No ordinary fish

Dr. Gavin Armstrong, founder and CEO of Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise.  SUPPLED

Dr. Gavin Armstrong, founder and CEO of Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise. SUPPLED

More than 99 per cent of businesses in Canada are small and medium-sized enterprises (SME). As a major driver of the economy, SME leaders play a critical role embedding practices that contribute to the social good for all Canadians.

When Gavin Armstrong was volunteering at a refugee camp in northern Kenya, he saw first-hand the impact of hidden hunger and began looking for a solution to one of the leading causes of malnutrition – iron deficiency.

As part of his PhD research at the University of Guelph, Dr. Armstrong expanded on the work of fellow student Christopher Charles and innovated a fish-shaped product that releases a safe and consistent amount of iron when it is boiled in slightly acidified water. 

In 2012, Dr. Armstrong, along with support from Dr. Charles and Dr. Alastair Summerlee – academic adviser to both students – established Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise (LIFE) to tackle iron deficiency, a health-care challenge that impacts two billion people – many of them women – and results in a loss of $90-billion per year in global GDP.

“I have always believed that you can do well by doing good. You can help the planet be a better place and make a profit while doing so,” says Dr. Armstrong.

Manufactured in Ontario and Mumbai, India, the Lucky Iron Fish is sold in over 56 countries via the company’s website and Amazon. LIFE’s Buy One Give One policy – for every fish sold, one is donated to a non-profit partner to give to a family in need – has resulted in more than 60,000 being distributed by organizations like World Vision and CARE International.

“Sometimes companies have philanthropy as one thing that they do, but that doesn’t relate to the rest of the company. I’ve never thought corporate social responsibility (CSR) should be in a separate silo. I wanted it to have an impact in the supply chain from manufacturing to packaging and through to the customers we sell to. It’s embedded in everything we do,” he says.

“Customers want to see you doing good and want to purchase products they feel good about buying, so it’s not a cost, it’s an investment in the future success and scalability of the company,” he says.

In 2019, all Lucky Iron Fish will be branded with a maple leaf to acknowledge the country where it originated and Canada’s investment in innovation. 

“When I go to meetings around the world and say I am from Canada, I am met with appreciation. Canada has positioned itself to be a leader in women’s health and women’s rights – reasons we are proud to put the maple leaf on the fish.”

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Tanya Camp