An Innovation in Governance

Pro Mujer is a nonprofit organisation serving communities in Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru. It delivers an integrated package of financial services, business, and empowerment training through its communal banks, which are groups of 20-30 women who receive small business loans through Pro Mujer.

Mexican Bank

But there is an added dimension to Pro Mujer’s services. When groups meet, Pro Mujer credit officers lead health and human development workshops before facilitating loan repayment and disbursement. Depending on local context, Pro Mujer also provides primary healthcare services directly through its own medical staff (parallel-delivery model) or local health care providers (linked-delivery model). In addition to being cost-effective and efficient, delivering multiple services to clients under one roof allows clients to spend minimal time away from their business and families. A 2006 study conducted by Pro Mujer found high levels of client satisfaction with this holistic approach of integrating microfinance and health. Since its founding in 1990, Pro Mujer has served approximately 1.6 million women and their families.

Pro Mujer’s approach to health education is an example of what we call embedded education, by which we mean the practice of educating people through encounters that they already have with delivery systems that exist primarily for non-educational purposes.

There are many examples of embedded education in both developing and developed countries. In Zambia, for example, VisionFund—a microfinance institution working with Microfinance Opportunities—embedded financial education into its loan application and origination process, with favorable impacts on the debt management behavior of customers. In Middlesex County, Massachusetts, the District Attorney’s office trains hair salon stylists to recognise signs of domestic violence in their customers and share information with them about help they can get.

In fact, embedded education goes back decades if not centuries, but we believe it represents a good example of an “innovation in governance,” whereby a variety of actors accomplish public goals more efficiently, more effectively, and more equitably. This is the case for the following reasons:

  • By leveraging private sector assets and infrastructure (such as distribution networks and service encounters) one can deliver educational content and reach otherwise hard-to-reach target groups much more efficiently than if one had to create new channels from scratch. Piggybacking is a huge cost-saver.
  • By creating real educational encounters, rather than merely broadcasting information, embedded education is a more effective way to cause behavior change, because it engages the client and draws on pedagogical principles associated with deeper learning and internalisation of content.
  • By focusing on disadvantaged individuals and communities that do not have access—or have not had access—to formal education and other services that can help them improve their lives, embedded education contributes to an equitable distribution of knowledge, skills, and information.

There are growing opportunities to deliver education to people who would otherwise go without it. In the developing world, there are huge numbers of young people who have had some schooling but are unlikely to have access to further education through traditional classroom and campus-based channels. If they are to have access to education it will likely be through nontraditional channels, including education embedded in existing delivery systems.

Embedded education should be an attractive tool for policymakers interested in enabling people to make informed decisions that have a positive impact on their lives. At the micro-level, people currently delivering embedded education have a vested interest in understanding what does and does not work, including how education and “nudges” do or do not work together. They are also likely to be interested in how they deliver education in a responsible, ethical manner. For these reasons we think that embedded education is a worthy focus of research, whether academic or practitioner-led.