In 2008, a Masters student travelled to Cambodia for a research project. While there, he was shocked at the high rates of iron deficiency anemia and anemia in the region. He decided to dedicate his future research to developing a safe, and affordable solution.
The student was Christopher Charles, now Dr. Charles. He was inspired by previous research which showed that cooking in a cast iron pot increased the iron content in food. He developed an iron ingot that could be boiled in soups or drinking water. To persuade people to use the ingot, he cast the ingot into the shape of a fish that was considered to be lucky in Cambodian folklore. As explained in his thesis “the concept of a lucky iron fish design did not pander to superstition”, but created a cultural relevance for a solution based on science. To make the fish more attractive to the users, he gave the fish a smile. He called this prototype the ‘Happy Fish’. He went on to show that almost everyone used the fish and results from his research showed that regular use of the Happy Fish decreased anemia by 46%. In 2013, his thesis Happy Fish: A Novel Supplementation Technique to Prevent Iron Deficiency Anemia in Women in Rural Cambodia was published.
In 2012, doctoral candidate, Gavin Armstrong, expanded the research into the efficacy of the fish and commercialized this potential health innovation. His thesis, titled “Commercializing The Lucky Iron Fish™ Using Social Enterprise: A Novel Health Innovation For Iron Deficiency and Anemia in Cambodia and Beyond” was published in 2017. During this time, he branded the fish as the Lucky Iron Fish® as it’s known today.
Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise was officially established by Dr. Armstrong in December 2012 in conjunction with Dr. Charles and Dr. Alastair Summerlee (academic advisor to both doctoral students).
The company has gone on to be one of the top performing social enterprises in the world as a registered B-Corporation.
After his ground-breaking research, Dr. Charles decided to pursue a career in medicine. He is now an anesthesiologist in Toronto and remains an active member of the Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise Board of Directors. Dr. Summerlee continues on as Research Director for Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise and formerly served as the chair of the Lucky Iron Fish Enterprise Board.