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3 Reflections on What Makes Partnerships that Lead to Impact


by Nancy Swanson, executive director, Linked Foundation (a GP investor)

Nancy Swanson is the Executive Director of the Linked Foundation and is responsible for the strategic direction and the management of the portfolio. Linked Foundation is a private foundation that alleviates poverty by promoting and investing in market based solutions that improve the health and economic self-reliance of women in Latin America. Learn more about Nancy here.

I was fortunate to travel to three countries recently with Lara Diaconu, GP’s vice president of the Health Services Fund, to meet with existing partners and explore the potential for new ones. In Honduras, we met with our partner in the Health Services Fund, COMIXMUL and their sister organization FUDEIMFA. It was my first trip to Honduras to meet the staff and four of the community pharmacists or “dispensadoras”—volunteers that are trained to become community pharmacists that bring access to affordable, needed medicines in their communities.

As I reflected on my time in the field, I have been thinking about what makes for a strong, effective partnership and wanted to share three thoughts:

1. Think about what is possible—together

The process GP takes with implementing partners is to imagine a business model that can deliver essential health services at scale and on a sustainable basis. This is often a new way of thinking about health for partners as they are traditionally funded through donations and haven’t had the capacity to consider a different approach.  As an example, prior to participating in the health services fund, COMIXMUL was thinking about “sustainability” as continued funding through donations.

Now, in partnership with GP, COMIXMUL has developed and is testing a business model that will demonstrate that the community pharmacy model can reach all of their clients on a sustainable basis. This means that they won’t need donor funding year after year. And guess what? They are 70 percent of the way toward reaching that goal. Impressive. This shift came through several meetings and reviews, co-creating and exploring various models and scenarios together. It was so rewarding to see partners working alongside each other toward a shared aspiration, problem solving and thinking through the issues and solutions together.

2. Learn from all stakeholders

Along with spending time with the COMIXMUL and FUDEIMFA team, we also had the opportunity to visit four of the community pharmacists also known as “dispensadoras.” We were able to listen and learn about the program directly from the women operating the pharmacies. We learned how things were working, what was selling and what other products or services they would like to offer such as nebulization services (e.g. medical inhalers) due to the high number of incidence of respiratory problems, especially in children.

We learned that sales had increased substantially after a summer promotional campaign was conducted at several pharmacies to create awareness within its community. The pharmacists are trusted sources because they provide education and consultations for what medicine is needed for what condition. Ana Joaquina Martinez, one of the community pharmacists we met, said that having the pharmacy has inspired her to pursue a degree in nursing, which she will have completed by this December. I left inspired by each person I met, touched by their personal stories and their unwavering commitment to improve the health in their communities.

3. Build trust

When we arrived in San Pedro Sula, we were greeted by Glenda Ferrera, director for the health program for FUDEIMFA, the nonprofit arm of COMIXMUL. I’ll never forget seeing her smile and the warm embrace she gave to me and to Lara and to hear her say, “Ah…Lara, you’re here.” Glenda’s connection and relationship to Lara was palpable. The hospitality and openness from the staff I met continue and I appreciate being a part of the conversation. The candid discussions on current program issues and the flow of ideas to resolve them generated a real dialog between the two organizations to figure things out and agree on next steps.

There was a sense of transparency and honesty as both parties said what needed to be said so things could be understood and resolved and moved forward. I was so struck by the commitment of the staff to the people they are serving. They travel far and wide to work with the community pharmacists and provide training, help restock the stores and offer ongoing coaching and support.  

Our day in the field ended with warm, homemade tortillas, fresh oranges and coffee at Jorge’s home. Jorge is a manager for FUDEIMFA and had been driving us to the pharmacies throughout the day. Jorge is not a coffee drinker, so his neighbor brewed a delicious pot for us to enjoy while we sat on the porch and watched the rain. Hospitality + being with trusted partners = a memorable, meaningful moment.

Blog Tags: COMIXMUL   community pharmacy   Fudeimfa   Honduras   Latin America   Linked Foundation   

Nancy Swanson and a COMIXMUL community pharmacist.
Nancy Swanson (left) meets with Fanny Mariena Calles (right), a member of COMIXMUL and a community pharmacist in the 500-resident town of Mogote, Honduras. Photo © Global Partnerships.

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