Why Bill Gates Will be the World’s Milkman — In Search of Innovative Problems

It is rare indeed to find an innovation that touches on all 10 Signposts of Innovation. Here’s one that sprung from the observations of the world’s richest man, Bill Gates.

In his travels, Gates saw that much of the milk produced in Africa is wasted. Through a collaborative called Global Good that Gates formed with product development group Intellectual Ventures, Gates is developing a milk container that addresses this problem. The container, the idea for which came from Gates himself, is named Mazzi.

In In Search of Innovative Problems, we said that an innovative problem can have multiple root causes or subproblems that can be recognized by encountering more than one of the Signposts of Innovation. The Mazzi milk pail reflects all 10 Signposts, including things that:

1. haven’t changed in a significant amount of time — in Africa, milk has been collected in unsanitary metal cans and pails for decades

2. are repeated often — local farmers hand milk their cows daily and arduously move the milk to market by foot or bicycle

3. have substantial consequences — their cows often have diseases like mastitis that contaminate the milk and the milk cans can be easily contaminated because they are difficult to properly clean, leading to very high bacteria levels in the milk

4. are slow or large — the developed world model where milk comes from large farms with hundreds of cows with mechanized transportation capabilities that bring the milk to market quickly and safely is simply not an alternative for the developing world where small farmers move milk by hand to market

5. are expensive or price supported — the disparity between store prices and producer prices creates an opportunity to improve quality and quantity yields and improve incomes for farmers

6. are not mobile — for the small African farmer with no more than a few cows, currently used cans are unstable, not designed to be carried by hand or bicycle and not easily and securely stackable

7. are perishable — milk has a shortened useful life when local farmers move it to market in an unpasteurized state by foot or bicycle

8. involve a high degree of complexity — the standard for high-quality milk production is complex, including sanitary milking and collection processes, management of herd health, pasteurization and rapid movement of milk to the market

9. address Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — in many developing countries, milk is a significant source of calories, macronutrients, vitamins, and minerals in the human diet, as well as critical source of income for small farmers

10. are failing — in the end, a substantial portion of the milk in Africa is bad before it gets to market

The Mazzi container streamlines the collection, storage and transportation of milk, increasing yield, improving quality and reducing spoilage. It provides a cow-to-market solution optimized for the unique needs of rural dairy value chains.

It is made of durable, food-grade plastic that can be dropped or kicked without breaking with a simple design that can be manufactured locally; has a large opening that can be easily cleaned by hand and a unique design that leaves no inaccessible corners where contaminants can hide; has a black funnel that secures to the top of the container to help farmers capture milk, reduce contaminants, and identify signs of udder infection during milking; and is stackable with side notches to secure the containers, a tethered lid and easily-read quantity markings to insure that farmers receive the right value for their product.

By providing a local solution that addresses all of the Signposts of Innovation, Bill Gates has positioned himself to add a new title to his already overflowing resume, Milkman to the World.

Read more about the Gates/Global Good and the Mazzi milk pail at Intellectual Ventures.

© Brian Leitten & Bradley Strock 2015