This article was first published in the June 2016 issue of WIRED magazine. Be the first to read WIRED's articles in print before they're posted online, and get your hands on loads of additional content by subscribing online.
There's a foodstuff that's so nutritious it can bring a starving child back from the brink of death.
Made from fortified peanut paste mixed with dried skimmed milk, vitamins and minerals, it’s known in Haitian Creole as "medika mamba", or "peanut butter medicine". The global NGO community, however, calls it Ready-to-use Therapeutic Food (RUTF).
"It’s an amazing product", says Chamutal Eitam, CEO of charity 3 Million Club. "A child that can hardly walk or stand up eats it, and after between three and 12 weeks they can run and play football. And they look like a child, whereas before they looked like a skeleton."
3 Million Club enables donors to buy packets of RUTF to send to Haiti, where five per cent of children suffer from acute malnutrition, according to the World Food Programme. Using the charity's website, donors can buy boxes of the foodstuff from local factories and send them direct to grass-roots aid agencies.
The box is tracked by its barcode, so the donor knows how their money – $5 (£3.53) buys ten bars, one week of RUTF treatment -– is being used. "It helps you understand what you are supporting," says Eitam, 37, who worked for the United Nations and Norwegian People's Aid before joining 3 Million Club.
When WIRED used the service, it watched its bars go to the Real Hope for Haiti clinic, where they fed 37 children.
"Before we had funding from 3 Million Club we had to do fundraising to raise the funds needed to buy medika mamba. It has been great to be able to have this need met so that those funds can be used for other pressing needs that we see each day," says Licia Betor, Director of Real Hope for Haiti, which runs programmes for moderately and severely malnourished children, with around 110 patients on average at any one time.
3 Million Club is modelled on e-commerce firms such as Amazon, and Tel-Aviv-based Eitam contrasts its "startup efficiency" with the mechanics of "middle-man" charities such as Unicef or Save the Children, which, she says, take donations then "hire a local partner to do the work".
"The average international NGO spends a whopping 60% of funds on operations alone and only 40% on the programs and supplies that provide humanitarian relief," says Eitam. By contrast, 3 Million Club claims that "80 per cent of what you give buys the product, the rest goes on operations".
"We literally double the impact of every dollar spent," says Eitam,
As well as saving costs, 3 Million Club is also attempting to empower local aid organisations. A report produced by the United Nations for the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, being held in Istanbul later this month, observed that, in 2014, only 0.2 per cent of reported humanitarian funding was sent directly to national and local NGOs.
"The complaint we often heard," the report’s authors note, "is that they are treated as sub-contractors rather than true partners by international organisations."
"We have the opposite approach," says Eitam. "We partner directly with small, local organizations that know the community best and empower them, which helps us cut costs.
"We aren't implementing on the ground ourselves – that is very costly and the mistake of many UN agencies and international NGOs. Rather, we are empowering these small, local orgs by supplying them with aid."
That’s the goal, anyway. For now, 3 Million Club is still an early stage startup, with Eitam hoping to expand the two-person operation to get "more product in the platform". She pictures a "life-saving products shop," stocked with tents, heaters and water filters, a humanitarian Amazon.com.
She drags herself back to the present. "We're not saying it's suitable for all humanitarian aid," she says, "but it works for emergencies where a physical product needs to be delivered to people on the ground."