07th April 2017 | Blog
A tea party with...Howard Schiffer, founder of Vitamin Angels
Hello and welcome to our April tea party. To celebrate World Health Day today, we decided to have a chat with Howard Schiffer, the founder of our incredible charity partner Vitamin Angels. We've been a proud supporter of Vitamin Angels since January last year and we're completely in awe of the amazing work they do to help at risk children and mothers which is why we were super excited to be able to pick Howard's brain for our feature. Read on to find out what motivated and inspired Howard to found Vitamin angels, why the distribution of vitamins are so essential and the best part about his amazing job!
1. What inspired you to found Vitamin Angels?
I was in a place where I knew I just couldn't go on being in business, it wasn't enough. I had all of these connections in the supplements and natural products business and felt like I should be able to do something 'good' with them. When I first learned that I could prevent childhood blindness with 2 doses of Vitamin A a year, I was stunned and immediately thought, 'ok we can do that'!
2. What encouraged you to focus on specifically helping mothers and children?
What I learned from technical experts was that most children who die around the world die from preventable causes. It’s mostly because their immune systems cannot fight off a disease or illness or something as simple as a cold or infection. We started to understand that the underlying cause of almost half of all childhood deaths is malnutrition. The children we reach are eating starch heavy diets, like rice or corn or potatoes and not getting the nutrients they need to stay healthy and build their immunity. By providing nutritional support that helps fill gaps in children’s diets, we are making a dramatic impact and giving children the chance to lead healthy and productive lives. We also know that the younger the child, the more vulnerable he or she is. A child’s health really begins during pregnancy, so if we want to have the greatest impact, we need to reach the moms as close to conception as possible.
3. Why is the distribution of vitamins so essential to the developing world?
Vitamin interventions are one of the most affordable and effective ways to save children’s lives. A bottle of prenatal vitamins can be easily transported to the furthest and most remote regions of the world. And just that one bottle of vitamins can increase the size and weight of a baby at birth and even dramatically reduce still births.
4. Are you working on any big projects at the moment?
Vitamin Angels is the largest provider of vitamin A and deworming tablets to the NGO (non-governmental organizations), non-profit and faith based communities around the world. We are working on becoming the largest provider of prenatal vitamins to this same community. And we continue to focus on reaching the hardest to reach populations who do not have access to government health services. It is encouraging to note that, since we began our work, the total number of children dying globally every year has been cut in half.
5. What do you love most about your work?
I love the people I get to work with; the children and moms I meet when I travel out into the field six to eight times a year, the amazing field partners who are some of the most selfless and generous people in the world, health care providers who could be working in fancy hospitals but instead are working in poor villages because they really want to help, the phenomenal Vitamin Angels team who I cannot say enough about—they are the best!—and of course our wonderful donors and incredible corporate sponsors who have completely opened their hearts to helping these children and moms.
6. What has been the biggest highlight of your career so far?
The biggest highlight is always the smiles and joy on the children’s and mom’s faces when we show up in their villages, how the mom’s will hand me their babies, how the children who have so little will show me what true joy is all about, and how the families will welcome me into their homes, places I could never dream of visiting, and want to share with me the little they have. It happens every time we show up and never gets old!
7. How can people get involved with the work of Vitamin Angels?
Just have the intention and raise your hand! We’ve had so many people who became champions for Vitamin Angels within their own company or community, or did a fundraiser for us by climbing a mountain or running a marathon. Everyone has a passion or a skill, use that to spread the word or raise money for our cause. Setting up a personal fundraising page is easy! [https://www.vitaminangels.org/fundraising-for-vitamin-angels]
I’ll tell you one story about an ad executive who called me one day in 2003 saying he needed our help to get vitamins to an orphanage in Romania. I told him we would be happy to help, and the more he spoke with me, the more he was amazed at how much vitamins could do. He eventually introduced us to a corporate sponsor who funded our first large vitamin A campaign in India. Last year, we reached 12 million children in India! That’s how far a simple phone call can go!
8. What advice would you give anyone looking to contribute to the 3rd sector?
Don't get stopped by people telling you it’s hopeless (it isn’t), don’t listen to anyone who says it’s impossible (it is completely possible), and be willing to be unreasonable, reach for the stars. There are millions of people out in the world today who are doing amazing work; getting vitamins and nutrients to the poorest villages, setting up clean water systems, building schools and decent housing, and providing basic medical and dental care. There’s so much to be done. We work with doctors and healthcare providers whose parents could not read or write, who were so poor, who grew up on in a one-bedroom home, slept on dirt floors and had no running water or even a bathroom. And they’ve become doctors and healthcare providers and now they’re helping to keep their communities healthy and train other doctors and healthcare workers. So we know, it is possible! My advice for everyone looking to contribute is from Goethe who said ‘Begin it now!’
To learn more, or make a donation, visit https://www.vitaminangels.org/global-impact-to-reduce-malnutrition
You can also follow Vitamin Angels on social media: