Featured Profiles

Solving The Iron Deficiency Crisis

Dr Gavin Armstrong is a committed and award-winning impact entrepreneur. He is currently serving as the Founder and CEO of Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise® (LIFe), a social enterprise dedicated to alleviating iron deficiency worldwide using simple health innovations. Through this role, Armstrong was a Fulbright scholar at Auburn University and was awarded the prestigious Forbes 30 Under 30 in the Social Entrepreneur category in 2016. In 2017 he received the Muhammad Ali Humanitarian Award and was named ‘Social Entrepreneur of the Year’ by EY Canada. In 2018 he successfully pitched his company Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise on CBC’s Dragons Den, where he was able to secure a deal with two dragons. In 2019 he was named Small Business Leader of the Year by the Canadian Gay Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC).


Dr Gavin Armstrong was born and raised in Canada. However, he recalled being severely bullied in high school growing up. To make matters worse, he adds, “I had teachers who did not believe I could ever get into a good university.”


But Dr Armstrong studied diligently and proved them wrong by securing admission at the University of Guelph, one of the prestigious universities in Canada. He says, “I wanted to be a banker because I was driven by the need to prove all those critics wrong. I felt worthless and was looking for a superficial way to find ‘value’.”


However, this all changed when a chance encounter led him to enroll in a field course that brought Dr Armstrong to Botswana. In the 2021 Global Hunger Index, Botswana ranked 88th out of the 116 countries listed. With a score of 23.2, Botswana has a level of hunger that is severe. It was here, observing the plight of the people, that Dr Armstrong learned about the issues of global hunger and malnutrition that half the population worldwide is currently facing.


He says, “I realized I was on a selfish path and decided to dedicate my studies, and eventually my professional life, to finding solutions to solve this complex problem.”


As an undergraduate student, Dr Armstrong came back to Canada and signed up at the University of Guelph to be the first Canadian University to become a member of Universities Fighting World Hunger (UFWH), an organization of universities worldwide dedicated to promoting awareness and taking action against hunger and malnutrition. He served as the Coordinator of the 6th Annual UFWH Summit, the first time the conference was held in Canada. It attracted more than 450 delegates, 50 speakers and raised more than $130,000 to support the conference. To assist at the ground level, Dr Armstrong also instituted an annual event at the University to pack food for emergency relief: Since 2011, this event has packaged over 1 million meals. He has raised over $250,000 to support the initiative.


Dr Armstrong continued, “Fast forward to my PhD, where I did my thesis on the concept of the Lucky Iron Fish to solve the problem of anemia in poor countries and was blown away by the data.” Once he was satisfied with the product, he started his trials with The Lucky Iron Fish, a simple, reusable and effective cooking tool that adds extra iron to your daily foods or drinks. It is made from food-grade electrolytic iron powder that is FDA certified and approved for food fortification worldwide. The ingots leach iron into water and food when placed in a cooking pot with boiling water, thus helping reduce iron deficiency which is the primary cause of anemia.


He says, “I moved to Cambodia to continue the clinical trials and commercialize the product in biomedical science focused on reducing anemia rates in rural Cambodia using the Lucky Iron Fish. I knew that bringing this innovation to communities around the world is what I wanted to do.” Dr Armstrong continued, “I’ve always been interested in business, and now my passion is using business as a force for good.”


Since its inception, the organization has seen tremendous growth, with a portion of each sale donated to its Impact Fund. The Impact Fund is used for two noteworthy causes: Donate Lucky Iron Fish to communities and organizations and provide men and women with training opportunities to address iron deficiency in their communities. This includes training, shipment and impact measurement to help organizations distribute Fish to families in need and help reduce the impacts of iron deficiency. Since 2016, the Impact Fund has helped improve the lives of over 2,45,000 individuals worldwide from the donation of 55,000 units.


Talking about a particular impact story that Dr Armstrong greatly cherishes, he says, “A story that always stands out for me is a mother in Guatemala who started using our product. She said that before she cooked with the Iron Fish, she could never walk her daughter to school because she was too tired and dizzy in the morning, so her daughter would need to walk alone. After using the product for a few months, she had the energy and stamina to walk her to school every day.” He adds fondly, “It is small examples like these that highlight the profound impact proper health and nutrition can have on someone’s life.”


Due to the impact he has had on the lives of millions, Dr Armstrong has received numerous awards and recognition. He is the first Canadian to receive the William J. Clinton Award for international work against hunger. He is also the inaugural recipient of the international Michaelle Jean Emergency Hunger Relief Award. Dr Armstrong has also helped the Lucky Iron Fish win multiple Cannes Lion awards, including the Grand Prix and several Clio Design Awards, including the Grand Prix in healthcare. He has also received a Silver Innovation Award from the Edison Foundation. He is also the youngest recipient of the Social Innovator of the Year Award from the Lewis Institute at Babson College. In 2021 Dr Armstrong ranked as one of the top fifty Change-makers by the Global & Mail Report on Business.


In conclusion, he shares his advice for all budding entrepreneurs, “Having every single member of the team know the overarching purpose of the organization, ie. your North Star, is an incredibly important tool in providing meaning to the work being done — especially during periods of adversity and competing priorities. In our case at Lucky Iron Fish, our ‘North Star’ is to help improve global health using innovation and socially-conscious business practices. Having the North Star entrenched into the company culture serves as one of the factors in making critical go/no-go decisions. It also plays an important role in helping both internal and external stakeholders envision the company’s future potential.”