By Joy Marini, Johnson & Johnson
Sharmila* just opened her first business making aloo tikki (potato croquettes) to sell in her village. She joined a microfinance organization to improve the chances of her success, seeking a $50USD loan — enough investment to double her production. Now she can buy ingredients in bulk, reducing her costs. Women like Sharmila meet biweekly to repay their loans, save and discuss the growth of their businesses. Her business is thriving, but business skills are only part of the equation that will keep Sharmila successful in the long-term. She also must keep herself and her family healthy, and save money for emergencies.
Research conducted by Freedom from Hunger shows that a health problem is one of the main reasons why microfinance institution (MFI) clients drop out, putting their new businesses in jeopardy and, on many occasions, pushing women like Sharmila back into poverty. For this reason, organizations like ESAF Microfinance, Equitas and Bandhan are employing a unique way to improve both financial literacy and health literacy, in tandem.
In 2010, Freedom from Hunger, the Microcredit Summit Campaign and Johnson & Johnson embarked on a pioneering collaboration, partnering with local Indian MFIs to train loan officers to add health education and linkages to health providers. This investment in integrated financial and health services benefits everyone. It’s a sustainable, low-cost way to reach millions of the poorest women with health services while simultaneously improving loan repayment and retention rates. This allows businesses to thrive and, most importantly, improve the health and wellbeing of entrepreneurs, most of whom are women.
“Microfinance has been a successful platform for reaching people in rural and underserved areas with financial services,” says Kathleen Stack, interim CEO at Freedom from Hunger. “Adding health services to this platform came at a low cost for the MFI and it proved to be good business for them, and women reap the long-term benefits.”
The partners are committed to continually evolving the model, striving for more sustainable and cost-effective ways to meet undeserved communities. We are also finding new ways to reach adolescent girls — one of the most underserved groups — with critical health information.
We know this approach is working. Clients are experiencing improvements in food security, breastfeeding rates, use of critical health products such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets and oral rehydration solutions, reduced HIV/ AIDS risk, improved birth outcomes and decreased maternal depression.
In 2015, Freedom from Hunger and the Microcredit Summit Campaign partners reported that 3.3 million families globally had access to integrated financial and health services, up from 302,000 families in 2009. Scaling the model has empowered women, allowing them to build and grow their businesses, and keep themselves and their families healthy.
“There are women like Sharmila all over the world, striving to earn a living and begin a healthy future,” says Larry Reed, director of the Microcredit Summit Campaign. “Linking financial services to health education and services represents an innovative pathway out of extreme poverty.”
Joy Marini is the Executive Director of Worldwide Corporate Contributions at Johnson & Johnson.
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