Laurie Lee, CEO, Care International UK
As in many parts of Africa, Zambia’s healthcare system is hugely stretched and relies on a vast network of unpaid community health workers. These volunteers provide valuable health education and advice but there is only so much they can do if medicines or even basic health-improving products such as soap and toothpaste, are not readily available nearby.
The Live Well social enterprise, set up in 2015 in partnership between CARE, GSK and Barclays, aims to close this gap between demand and supply. It has trained 480 existing and new community health workers in Zambia to become Live Well Community Health Entrepreneurs (CHEs), able to provide health advice and sell basic medicines, hygiene and nutrition products at affordable prices, door-to-door in rural communities, reaching 660,000 people since 2015. CHEs use their earnings to restock through Live Well’s local distribution network and many are now generating over $70 per month in supplementary income. This is a welcome boost, as Live Well’s entrepreneurs are often from farming households, living on unreliable earnings. As Alex Burrough, Live Well Managing Director explains:
“Live Well brings together fantastic partners who are able to work collectively in bringing vital health products to people who are otherwise unable to access them. Through training volunteers, we are allowing them to create a livelihood for themselves, so Live Well brings not only health benefits but a wider social impact as well.”
I first had the opportunity to see Live Well in action in 2016; you can watch my short film and read my blog from that visit here. One of the things that struck me was how people have to make incredibly hard choices about health when they don’t have easy access to products and services.
I met a couple, Natalia and Mike, who explained that before Live Well started coming to their village, they would have to travel 25km by taxi to buy medicine in the nearest town. A one-way journey would cost them more than a whole day’s income, so they would only do it in an emergency. They told me that Live Well’s prices are as good as in town and they can just ring their Live Well entrepreneur and he will deliver the medicine they need. Imagine the difference this makes to their lives.
Corporate-NGO partnerships are vital for improving healthcare access
The Live Well concept is simple but turning it into a reality in rural Zambia involved solving many challenges, including local warehousing and distribution as well as training and start-up capital for CHEs. Solving these challenges required partnership; no one company or NGO alone could have turned the Live Well idea into a success.
Sustainable Development Goal 17 sets out how multi-sector partnerships are essential to accelerate transformation in developing countries. Live Well, awarded the 2018 Bond International Development Award for Corporate Partnerships, brings together the right corporate-NGO partners in a powerful way.
CARE brings an understanding of working with local communities and community health workers, Barclays brings knowledge of enterprise skills training and effective business models for small and medium sized enterprises and GSK brings health and supply chain expertise and the ability to engage and negotiate with local distributors. As Andy Wright, Vice President, Global Health Programmes at GSK explains, the partners are not only bringing their strengths, but gaining valuable learning too:
“GSK believes that the long-term success of our business is linked to the wellbeing of the communities in which we operate, which is why we worked with Barclays and CARE to explore new businesses models to deliver societal and commercial value to rural Africa. Live Well is already having an impact in Zambia, both in terms of improving access to healthcare and creating new employment opportunities. The partnership has also given us a great deal of insight along the way in terms of what works and what doesn’t.”
A promising future
While there are still challenges, Live Well goes from strength to strength as a highly replicable model for solving two problems: firstly, ensuring ‘last mile’ distribution of basic medicine and health products in remote, rural areas, and secondly, for incentivising community health volunteers – vital foot soldiers of the health system in many parts of Africa.
The Zambian Ministry of Health sees promise in the model, recognising Live Well as a best practice scheme for motivation and retention of community-based volunteers. It has also granted Live Well a license to sell certain products that can otherwise only be sold in pharmaceutical stores. Elesia, a Live Well Community Health Entrepreneur, pictured here, is optimistic about the future too:
“I’m putting more money in my pocket while saving people’s lives. People love our products. People love the work we are doing to help communities and we don’t want to stop on the way to success.”