Traveling with purpose: Witnessing impact in Guatemala
by Peter Solar, former donor relations officer, Global Partnerships
Donor travel has become a valuable and compelling way for nonprofit organizations working on international initiatives to engage their supporters and bring them closer to our work. Understanding the value of firsthand interaction, Global Partnerships offers its donors and investors an opportunity to travel on one of our “Impact Journeys” and deepen their appreciation and understanding of programs, communities and people to whom they commit their resources.
Our Impact Journeys are designed to allow our supporters to meet and interact with our partners and their clients in their homes and businesses and learn about their successes, challenges and dreams. In addition, our travelers get a better sense of the cultural, socio-economic and political climate of the host country through interactions with our staff, partner representatives and foreign affairs specialists.
In late November, we took a group of donors and investors on a visit to Guatemala. Less than three hours by air from Houston, Guatemala is a captivating country with rich culture, history and people full of hope and entrepreneurial spirit. Although the country is troubled by a wide array of problems, the partners we work with in Guatemala offer a unique glimpse into market-sustained solutions that have the potential to empower communities living in poverty.
In the western highlands of Guatemala, we met with our partner Friendship Bridge, a nonprofit microfinance institution dedicated to improving the lives of impoverished women in rural Guatemala through credit and education. We traveled to two village bank meetings that enabled us to see the effectiveness of the village bank methodology in action.
In each of the meetings, we saw small groups of Maya women discussing topics such as managing earnings or borrowing funds responsibly, all in their native language Kakchiquel. Elevating the experience was the opportunity to listen to their conversations, witness the atmosphere and share the laughter with these courageous, inspiring and warmhearted women.
We also got the opportunity to get our shoes dirty and visit one of the local farms with FUNDEA, our partner organization that primarily empowers farmers through loans and technical assistance. Here, we had an opportunity to witness the importance of technical assistance and the positive outcomes of agricultural practices such as drip irrigation, crop diversification, or organic practices implemented thanks to FUNDEA’s program.
Recognizing the importance of investing in women, FUNDEA also works with women's groups. We met with some of the groups that participate in their pilot program known as Credimujer, which provides their clients with credit and essential services such as preventive care, vaccinations and pediatric care for their children. Although FUNDEA’s product differs from that of the Friendship Bridge, our interactions with their clients have been equally inspiring and empowering and offered a comprehensive insight into the breadth of business models we support.
On our visit to Guatemala, we traveled in boats, ventured across rough roads, made our way through cornfields and even rode in the back of a pickup truck to witness the impact of Global Partnerships’ investments. At the end of the day, our group appreciated the opportunity to catch our breath and reflect on our experiences over a delightful and unhurried meal that much more.
The GP Impact Journey program leaves lasting impression on people who travel. Humbling. Eye-opening. Life-changing. Amazing. These are just some of the words that repeatedly come up when our travelers look back on the meetings, conversations and adventures from the trip and realize the sheer power of their friendship and support.
We hope to share our travelers’ insights from our visit to Guatemala with you soon. In the meantime, we invite you to look at some of the photographs we took along the way and learn more about our upcoming journey to Peru!
3 keys to building a sustainable health services program
by Agnes Cho, program associate, Global Partnerships
As a Global Partnerships program associate, a position partially funded by the Princeton in Latin America Fellowship, I have been working with GP’s Program & Impact team since September to support GP’s health and green technology initiatives. For one year, I will be based out of GP’s office in Nicaragua and working onsite with our partners to help implement and evaluate their programmatic work. I’ll be reporting back here with regular updates from the field!
Most recently, I spent three weeks in Honduras to collaborate closely with COMIXMUL/FUDEIMFA as they strengthen their community pharmacy program and work towards a sustainable business model. Their community pharmacy program utilizes a network of women in rural communities to operate home-based pharmacies; these pharmacies provide vital access to anti-diarrheal medications, painkillers, and other kinds of pharmaceuticals.
Since partnering with GP in 2012, COMIXMUL/FUDEIMFA has been looking for ways to achieve financial sustainability, increase medicine sales, and further support their dispensadoras (the women who operate the pharmacies from their homes) and the community promoters (they facilitate communication between the dispensadoras and COMIXMUL/FUDEIMFA).
Over the course of working with Global Partnerships, COMIXMUL/FUDEIMFA has implemented a few changes to their business model, which have been outlined in a previous blog post. Earlier this year, they scaled to 301 community pharmacies, established a 10 percent commission for their dispensadoras to incentivize higher sales, and adopted a smarter purchasing strategy to stock the quantity and kinds of medicines that have proven to sell.
During my visit, I interviewed 41 dispensadoras and all six community promoters to hear from their perspective what it takes to build a sustainable program. Here are the results of those conversations:
1) Selecting and supporting the right dispensadoras
- The most successful and motivated dispensadoras had prior experience working in the health sector, either as a nurse or as a volunteer for the public centro de salud. They are already recognized and trusted in their communities as a source of medical knowledge.
- However, COMIXMUL/FUDEIMFA also works with women without health experience, which requires extensive training and support (i.e. training workshops, a manual, the phone number of a nurse that can be reached in moments of doubt or emergencies).
This point is often emphasized by organizations that implement microentrepreneurship programs, such those I met at the FOMIN/IDB conference in September, entitled “Accessing New Markets through Inclusive Distribution Networks.” In the various working groups during the conference, there were many conversations about the necessary conditions for a true win-win micro-enterprise created by and for the bottom of the pyramid. I was happy to find that the two factors that were highlighted throughout the conference were a central part of COMIXMUL/FUDEIMFA’s pharmacy program:
1. Thorough and continuous training and support of the microentrepreneur; and
2. Financial risk sharing so the microentrepreneur won’t be burdened with the entire cost of failure.
In my interviews, I found that dispensadoras that have received more training by COMIXMUL/FUDEIMFA were more likely to sell more medicine and report higher self-confidence in their health knowledge and business skills.
2) Clear communication between the dispensadora and the community promoter
- Currently, the six community promoters make monthly supervision visits to all 301 pharmacies. In these visits, the primary objective is to record the inventory and restock the pharmacy. However, the supervision visits can also be used as a way to listen to and incorporate the advice of the dispensadora. During the hour or so that is spent with the dispensadora, the promoter learns from her which medicines are in demand, which prices are set too high, and upcoming activities, such as public medical brigades, that will increase demand for medicine. This relationship is integral to the program’s supply strategy, because the experienced dispensadora knows best which medicines in what quantities s/he will be able to sell in the upcoming months.
3) Identifying the determinants of demand
- A community’s demand for medicine depends upon a confluence of factors. Seasonal illnesses, which vary by region and by community, determine which medicines will be in demand.
- A productive alliance with the public health center serves as a pipeline to the pharmacy, but their periodic stocks of free medicine also reduces demand. The demand for medicine is very sensitive to the price at the community pharmacy, as well as the comparative prices in the local corner stores and private pharmacies. Identifying the factors that determine demand helps COMIXMUL/FUDEIMFA make smarter purchasing, stocking and pricing decisions.
At the end of the day, the purpose of building out a sustainable business model is to ensure that more families in rural areas can access the medications they need at affordable prices. After all, good health is the foundation upon which better lives are built. Meet some of the dispensadoras I visited here.
GP recognized for its “sustainable solutions for the poor” by OPIC
By GP Staff
The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) recently profiled Global Partnerships as one of their featured investments. We were pleased to have OPIC recognize our good work as a nonprofit impact investor helping to expand opportunity for people living in poverty in Latin America and Caribbean. Read their featured profile of us here.
- Read about how “OPIC mobilizes private capital to help solve critical development challenges.”
- Check out this piece in Huffington Post about the role of government in formulating policies that can bolster the success of impact investing for creating social impact.