4/7 SVMN Meeting Recap: Healthful Microfinance

Healthful Microfinance

Integrated models to improve clients’ physical and financial health

By Sundance Banks
How can microfinance be used to improve clients’ health?  How does having healthy clients improve the sustainability and profitability of a microfinance institution (MFI)?  How might MFIs best promote healthy living or even create profitable health services products?
These issues and many others were addressed by three leading experts in microfinance and health at the April 7, 2009 meeting of the Silicon Valley Microfinance Network.
First, Myka Reinsch Sinclair, Vice President of Programs at Freedom from Hunger, framed the night’s discussion by describing the interconnectedness of microfinance and health issues.  “Poverty and ill-health go hand in hand,” she said, “Microfinance can be a platform to address both issues.”  Myka then discussed Freedom from Hunger’s various approaches to health issues in several countries, including health education, health financing, community sales of health products, and linkages to health care.  She noted that different models for delivering both microfinance and health services have found success in different settings. 
Dorothy Largay of Linked Foundation and Lynne Patterson of Pro Mujer speak to SVMN April 7, 2009

Dorothy Largay (l) of Linked Foundation and Lynne Patterson (r) of Pro Mujer speak to SVMN April 7, 2009

Next, Lynne Patterson, Co-Founder and Director of Pro Mujer, discussed the lack of healthcare services in most of Pro Mujer’s clients’ lives.  “Seventy percent of Pro Mujer’s clients in Bolivia did not have access to health services for themselves last year,” she said.  As a result, Pro Mujer is working to develop a sustainable health services business model and integrate their financial services with expanded health services.  “There is a very good rationale for combining these services,” she said.  “If a woman is sick or her children are sick, she is in danger of loosing her business and income.  Health services are as important as financial services when it comes to improving the lives of the poor.  Microfinance can be an ideal service delivery system for increasing women’s awareness of and access to health services.”
Finally, Dorothy Largay, Founder and CEO of the Linked Foundation, discussed how she views health issues from a funder’s perspective.  She emphasized the importance of looking at what research has shown regarding how to improve client health.  “If you look at the research, it’s a no brainer,” she said, “If you want to make an impact, health education is the way to go.  It is low cost and high impact.”