This story originally appeared in our January 27, 2011 e-magazine. Click here to subscribe.
Living Goods is bringing affordable healthcare products to the homes of residents throughout Uganda.
By Jonathan Kalan
“Hold on. I think [Gertrude] has stopped to sell some drugs,” said Betty, the Kawempe Branch Manager for Living Goods. I stopped for a moment to check my surroundings. Normally, hearing that in an African slum would make me feel slightly uncomfortable. But not this time. I was in Tule, a slum in Uganda’s capital city of Kampala, shadowing Living Goods Community Health Promoter (CHP) Gertrude Nambaliwa as she made her daily rounds checking on newborn infants and selling health products to her community.
Living Goods, a San Francisco-based social enterprise launched in 2008 by former TravelSmith Founder/CEO Chuck Slaughter, has been refining an innovative Avon-style network of door-to-door CHPs who are providing essential health products at prices affordable to those at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) across Uganda.
I’ve noticed three key ingredients to Livings Goods’ success so far in serving the BoP. First, accessibility. By visiting the customers door-to-door in their own neighborhoods, the CHPs gain direct access and become trusted and confidential sources of health-related knowledge, advice and products. They become in a sense “first responders”, with an inside view into the health conditions of their communities. This is critical, since in many areas where CHPs work, families avoid going for medical treatment until a problem is so severe that treatment may not be as effective. Living Goods’ approach allows conditions to be treated at their onset—and in many cases even be prevented.
Secondly, affordability. Living Goods purchases its essential health and personal care items (de-worming tablets, malaria medicine, oral rehydration tablets, fortified foods, first aid supplies, sanitary pads, contraceptives and more) at wholesale and distributes them to CHPs to sell directly to their community. This cuts out several steps of the supply chain which typically contribute to the “BoP penalty”, and allows prices to remain cheaper than the competition.
Thirdly, local collaboration. Living Goods partners with local community clinics and hospitals to ensure cooperation and mutual benefit. These facilities are often out of stock of essential items and can refer patients to the local CHP. This also works the opposite—when a condition is too severe for a CHP to treat, patients are referred to clinics at a discounted rate.
Since launching field operations in early 2009, Living Goods now directly serves around 35,000 families across Uganda through 161 CHPs. While Living Goods’ operations are not yet entirely self sustaining, they are certainly getting there, and the CHPs seem to love their work. Their retention rate hovers around 90%.
Jonathan Kalan, founder of The (BoP) Project, is a photojournalist, activist, and (aspiring) social entrepreneur. He is currently based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, documenting social enterprises across east Africa.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Kalan