Community health workers (CHW) play a critical role in the delivery of health services: they are trusted members of the community, often serving as the first point of contact within the health care system. Whereas CHW functions are diverse and depend on country settings, typical duties often include:
- education and awareness building;
- detection and referral of complicated health cases;
- data collection for client registration,
- case management, and
- disease surveillance.
Similarly, mobile money agents are also a type of frontline worker—the face of mobile network operators—serving as the first point of contact for financial transactions among the poor and unbanked populations. In the agents’ roles as primary cash-in and cash-out points, they develop a clear understanding of customer preferences, are called upon for financial advice, and must become trusted members of the community.
A major barrier to mobile money uptake is the lack of a well-trained agent network to serve and address the financial needs of the community, with the greatest effects felt in remote areas. One way to address this challenge is to explore synergies between CHWs and mobile money agents, thereby leveraging the trust they have built in communities as frontline workers. Training CHWs to serve as “last mile” mobile money agents in hard-to-reach areas could extend the reach of both health services and mobile money.
The additional revenue potential could also be used to incentivize health workers to take up posts in remote areas. CHWs trained as mobile money agents would be well positioned to educate clients and communities about the benefits of expanded access to financial services, including paying for emergency transportation to health services or enrolling in insurance.
Training Health Extension Workers to serve as mobile money agents in Ethiopia
Alex Little and Roman Blanco of Digital Campus, UK have been working on the financial feasibility of a new mobile money agent channel as a possibility in Ethiopia, a country which has only recently seen the introduction of mobile money through the M-BIRR services. In a recent interview, Little and Blanco outlined a business model to establish mobile money agents and cash-out points in Ethiopia’s primary health facilities. The service, mainly focused on women, would start with the 5,000 primary health centers where there are already basic financial administrative services and, later on, it’d scale it up to the 15,000 health posts, to extend digital financial services to cover all rural communities.
In addition to increasing access to basic financial services in all communities, this type of model could lead to the following benefits:
- Improving Health Extension Workers continuous professional development (CPD): Training to serve as mobile money agents would provide these primary health providers new revenue sources that can be used to improve their CPD program and fund basic health services for their communities.
- Attracting unbanked women: This specially trusted mobile money cash-in and cash-out points could attract individuals, mostly unbanked women, to the health facility and help integrating them into the formal economy and safer savings.
- Primary Health services sustainability: Leveraging existing mobile technologies and health infrastructures , such as community health centers and health outposts, will contribute to make primary health services more financially sustainable.