Iain Church is a British Army veteran turned social entrepreneur, winner of the Warwick Business School Bursary Award. Join us as we go on a journey with Iain into a small, beautiful, landlocked country called Malawi in Southeast Africa, to experience the winds of change blowing over this land.
Not all superheroes wear capes. Some just go about their normal lives, silently planting the seeds of change along the way. Iain Church undoubtedly belongs to the latter class and has been recently awarded the Heropreneurs Award. Heropreneurs is a registered charity in the UK which celebrates and rewards the energy, passion and dedication of war veterans aspiring to forge a new path in business. That’s right, Iain Church was actively serving the British Army before he decided to focus all his attention 5,000 miles away – in a tiny country in Southeast Africa, called Malawi.
From bomb disposal to social entrepreneurship
Iain Church joined the British Army at the age of 21, right after graduating from university. As a bomb disposal expert, Iain was responsible for disarming mines and other munitions in Bosnia and Kosovo, and for making potentially life or death decisions as a squadron second-in-command in Iraq. He even designed new protocols for attacking IED (Improvised Explosive Device) networks in Afghanistan while commanding bomb disposal operations in Helmand Province. He has served the Army in Northern Ireland, the Balkans, and the Middle East, eventually rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Dealing with matters of life and death for over two decades was no walk in the park. As Iain recalls from his days at the Army, “After you cleared a farmer’s land he would ask, ‘Is it safe to put cattle back in that field?’ It’s the children who herd the cattle, so while you want to reassure him and say, ‘Yes, we’ve got everything’, you have to caveat that with the fact that it’s not an exact science and one or two bomblets may have fallen further outside the cleared radius. It is a huge responsibility.” Yet he persevered relentlessly. In Kosovo, for instance, Iain and his team worked flat out every day for eight long weeks. If one had to find a silver lining in this war-ravaged cloud, one could say that once you have dealt with countless life-and-death decisions in the army, you emerge from it with nerves of steel: nothing in the civilian world can quite faze you anymore.
Iain’s innate entrepreneurial spirit, however, did not get the opportunity to flourish much during those days. When the only priority is to save innocent lives, one simply has no option but to move on from one mission to the next as swiftly as possible. In the end, Iain decided to take a period of leave to focus his attention on his late father-in-law’s brainchild “Moringa Miracles Ltd” in Malawi. It was a for-profit social enterprise intended to provide rural Malawians a self-sustaining, permanent way out of extreme poverty. Three years later, in 2016, Iain decided to leave the Army permanently in pursuit of this new passion to make a difference. It may not be easy to connect the dots from bomb disposal to poverty alleviation, but what can we say…Iain is, after all, no stranger to shouldering the responsibility for the lives of others.
Malawi and a miracle in the making
The Republic of Malawi is a land-locked country in southeast Africa and home to more than 18.5 million people. While this gem of a land is endowed with rich flora and fauna, it remains one of the least developed countries in the world. The economy is struggling, more than 95% of the population is considered to be either ultra-poor or poor, and the government relies heavily on foreign aid to meet its development needs.
Moringa Miracles Ltd was founded with the lofty ambition to combat the widespread poverty pervading across Malawi. Moringa Miracles provides free moringa trees for farmers to grow alongside their existing crops, and then buys back the seed to produce moringa oil for use in the cosmetics industry. Smallholders are trained on how to grow and nurture their trees and are shown how to turn the leaves into a powder that can help to ease the prevalent Vitamin A deficiency in the country. Similar projects have, in the past, strived to introduce self-sustaining models. But what makes Moringa Miracles stand out is the fact that it is here for the long haul. For example, there was a project which encouraged farmers to grow chilies instead of their staple crops. Sure, it was a success for the first couple of years. But soon afterwards, the prices for chili plummeted and Malawi was left with a swathe of smallholders who could neither afford to sell their chilies because the price was too low, nor grow food for themselves as their land had been put over to growing chilies.
Moringa Miracles, on the other hand, adopted an ingenious and simple approach. The 40 moringa trees they provide to each farmer, can be easily planted around the border of their usual crops. Those who have no space to plant the trees can pool their share and plant them in communal areas next to rivers to prevent soil erosion and flooding.
After just one year each tree produces 5 kilograms of moringa seed which the company buys back from the smallholders for use in the cosmetic industry. The smallholders are encouraged to use the waste product as a water purifier and the leaves as a source of Vitamin A supplement.
Triple Bottom Line of People, Planet & Profit
NGOs often work on a project basis, moving on from one critical issue to the next. On the other hand, a social enterprise, like Moringa Miracles, exists for the long term and is better placed to see things through. Moringa Miracles works with two international NGOs. But if, at any point time, the NGOs need to move on and focus their resources on other problems, Moringa Miracles can continue to support the same smallholders and ensure a lasting legacy. Indeed, Iain Church believes that combining the best practices of NGOs with the best of the commercial world produces the concoction required to create a self-sustaining social enterprise.
Moringa Miracles Ltd. (MML) produces moringa leaf powder, seed and oil to deliver a triple bottom line: commercial success, social and environmental impact. It aims to sustainably break the aid cycle in Malawi by increasing smallholder incomes, food security, access to clean water and environmental resilience by reversing deforestation. To date, MML has partnered with 65,000 small holders and planted more than 3 million moringa trees. As an employer, MML believes strongly in offering equal employment opportunities for women and youth. This holistic approach means MML can deliver long term impact with a triple bottom line. It is rather interesting to note that MML’s model can be replicated around the world. Moringa naturally occurs in some of the world’s most under nourished regions – so their model can potentially provide countries with a home-grown solution to their problems, without the need for donor assistance.
The road ahead
Today Moringa Miracles has a team of 30 full-time staff who run a 20,000 strong smallholder programme. They also work with 45,000 smallholders in programmes run by two international NGOs. Their aim is to lift 325,000 Malawians out of extreme poverty within five years of operation. This is certainly a daunting challenge for even the most ambitious of entrepreneurs. But Moringa Miracles remains committed to providing farmers with a sustainable source of income while working on nutrition in a region where about 45% of the children suffer from stunted growth owing to Vitamin A deficiency.
Iain Church is now better positioned than ever before to materialise his lofty ambitions. He won the Warwick Business School Bursary Award, which includes a full scholarship to study for an MBA at WBS, so that he can acquire new skills to help Moringa Miracles thrive. This Executive MBA is bound to fast-track Iain’s entrepreneurial journey and leave a lasting positive impact on the fortunes of Moringa Miracles Limited. In Iain’s own words, “I am humbled to have won the inaugural Heroprenuers Warwick Business School Bursary Award. The size of this opportunity is huge and I look forward to repaying the faith that Warwick Business School has shown in me.”
Iain Church is an inspiration for all the budding social entrepreneurs out there and we cannot wait to see this potentially game-changing approach to provide a Malawian grown solution to a Malawian problem come to fruition!With kind acknowledgements to Mr Warren Manger, Media Officer, Warwick Business School, and Ms Afifeh Fakori, CoBS Editorialist.
- Link up with Iain Church via LinkedIn
- Visit the Heropreneurs website
- Discover Warwick Business School and its portfolio of full-time and executive degree programmes
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