Energize the Chain

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Energize the Chain: Rerouting Power, Reshaping Health

Philadelphia, Estados UnidosZimbabwe
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$500,000 - $1 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Millions of children die every year from preventable diseases because the available vaccines aren't reliably refrigerated. Energize the Chain solves this "last mile" cold chain problem by harnessing the energy available at cell phone towers to power up vaccine refrigerators. 

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if millions of infant lives could be saved every year by making viable vaccines as accessible as global cell phone coverage?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Throughout the developing world, particularly in areas where power is scarce, immunization programs struggle with several basic but challenging obstacles related to vaccine refrigeration and delivery. Unreliable energy sources, irregular equipment maintenance, lack of reliable data and the absence of accurate monitoring all contribute to the overall weakness of the vaccine cold chain and the loss of millions of lives every year.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Energize the Chain (EtC) negotiates public-private partnerships with ministries of health, global health bodies, and major telecom companies to fortify cold chain operations using private sector infrastructure. The telecommunications business model depends on network reliability and widespread distribution. Due to the industry's tremendous growth, cell phone towers powered by robust electrical infrastructures are found throughout the most rural parts of the developing world. Leveraging the ubiquity of this network through public-private partnerships, EtC uses the power and data capabilities at cell towers to connect vaccine refrigerators to reliable power sources and provide remote data monitoring in order to secure the vaccine cold chain.


"Best Mobile Health Product or Service" - Global Mobile Awards, GSMA Mobile World Congress 2014; "Best Innovation from a Research Institute" - Life Sciences Award 2012, Philadelphia Business Journal
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Our co-location model houses a vaccine refrigerator at a cell tower site next to a health clinic in need. The refrigerator is kept at the required 2-8◦C to maintain vaccine efficacy by accessing the reliable cell tower power source 24/7. The refrigerator’s location remains convenient for health workers to access for immunization sessions and their access to the fridge is monitored for security and temperature. More immunization sessions are successfully held at rural clinics where electricity was previously unreliable and impacted the storage of vaccines. Vaccine spoilage is therefore minimized, healthcare workers’ time is optimized, important data is analyzed and vital vaccines are more readily available for vulnerable communities.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

In 2013 EtC partnered with Econet Wireless, a major African telecom group, to launch our first pilot. We worked closely with the Zimbabwe Ministry of Health and integrated our model into the existing health systems on a need basis, prioritizing regions with poor cold chain equipment performance and poor electrical connectivity. Since then, over 100 EtC sites have been launched across Zimbabwe and another 158 sites are in the planning or construction phase. Over 250,000 vaccines have been transported through or administered at these sites. In September 2015 we launched our first partnership workshop in Ghana with our new telecom partner, American Tower Corporation (ATC), and together with the regional Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI) we have identified 31 sites for our pilot, which will formally launch in November 2015. We will also partner with ATC in India for a 2016 pilot.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

Our growth strategy focuses on identifying high-need areas where there is a clear role for partner engagement. This means identifying telecom partners with substantial footprints in developing countries and engaging local health organizations that understand the strengths and weaknesses of the cold chain they operate. When entering new countries we implement in phases: Planning and Surveying, Preliminary Impact Assessment, Pilot Implementation, Health Impact Assessment, Expansion, Transition, and Exit, with the model ultimately adopted into the frameworks of governing health and telecom bodies

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

EtC is primarily funded through our telecom partners' marketing efforts and related telecom programs. We are in the process of diversifying our funding sources to include government grants (both foreign and domestic), individual donations, university funding, and fee-for-service income to manage in-country implementation on a consultancy basis. Our partners on the ground, primarily the private sector, assume the majority of implementation costs.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

To our knowledge, there is no program in place that works within existing country infrastructures to strengthen and extend existing vaccine programs. While there are programs that reduce the cost of vaccine purchasing and others that transport vaccines to the last mile, there are no public private partnerships that leverage the expertise of private companies, governments, NGOs, and universities to improve the vaccine cold chain. One of the unique attributes of our program is that each partner contributes their expertise and provides the financial support for their role, minimizing program cost

Founding Story

Actor Sean Penn was in Haiti volunteering after an earthquake struck Haiti in 2010. Fellow actor and friend David Morse turned on CNN that night and saw Penn, distraught over the tragic absurdity that children were still dying of preventable diseases like diphtheria that had been nearly eradicated decades ago in the U.S. due to proper vaccinations. Morse knew Dr. Harvey Rubin, the highly respected infectious disease doctor at the University of Pennsylvania, and called him up to understand why this was still happening. After hanging up his cell phone, Dr. Rubin came up with the idea to use energy from cell phone towers to power refrigerators in the most rural areas of the developing world.


Employees (fulltime) a. Executive Director - Dr. Harvey Rubin, MD, PhD. b. Associate Director - Nicholas Saidel, JD, MA c. Chief Development Officer - Alice Conant, BA in Health and Societies, Fulbright Scholar d. Director of Business Development and Marketing - Robin Davison, MPH, JD We also draw upon the University of Pennsylvania student body for assistance. As we expand into Ghana, we will be hiring in-country managers and support staff to oversee project implementation.
CO-CREATION IDEA: Please offer a brief description of how you imagine a win-win partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim to better serve unmet needs in health. (Hint: Please mention the underlying business model envisioned that would make such a partnership sustainable.)

EtC’s and BI’s missions align by the vision of value through innovation. Our program creates business opportunities by expanding the patient base for vaccines and other therapeutic interventions into previously inaccessible markets. Once distribution channels are established for vaccines into remote areas, we can introduce other medications and technologies into these communities. It is also possible to bring veterinary vaccines into these communities to protect and preserve their livelihood. BI's expertise in logistics, supply chain and inventory management would contribute to EtC program success. Our private partners have experienced increased brand recognition, increased sales, and improved CSR benefits from their partnerships with EtC

NEEDS: Based on you response above, please specify which of the following resources, operations or expertise by Boehringer Ingelheim you imagine leveraging to actualize the proposed co-creation opportunity. Please check all that apply. (Hint: while financing is often critical to scale, we are also interested in understanding what other assets or expertise could be leveraged).

Distribution Channels, Specific Disease Expertise, Relationships/New Contacts, Marketing/Communications Support, Technology Expertise, Public Policy Knowledge, Access to Capital.

EXPLANATION OF NEEDS: Please explain your choices in more detail.

EtC’s core competency is creating public-private partnerships to strengthen and extend the vaccine cold chain. Our needs relate to the post-partnership implementation stage and logistics optimization. A pharmaceutical company with global reach could help us identify supply chain models that maximize health impact while taking into account cost-efficiency and human resources capabilities in-country. BI’s data management expertise will assist us during scale up - in tracking vaccine wastage rates and measuring the impact of the EtC solution.

OFFER: What are the main assets you may contribute in a co-creation partnership with Boehringer Ingelheim that would better serve unmet needs in health?

Deep understanding of an unmet need in a specific market/context, Access to and established trust with customers/beneficiaries, Insights into distribution, Insights into behavior change.

FOCUS AREAS: Which of the following best describes the main focus of your project? (select all that apply)

Improving the affordability of healthcare (e.g., microinsurance, reducing the economic cost of care), Increasing physical access to healthcare to people with restricted mobility or restricted access (senior people, people with disability, remote or difficult areas, etc.), Models that engage other industry players (e.g., nutrition, athletic, mobility organizations)., Remote care solutions for health management, treatment, and diagnosis.

Please share what your organisation and Boehringer Ingelheim will Co-Create together

EtC and BI have the opportunity to co-create a vaccine distribution strategy that will maximize the efficiency and health impact of the vaccine supply chain in underdeveloped countries with an eye towards cost efficiency and sustainability. We envision a real-time inventory management system that monitors vaccines stocks and integrates the supply chain to ensure that sufficient inventory is always in place. By optimizing the cold chain and reaching communities at the last mile, we will broaden distribution of vaccines, into new markets and, subsequently, pave the way to introduce other medications, interventions, and technologies.

Please specify what your Co-Creation will result in:

a new distribution channel, a new market/customer group.

If you selected "other" above, please explain:
Please provide a 1-2 sentence summary of your Co-Creation idea

EtC and BI have the opportunity to create a dynamic, comprehensive vaccine program that ensures a reliable, effective, sustainable and scaleable vaccine cold chain, from a country's main port of entry to the patients out in the last mile. With EtC's experience assembling collaborative public-private partnerships and launching our telecom-supported cold chain network, and BI's expertise in supply chain optimizations and logistics, together we can create a more reliable cold chain distribution network that reaches the last mile with greater efficiency and transparency.

How does this project link to the core mission of your organisation?

This project embodies our core mission--to create a vaccine supply chain through strategic public-private partnerships that brings effective vaccines to vulnerable populations, including those in the last mile.

Beyond social impact, how does this project link to Boehringer Ingelheim’s core business?

Like BI, our focus is on creating value through innovation. By leveraging the energy and connectivity of cell towers to power and monitor vaccine refrigerators, we have effectively opened the door to previously inaccessible communities. Our program creates business opportunities by expanding the patient base for vaccines and other therapeutic interventions, accessing new markets. Once distribution channels are established for vaccines into remote areas, we can introduce other medications and technologies into these communities. It is also possible to bring veterinary vaccines into these communities to protect and preserve their livelihood. Healthier communities are also more economically stable and productive, which will further develop potential business opportunities in these regions.

What are the specific inputs and actions that each side will contribute to this Co-Creation idea based on each of your unique competencies and experiences?

EtC will contribute: (1) In-country partnerships with telecom companies, Ministry of Health, USAID, EPI, local health NGOs, University professors and students, and other partners; (2) Expertise in program initiation and launch; (3) Data collections and analysis.

Boehringer Ingelheim will contribute: (1) Expertise in distribution strategy, supply chain optimization, logistsics; (2) Financial support; (3) Coordination of efforts with aligned Making More Health Fellows, which could produce synergies that will broaden access to healthcare in the developing world.

Please describe the potential revenue model for this Co-Creation idea.

EtC is primarily funded through our telecom partner's marketing efforts and related telecom programs. All remaining revenue is received through foundation-based funds for pilot research, health assessments, and operations. Our Co-Creation efforts with BI would support in-country program management, training, and logistical support.

What possible risks or challenges do you foresee?

One of the challenges we face is lack of adequate transportation in-country to link the health centers and health care workers to the children in need of vaccines. Infrastructure is often weak, with few roads, unreliable transportation, and lack of fuel. Another challenge is the lack of a "culture of maintenance" in the countries where we operate, therefore EtC is working to create a maintenance strategy that will optimize equipment and supplies. We also must train health care workers to ensure the new sites are integrated into the existing vaccine program.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your Co-Creation idea?
How much input do you hope to receive from Boehringer Ingelheim?

I’d like to implement together, I only need financial support.

If you selected "other" above, please explain:
Besides Boehringer Ingelheim, what other types of partners might be valuable to carrying out your Co-Creation idea, and why?

Transportation companies: Many of the countries in need of our prorgam also have limited options for transporation. Whatever vehicles they have are rarely maintained or repaired, and fuel is scarce. Partnering with transportation companies that will lend their expertiese to help solve these problems would be vaulable. This is complicated by poor infrastructure, poor road conditions, and rugged terrain.
Technology companies: We are working on innovative technological solutions to some of the problems related to vaccinating children in these commnities, including infant biometrics for vaccine tracking, to create facial recognition software to better track vaccine records , telecom