So, what is a cold chain?

Posted on Monday, Jan 26, 2015

I’ve been living in the nation’s capital for two weeks now, working with the Global Cold Chain Alliance (GCCA), which in all honesty before the PPIP team told me about them I had no idea what the “cold chain” was. I’ll assume whoever is reading this probably also has no idea what it is, so here’s a quick explanation. GCCA is trying to develop the process of getting perishables goods (food, pharmaceuticals, and really anything that could go bad over time) from the producer to the global market. That may sound dry and frankly boring but it has a huge effect on impoverished countries all over the world. Here is an example that my boss used when describing GCCA, you have a cherry producer who can produce a literal truck-load of cherries, he has two options 1.) sell it on the local market where he will make about $80,000. This will pay for the costs of producing them and leave a little left over for profit. Or 2.) sell the cherries on the global market to somewhere like Russia, where he will be able to get upwards of $300,000. Opening these small farmers business to the global market can have significant impact on the income of small farmers all over the world. That is what GCCA, or at least our section of GCCA, is trying to do.
This concept, the idea that the private sector can use its resources to focus on solving a social issue, is what Muhammad Yunus calls “social business”. In my opinion, this idea could likely change the structure of our society, it will give people an option other than either only seeking profit, or having to give up their comfortable life in order to do “philanthropy”. No more compromise needs to be made between living a normal life and trying to solve issues that you believe must be solved around the globe.
There are two major differences between what Yunus defines as a social business and what GCCA is currently doing. First, GCCA is still a business for profit, meaning they have to guarantee to their board members and stockholders that their investment will give them even more money then what they invested. In a social business the investors expect to get their money back, but do not expect any more return, other than social impact. Second, the primary goal of a social business must be to solve a social issue, it cannot just be a side project or another branch. Absolutely all of the decisions being made in a social business are designed to create greater social impact, never for greater profit. Yet there is one very important distinction, social businesses must be run like a business. Most charities today are simply not sustainable. Traditional non-profits are vulnerable to either their donors deciding to stop funding their charity, or the leader of the non-profit deciding to move on to other projects. Generally non-profits also have little room to expand because once again they are reliant on donors. Simply asking for more donations cannot continue indefinitely, while a business can innovate and create new and better products, always having room to grow. One more aspect of social business makes it superior to traditional non-profits and this is absolutely key, you are able to get feedback from the customers, because they will only buy the product if it is worth buying. Charities are giving out handouts, people feel obligated to take these handouts and it leaves people with the feeling that they have done “good” without ever having to come back and see if their donation caused any positive change.
I swear this idea is worth learning about because the potential for social business is staggering. I’ll stop talking about it for now due to lack of time but I’ll try and explain in better in my next posts and provide some examples. If you’re interested in social business you should read Muhammad Yunus’ book Building Social Business: The New Kind of Capitalism that Serves Humanity’s Most Pressing Needs. If the title sounds a bit overly grandiose, its not, trust me on that one.
As for living in Washington D.C, or rather near to it, I genuinely enjoy it. It’s a fascinating city; it is a strange mixture of the extreme rich and the extreme poor as well as rich with history and current events. You can look to one side of the street and see million dollar homes, then look to the other and see “the projects” with people living off of the street, side by side yet never really interacting. The clear line between these two groups seems to be accepted by all, and they essentially ignore each other. I understand why this happens, but it’s still strange. Each acts as if the other doesn’t even exist and it would be easy to go about my day ignoring the inconvenience of the poverty right next door. I’m honestly not saying that the people that do ignore the poverty are somehow “bad people”, I am definitely apart of that group at times, but it doesn’t mean that it’s not a bad thing to be happening. The greatest example of this is when you see a beggar on the street and their asking for money from people walking by. Most people, including myself, will often not even look at the person asking for money, denying them as if they aren’t even people. And when I do this I feel ashamed, and I can see that same shame in other people’s faces as they walk by. I’d like to think that most people want to help those beggars, but they just don’t know how, and they know that a one time donation is going to do nothing to help and will likely make that person’s life worst. But even thought that shame can be explained, it doesn’t make it go away. This is another reason why I think social business could catch the minds of innovators and entrepreneurs; it gives them the ability to actually do something.
Well that was a depressing paragraph, with hopefully a touch of optimism at the end. On a lighter topic, I do love working and living here. My roommates are great, everyone else in the program is great, my co-workers are great, my apartment is great, I really have no complaints at all. It has been a thought provoking two weeks, even more then I’ve been able to fit into this first post, and I have a feeling that won’t stop being true for the next four months. Because this is a blog I’ll put the obligatory photos below (all credit going to David Cohen because I hate taking pictures and he took some great ones). I am truly looking forward to the next few months, tons to do, tons to learn so I guess I’ll go get started. 

Bryce Watson
Global Cold Chain Alliance
Washington, D.C. – Spring 2015

Tags: Alliance, Business, Chain, Cold, Global, Washington