from hunger? It’s achievable, but we know we can’t solve a problem that kills two million children around the world every year on our own. It always feels slightly hopeless, you might look at the hunger problems of the 1980s and wonder what’s actually changed, but good progress has been made. And Action Against Hunger’s new approach, together with your help, could accelerate progress so people aren’t dying from hunger in 10 years’ time.”

To explain its plan, Innocent - celebrating its 18th birthday this month - invited 60 “purpose-driven business leaders” from the industry - including suppliers, restaurants, retailers and logistics firms - to a show and tell event at its HQ in West London earlier this month, to explain the progress the pilot has made so far (although Lamont is keen to stress that “it’s the least exclusive club ever”).

“It was a thoroughly inspiring event, and exciting to learn that preventing millions of children dying from hunger is an achievable goal,” says Emma Heal, retail MD at Graze. “The Innocent Foundation and Action Against Hunger team cleverly divided the event to focus on three challenges: logistics, marketing and product development. This framework provided a very clear call to action and the results of these sessions showed as an industry we’re well placed to tackle them.”

Supply chain brain

So if you’ve got a passion for maximising space on the back of a lorry and nothing makes you happier than saving a few drops of petrol every day that, over the year, add up to hundreds of gallons, now you can stop children dying and it won’t cost you anything other than enthusiasm and your logistical brainpower.

“The last bit of the supply chain is always the most expensive. So how can we drive out cost whether it’s the product or the supply chain and keep making incremental gains?” says Lamont.

Meanwhile, skilled marketeers and communication companies can help by wondering how their skills can assist with the challenge of communicating to mums in the villages, or even writing training manuals for community workers.

And of course, there is the food itself.

The most effective way of rapidly bringing a starving child back to life is to treat them with so-called therapeutic food like the Plumpy’Nut bar, dreamed up in 1996. Yet a limited number of academics and food producers are exploring alternative formulations for therapeutic food, so a little technical knowhow from more brilliant people will go a very long way. An industry filled with experts in NPD and, more importantly, reformulation, can help. If you already work in the burgeoning sports nutrition arena, you’re probably already doing it. So even if you share some of the breakthroughs you’ve already made, that’s enough. And offering support to test the acceptability and effectiveness of new products will literally save children’s lives.

“On our 18th birthday we have given away £10m,” says Lamont. “The risks in this instance have led to a breakthrough. We just need more people to help us. That will determine how fast we can go. This is about solving a very important global issue and it feels like we are at a point we could make a big difference.”

If you’d like to help, contact Kate Franks, innocent foundation manager, by emailing