is upwards

For-profit businesses drive greater impact, not less

10 March 2020
Author: Eric Peck, CEO, Swoop Aero

For-profit businesses drive greater impact, not less

I am often asked how Swoop Aero can truly ‘do good’, when we operate within the private sector as a for-profit business. My goal is to nullify the myth that profit and impact operate as juxtaposed ideals. I argue that if a business truly creates ‘value’, profits will naturally follow, as this will be the inevitable result of the systemic demand for the service offered.

In the simplest form, defining a successful business model that creates value can be broken down into three steps:

    • Define and quantify a problem;
    • Provide a unique, innovative, and defensible solution to the aforementioned problem;
    • Define a price point commensurate to the value created (in our case, through the impact this product has on individuals, and at a population level).

These pillars form the basis of any good business model are applicable to any organisation, whether for-profit or not for profit. This is how innovation is fostered, and is what prompts organisations to deliver solutions that may tackle global problems, such as global health inequality.

In 2018, the United Nations released a “Strategy on New Technologies”, which sought to integrate private businesses into the humanitarian sector in order to facilitate access and adoption of advanced technologies. Moreover, the strategy outlined that this would engender economic efficiency, low-cost production and sustainable business practice, that would invariably help more people on a global scale and make great leaps forward to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of 2030. This new strategy marked a turning point in how impact is perceived, recognising that for-profit businesses are the means to making a greater impact on the world, as well as fostering a greater sense of corporate social responsibility.

I am a true believer that it is the goal of profits in a private sector enterprise that drives innovation and facilitates business expansion to help more and more people.

The Problem and Opportunity

50% of the global population still lacks access to basic healthcare. An estimated 930 million people worldwide are forced to spend at least 10% of their annual household budgets on healthcare expenses. This pushes 100 million of those people into ‘extreme poverty’ due to the burden, which means these individuals live on $1.90 USD, or less per day.

Conventional methods of tackling global health inequality are clearly insufficient to address the issues at hand. As noted by World Bank President, Jim Yong, “What is required is a fundamental shift in the way we mobilise resources for health and for human capital”. Air transport using drones offers a radical new mode of cost-effective, fast transportation that can transform the healthcare supply chain so everyone, everywhere, get’s the healthcare they deserve.

Enter Swoop Aero…

The Solution

Swoop Aero has identified a core challenge within the global healthcare sector. The cost, quality and provision of healthcare has traditionally been dependent on the effectiveness of the health supply chain to overcome logistical barriers, such as challenging geographical terrain, poor transportation networks, weak infrastructure and unpredictable waterways. In Vanuatu, for example, the transportation of basic vaccinations could take up to 2 days to reach local villages. Often, vaccinations were transported by a local courier who would walk this route through tough geographical terrain, which representing a huge financial and human cost, as well as running the risk of expensive vaccines spoiling along the way.

Drone transport provides a cost effective, reliable and safe augmentation to conventional methods of medical transportation and delivery. At Swoop Aero we have developed an agile 3D printed aircraft, which is low-cost to manufacture and therefore more accessible to more people. We have also developed a unique cloud-based logistics management system, which means the drone transportation networks can be scaled up quickly and effectively to address changes in demand. The system can be operational in any geographical location under a week, operating entirely off grid if required due to local conditions.

The complexity of the aviation system required to conduct these activities, as well as the talent required to create it, do not come for free.

Only through the ability to pay top talent and invest in innovative new software and hardware has this solution left the pages of science fiction and broken into reality. The profits derived from our activities are filtered back into business operations to expand the network, with the goal of being able to provide these services to everyone that needs them. By 2025, we would like this to be one hundred million people. Herein, value is created through community-wellbeing and good health, impact is derived from the number of people provided with essential medical supplies

The Impact

The economic benefits of innovation in healthcare can be difficult to measure, as is community well-being, greater equality, and the highly-skilled jobs provided through this type of innovation; this challenge is exacerbated when measured within the constraints of short donor agency timelines or election cycles which dictate funding lifecycle. In fact, the current funding process of long planning timelines, short pilot programs, and excessive delays between tranches of program implementation are starving the best innovative technologies out of the market. It could be argued that the best game changing technologies are displaced by increasingly expensive incremental gains that can be easily measured in short time cycles.

However if lives being saved is evidence of the value being created, we are lucky that this is something that Swoop Aero’s work can boast. Examples include a life-saving dose of oxytocin being delivered to a mother on a remote island  suffering from postpartum hemorrhage, or a rabies vaccine being delivered in 30 minutes rather than a day long trip, the potential difference between life and death. Around the world, Swoop Aero is servicing tens of thousands of people with services like these, and improving equality of access to healthcare for everyone, everywhere.

At Swoop Aero, our aim is to create maximum value through positive impact – for our customers, employees, business partners and the public at large, as well as for the environment. Profits and growth serve as a means to sustain the positive impact generation of the company.

In this sense, profit and impact are not mutually exclusive ideals; in-fact, a focus on value creation is recognised as the core pillar of sustainable business practice in the 21st century. Without a focus on genuine value creation, businesses are destined to continually shift their focus to new revenue extraction approaches, or wither and die. It comes down to values focus, and at Swoop Aero, ours is on value through impact; revenue and profits will follow suit.

Ultimately, in order for Swoop Aero to continue to make a positive impact on a population scale, capital and profit is required to expand operations and leverage the network to create value for more end users. This shows how profit and impact are not only compatible, but self-reinforcing.

Profit is not a bad thing. It remains a facilitator of positive action and encourages innovation, efficiency and sustainability within the internal operations of the business. In the context of Swoop Aero, it acts as a motivation to help as many people as possible and ensure everyone receives access to quality healthcare when and where they need it.