Live Well: A journey to better health for rural people in Zambia

Laurie Lee


Last week I visited a new CARE-supported social enterprise, Live Well, in Zambia. It is a partnership with Barclays and GSK with support from Living Goods.

This is how it works: Live Well has trained hundreds of community health workers and potential entrepreneurs – both women and men – to sell consumer health products in poor communities which have not previously had easy access to these healthy products.

Robson walking down dusty road
Robson, one of the Live Well entrepreneurs, with his bag of health products

So what are the benefits?

To date over 250 women and 150 men have been trained across the two provinces, Lusaka and Eastern Province, in Zambia. On average, they are earning an extra $20 a month to supplement their income.

One of the entrepreneurs I met, Martha, said she used to rely on farming for her total annual income, which came once a year. Live Well instead means she has a little income every day or every week, and this has really improved her family’s life.

Another entrepreneur, Robson, told us that he had recently been able to afford school shoes for his grandchildren and had also bought a small, pregnant goat, with the income from his sales.

Bag of health products
Robson's bag of goods

What’s more, the products the entrepreneurs sell have health and hygiene benefits for the people in remote rural communities who buy them. The product basket ranges from nutritional products to medicines, from solar lamps to solar phone chargers. If an entrepreneur encounters a household that has health needs beyond what is available in their basket, they refer the customer to the closest health clinic.

The health impacts are not just an assumption: they can be measured. The sale of water purification, diarrhoea treatment, and contraceptive products, for example, could prevent the loss of over 2,000,000 productive, healthy life years for Zambians by 2021.

Laurie meeting with Robson, Natalia and Mike
Laurie talking with Robson and two of his customers, Natalia and Mike

What does it mean for rural Zambians?

I met two of Robson’s customers, Natalia and Mike. Natalia and Mike are married. Their income comes mainly from farming maize. They have a few chickens and occasionally tailor clothes. Today they bought a solar lamp to light their home at night. There is no electricity supply around here. Previously they had bought the GSK painkiller called Grandpa.

Before Live Well started, they would have to travel 25km by taxi to buy medicine in the nearest town, Chongwe. This would cost them more than a whole day’s income in each direction. So they would only do it in an emergency.

They told me that Robson’s prices are as good as in town, and that they don’t have to pay for the taxi and spend a whole day travelling. They can just ring Robson and he will deliver the medicine they need. It’s almost like Amazon!

Three Live Well entrepreneurs
Three Live Well entrepreneurs

Who’s behind this exciting new project?

At the moment, GSK and Barclays are generously supporting this new social business as ‘angel investors’. But there’s something in it for them too: if it works and scales up and out to more communities, then it may be a way for them to reach new customers in the world’s faster-growing small economies.

This is what each partner contributes:

  • Barclays provide new business expertise, and technical support and advice on how to set up and run a small business. 
  • GSK provide supply chain advice, to create a strong, efficient supply chain network, essential to the success of Live Well, so that entrepreneurs can access the right products at the right place and time.
  • CARE brings experience of working with local communities in Zambia, and of rural distribution to remote communities living in poverty, having set up several successful rural sales programmes including Jita in Bangladesh.    

These are some of the challenges and opportunities:

  • The new entrepreneurs, especially in rural areas, are very poor and therefore have very little ‘working capital’ to buy stock for sale. This limits how much they can sell each week between re-stocks. Either they need to be able to restock more frequently, or they need access to a bigger pool of working capital. We will look at whether CARE’s Lendwithcare programme can help solve this problem.
  • Martha told us that her women customers wanted to buy the contraceptive pill. This would be a huge benefit for those women, the health system and the country. But it requires a waiver from the government to allow the entrepreneurs to be trained to be allowed to sell the pill.
  • Robson told us that some of his customers live over 15km away from his home and the stockroom. He really wants a new bike to help him get to all his customers quicker. It was great to see that World Bicycle Relief was providing bicycles to some of the community health workers in this area.
Live Well entrepreneurs collecting health products
Collecting health products to take out to sell to customers

The door-to-door service that the entrepreneurs provide addresses a real need at household level, both raising awareness of health issues and increasing access to health products. Not only this but Live Well is providing the entrepreneurs with an opportunity to generate income in communities of high unemployment.

With Live Well now incorporated as a business, this is an exciting time for us all and I look forward to seeing the business grow over the next few years. Globally, CARE aims to economically empower 30 million women by 2020. If this social enterprise works, it can be replicated in other countries and make a big contribution to achieving that ambition.

Laurie Lee's picture

Laurie Lee is Chief Executive of CARE International UK – Read his blog posts on our Insights policy and practice website