Johnson & Johnson’s Joy Marini on a program that bundles microloans with health services
Reading that quote, you might not realize Pro Mujer is actually a women’s development organization that uses microfinance as one of many tools to connect women with small loans to start businesses and gain greater financial independence. But Edelma Altamirano, a Nicaraguan woman who first came to the organization seeking seed money for her own small business, ended up with a new investment in something much more important – her health.
How would a woman get a microloan and a health screening from the same organization? It may not be intuitive, but this life-saving combination is a pillar of the success of Pro Mujer, a Johnson & Johnson partner since 2009.
Edelma was hoping to make a better living and improve her family’s future by using her skills to start a small clothing business. She was invited to a communal bank meeting in her neighborhood. Communal banks are lending groups of 20-30 women who come together to receive loans as a group and serve as guarantors for one another. In addition to finding the financial advice she was looking for, Edelma was invited to participate in a cervical cancer screening that Pro Mujer arranged to coincide with the meeting. As a result of this screening, she learned that she was in the early stages of cancer and was able to immediately arrange critical follow-up treatment. For Edelma, that meant a biopsy and then surgery, which Pro Mujer helped her pay for. Today, Edelma runs a successful clothing business; and she’s financially self-sufficient, and most importantly, healthy.
For families with limited means, there is often no easy access point to the public health care system. There is just not enough money or time for women like Edelma to seek personal health care. So when an organization which is already reaching the poorest people in a community can make health screening services available for microloan clients, quality of life improves in unexpected ways.
One year ago this month, Johnson & Johnson joined the United Nations Secretary General to announce a commitment to meet the UN’s call to action to achieve the Millennium Development Goals – particularly MDGs 4, 5 and 6, which address maternal and child health. The commitment includes, among other things, a concerted effort to provide access to skilled health workers so that women and children in hard-to-reach places can receive the care they need.
Improving health for the world’s poorest people is not something that happens only in a clinic or hospital. It also requires a thoughtful, integrated approach that leverages existing opportunities to reach women and their families, creating new opportunities to introduce critical health services and education. In Edelma’s case, the return on investment was more than financial. It was life-changing.
Joy Marini is director of Corporate Contributions for Johnson & Johnson. Photo courtesy of Pro Mujer.