Kids fast food menu

Childhood obesity

Impact investing for social change with the new SMASH app

28 September 2020
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3 min read

Impact investing can play a pivotal role in tackling health issues. Our CEO, Kieron Boyle, discusses how we're investing to help children eat healthier.

There’s increasing interest in the ways in which impact investments can support more systemic change.

That is often taken to mean doing lots of inter-connected things at once. It’s an approach we use heavily in our work on urban health.

But it can also mean doing a single, specific thing that has the potential to impact many areas.

This week we announced our investment in a new business called SMASH (Save Money and Stay Healthy). It’s an app that offers 13-24 year olds up to 20% off healthier options at fast food outlets and other stores.

 

A systems-informed investment

We know that the places kids hang out and eat are flooded with unhealthy food. We also know that healthy food is unaffordable to a lot of people, and the most affordable food is often very unhealthy.

Founded by an ex-KFC board member, SMASH is designed to put healthier food centre stage, making it the cheaper and more accessible option.

Impact investing for systems change doesn’t have to mean engaging the whole system at once. That can feel an unachievably high bar. Rather, it can also mean spotting where opportunities converge – and getting going.

Keiron Boyle
Kieron Boyle Chief Executive

In my mind, the model is demonstrating other things too.

First, it has a positive take on the challenge. The big retailers have a surprisingly broad range of lower fat, salt and sugar items, but these are rarely the snacks or meals that kids are incentivised to buy. At the same time, new restrictions to fast food advertising mean that businesses need to innovate around putting healthier options in the spotlight.

It’s an obvious point but we need to give as much attention to promoting better options as we do to removing worse ones.

Second, the 20% discount offered by SMASH could be replicated through taxes, for example a reduction in VAT for healthier products.

 

Informing policy without politics 

If you were to approach that top-down, from government, it could take years. You can imagine the deeply political debate about VAT reductions, all of it based on competing views of how people might behave, rather than how they actually do. And the nature of that dynamic tends towards the status quo.

Here we’ll have real-world data of whether this idea works or not. In effect, using a commercial investment as a pathfinder for public policy change.

All of which is to say that impact investing for systems change doesn’t have to mean engaging the whole system at once. That can feel an unachievably high bar. Rather, it can also mean spotting where opportunities converge – and getting going.