Live Well: Selling health and social impact in Zambia

 Water Sanitation & Hygiene
 2nd Aug 2017

It’s an intersection between health, business and job creation. And, according to those women involved, it’s also saved lives.

We’re sitting in an open room in the Mchini Community Health Post, a health clinic in Chipata, a small city in eastern Zambia not far from the southern African country’s border with Malawi.

Along one side are seven women, most wearing blue shirts with a small white medical cross beside the words Live Well. Each carries a small green temperature-controlled bag filled with health and hygiene supplies – toothpaste, soap, diarrhea medicine, headache reliever, feminine hygiene products and other items.

They are members of the Live Well social enterprise, who sell these items to members of their community who may have difficulty accessing them otherwise.

Live Well is a social enterprise owned by CARE and created in partnership between CARE, Barclays, GSK, Living Goods and the Zambian Ministry of Health. It operates in Lusaka and Eastern Provinces. The purpose is to provide rural communities and those living on the outskirts of urban areas with access to quality health products, while also creating new income opportunities for residents.

As a social enterprise, it is structured along a business model, with the intent to cover operating costs through sales revenue while driving broader impact aims.

“Live Well is a business at the same time we are looking at the social impact in the communities,” says Rose Shikonka, the regional manager for Live Well in Eastern Province.

Members of Live Well social entreprise; PHOTO: CARE/Darcy Knoll

It is a business whereby Live Well is seeking to make money to cover costs and expand its efforts and also earn for those selling its products.

“We are also looking at the social impact, the health impact in the community. So whatever products that we sell, we need to look at what impact it is going to bring to the community,” says Rose.

To do so, they rely on a network of fittingly titled “community health entrepreneurs,” who are trained in basic healthcare and the use of health products – as well as in business, finance and enterprise development skills. They make regular house calls in their neighbourhood.  

For the women in Mchini health post, it means earning a little money through selling their products while also being able to give back to their community with important health advice, thanks to training they received through Live Well.

When asked why they do this work, most speak to the fact they have been able to make an extra income, which they might use to put their kids in school or improve their homes.

“My motivation was because I initially could only afford one meal per day. I was excited because I knew the business would give me a profit, which has enabled me to now have three meals per day, send my children to school and now I’m planning to build a house,” said community health entrepreneur Lucia Jere.

Said Regina Phiri, another entrepreneur: “The main motivation was to help the community in terms of easy access to medicine. I am able to earn a living while helping the community – it’s a two-way thing.”

They also help local health authorities reach vulnerable populations, particularly in areas where people may have difficulty accessing health facilities due to distance or mobility issues.

Norrith Banda, who like many Live Well entrepreneurs is also a regular volunteer at the local health clinic, recalls finding one elderly woman home alone and unconscious during a visit. Health authorities were alerted and the woman was taken to the nearest medical facility where it was determined that she had malaria. Doctors were able to treat her and Norrith said she later heard the woman was doing much better.

Lucia Jere also encountered a woman going into labour. They managed to get her to a health facility, which transferred her to a hospital for a caesarean section to deliver a healthy baby.

According to Live Well’s Rose Shikonka, the Live Well social enterprise model is still relatively new in Zambia and there are a few lessons to learn as it advances. But it’s clear she is proud to be part of this effort.

“What is motivating is seeing the people in the communities that we work in improve their livelihood and then also seeing the communities improve in terms of health.”

By Darcy Knoll is communications specialist for CARE Canada. He travelled to Zambia in April 2017.

For more on our work in Zambia, click here.

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