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These real-life power-ups let gamers help fight child malnutrition

Nutritional food packs that can save children’s lives cost only 25 cents. Gamers can now help raise that cash—with the help of SpongeBob SquarePants.

These real-life power-ups let gamers help fight child malnutrition
[Screenshot: lifepack.org]

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Assisting SpongeBob SquarePants and his pals flip and serve Krabby Patties in a virtual fast-food restaurant is not the most obvious path to help solve real-life malnutrition in the developing world. But, thanks to an unlikely new partnership, the two very separate worlds have converged.

More than 45 million children around the world suffer from malnutrition, due to the lack of sufficient intake of nutrients. Three million children die from it every year— more than AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined—and it’s the cause of nearly half of all deaths of children under five. Now, the pandemic has pushed 10 million more children into malnutrition.

[Screenshot: lifepack.org]
Nevertheless, “It’s not making headlines,” says Jen Willig, cofounder and CEO of Hive, a marketing agency that focuses on social impact campaigns. Willig and her team wanted to find a way to bring people’s attention to the urgent crisis, which isn’t at the forefront of many people’s minds in the developed world. They needed to “find new ways of breaking through the clutter and getting on people’s radars.”

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The easiest path, Willig says, was to meet people where they already are, and integrate donations into their daily lives. On this week’s episode of World Changing Ideas, she discusses how they pinpointed one of the most popular youth pastimes for their medium: video games. “Young people have a very acute sense of justice,” she says, “and gaming was the best way to reach them.”

The agency designed LifePack, an initiative whereby gamers can contribute to purchases of RUTFs—ready-to-use therapeutic foods (a fortified peanut-butter meal that contains the nutrients at-risk children need)—for malnourished children in Kenya. “When a child is experiencing severe malnutrition, regular food is not compatible to them,” Willig says. “They cost 25 cents, and three times a day for six to eight weeks can literally bring a child back from the brink of death.”

[Screenshot: lifepack.org]
The simplicity of the donation system is such that gamers don’t have to do anything differently, or fork out any more than they normally would. When they buy in-app purchases—additions that allow for better gameplay—a portion automatically goes to RUTFs. The first game Hive has partnered with is SpongeBob: Krusty Cook-Off, a fast-paced mobile game that follows SpongeBob and his familiar friends as they make and serve burgers, hot dogs, and pancakes to residents of Bikini Bottom. With every purchase of a gem pack, which allows the underwater team to speed up their food service, the game maker Tilting Point routes a portion of the profits to LifePack.

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Hive hopes to announce new partnerships next year, and is on the lookout for new games to partner with to generate “a sustainable flow of funding,” Willig says. Recently, an e-sports competition hosted by South Korea-based PUBG raised enough money for about 15,000 days of RUTF treatment.

“These deaths are preventable,” she says. “We know how to solve this. We just need the will and the money to be able to do it.”

You can listen and subscribe to World Changing Ideas on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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