Interview with Mark Moore, CEO and Founder of MANA Nutrition

Date: Mar 5 ’11
Region: North America

CCT Network: Can you share with us a success story of your work to date with MANA Nutrition?

Mark Moore: I can share a picture of Dominique before he started MANA. He’s 2-years-old and severely malnourished, yet – looking at this picture of him after only three weeks on MANA RUTF – you wouldn’t know it. He’s gained 4 pounds, his skin is healthy, his eyes are brighter… he’s on the way to good health. He’s our biggest success so far and we look forward to having tens of thousands of stories like this in the coming months and years as MANA gets rolling.

CCT Network: What prompted you to found MANA Nutrition?

Mark Moore: A couple things. I first heard of RUTF when I was working in the US Senate as an Africa specialist for Senator Landrieu of Louisiana. She was on the approps committee and I sat in a meeting in which UNICEF talked about the efficacy of RUTF; I was taken aback by how it was making a difference. Later, I saw some friends in California who run a company selling nuts; we started talking about partnering to make RUTF in December 2008, but our plans never materialized. By 2009 I had quit other jobs and was pursuing the idea full time on my own.

CCT Network: What impact do you hope your organization has on the developing world?

Mark Moore:  The answer to solving hunger around the world is a fairly simple concept, it is quality food produced locally. That’s a tall order and beyond the reach of our effort, at least for many years to come. But we can as an organization make a dent in the slice of hunger that is known as Severe Acute Malnutrition. Those are children, typically under 1000 days old, who will die of malnutrition if not treated with a therapeutic food. We can make that food affordably and efficiently both here in the states and in developing nations. So we have a facility in South Georgia, USA and in Kigali, Rwanda. Our big dream is that facilities, like our Rwanda facility, will be able to partner with local farmers and local food producers

CCT Network: How has your CCT education contributed to your current work?

Mark Moore: Wow! Many ways. I came to Georgetown after having spent 10 years in rural Uganda as a development worker and missionary. It was a pretty radical shift to jump from a rural village in Africa with thatched roofs to a very connected and wired world at CCT. Whenever I describe my CCT education and experience to others, I tell them that the program asked students of intentionally varied undergraduate backgrounds to stand at the intersection of communication, culture and technology and to ask questions about how that busy intersection affects their particular discipline or area of interests. So I met people coming from law school who asked, “what does this intersection of Communication, Culture and Technology mean for the practice of law?” “What does in mean for education?” “How will I be a better doctor if I view my role through this lens?” My interest and background was that of international development and it was really inspiring and challenging to have a couple years to sit with brilliant people…both my classmates and my professors who were thinking about the same issues from slightly different angles. So in many ways, the whole MANA dream was fueled and inspired by my two years at CCT. I now ask myself as the CEO of a young company, how can I harness ever-changing communication technology to tell our story and to draw others into that story? What are the cultural shifts that are changing the way we should tackle very old development issues and what are the cultural variables in each nation that, for example, might lead us as a company to develop products that fit local palates or wants or needs.

CCT Network: Are you leveraging social media to get the word out about malnutrition and if so, how?

Mark Moore: Yes, twitter, Facebook, the web. I’m about ten years older (early 40’s) than your average CCT grad since I showed up mid-career after having been in Africa. So when I showed up at CCT and had classmates like Stephen Guidry and Mary Beth Jackson who were younger and (to me anyway) uber-wired, it was pretty amazing. Also, I now look back on my CCT time and realize how radically everything is changing. 3 days ago on Twitter seems like 6 years ago now. The entire social media revolution has occurred since my time at CCT, and that was only five years ago.

CCT Network: Describe the process in starting MANA Nutrition?

Mark Moore: It has been quite a journey. The big issue has been the scale of our dream. We quickly realized we needed millions of dollars to make it all take off like we envisioned, and each time we tried to scale it back and do a smaller, less ambitious version we realized it was not really possible; it was an all or nothing type dream. One time I met with some wealthy people and asked them for $3 million and they said, “why don’t you just do it for $300,000? Start in your garage, think smaller, that’s they way entrepreneurs do stuff like this.” It was awkward because they did not really get the dream, which is to make a fairly simple food (RUTF) that has a pretty high tech packaging spec. So its not like I would put peanut butter into a nitrogen flushed, metalized polyester bag in my garage…the packaging machine alone costs nearly half a million dollars. We have very specific direction because that is what UNICEF wants and needs in order to confidently purchase and distribute a product to kids around the world. Yet, our overall dream is pretty low tech; it’s about community management of malnutrition. It’s about local food production and local markets and working with moms to educate them regarding basic nutrition.

CCT Network: How do you see information communications technology changing the developing world?

Mark Moore: Before I came to CCT I started an internet cafe and ISP (Internet Service Provider) in a small town in Uganda. We were the first ISP in Africa outside of a big city. I had no idea what I was doing. I bought old routers and thing called a “port master”…stuff that is complete junk now technologically. Yet we scraped it all together to build a make-shift ISP and transformed our town. So I saw it first hand in 2003 in Uganda. Since then, things have exploded. I worked in the US Senate after Georgetown and always joked that one of my biggest adjustments to being in Washington DC – coming from Uganda – was trying to come to grips with the huge downgrade I experienced in cell phone technology. Uganda cell service is much better than Washington; it’s many years ahead of our networks and infrastructure. So when JP Singh talked about “Leapfrogging development” in class, it really resonated with me because I was living that. Now, for example, we are a decade into brand new cell towers being spread like wildfire all over places like Rwanda and Uganda where I still work. And while there are still huge issues, it is amazing to see things actually working and being taken for granted. Now we are about to hit another period of rapid change because now those two countries are working on (and in some places completing) fiber rings. So the communications technology and connectivity we have to our factory in Rwanda, for example, is actually better in many respects than what we experience in rural Georgia, where we have a 30,000 square foot facility.

CCT Network: If you were starting the CCT program now, what would you have done differently in terms the focus of your studies?

Mark Moore: I focused on development, and did some cool things like go over to SAIS (Johns Hopkins campus in DC) to take classes in African economics, but I would now be even more intent to take development-focused classes in my second year. Really, I would not change too much because it all worked out pretty well for me; whenever someone asks me about CCT I generally say something like, “It’s the graduate program for people who can’t decide what they want a graduate degree in.” Hopefully that’s something the academics at CCT will be proud of, rather than try to deny that reality (as I see it) in order to define the program for people on the outside who want to see a more traditional and perhaps “pragmatic” program.