September 10, 2015
Guardian Development Professionals Network
  • VisionFund in Zambia (Photo: Microfinance Opportunities)
  • VisionFund in Zambia (Photo: Microfinance Opportunities)

Pro Mujer is a non-profit organization serving communities in Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Peru. It delivers an integrated package of financial services, business and empowerment training, and preventive health education through its communal banks, which are groups of 20 to 30 women who receive small business loans through Pro Mujer. 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 healthcare providers (linked-delivery model).”[i] In addition to being cost-effective and efficient, the organization has found that 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 level of client satisfaction with this holistic approach of integrating microfinance and health.[ii] Since its founding in 1990, ProMujer has served approximately 1.6 million women and their families.

The ProMujer’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 myriad examples of embedded education across the globe in both developing and developed countries. For example, in Zambia VisionFund, a microfinance institution, working with Microfinance Opportunities embedded financial education into the loan application and origination process, with favorable impacts on the debt management behavior of customers. In the Middlesex County, Massachusetts, the District Attorney’s office trains hair salon stylists to recognize signs of domestic violence in their customers and share information with them about help they can get. Furthermore there are examples of embedded education reaching back decades if not centuries.

Despite its long history, we believe that embedded education is a good example of an “innovation in governance,” whereby a variety of actors accomplish public goals more efficiently, more effectively and more equitably.[iii] 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 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 broadcasting information, embedded education is a more effective way to cause behavior change, because it engages the client and draws on pedagogical principles that are associated with deeper learning and internalization of educational 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. Specifically, in the developing world, there is a large number of youth who have had some schooling but are unlikely to have access to further education through traditional classroom- and campus-based channels. If these youth are to have access to education it will be through non-traditional channels, including education embedded in existing delivery systems.

As a result, embedded education is a tool that policy-makers interested in enabling people to make informed decisions that have a positive impact on their lives can use. 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.

(Originally published on the Guardian Development Professionals Network.)

[i] Leatherman S, Dunford C, Metcalfe M, Reinsch M, Gash M, Gray B. Integrating Microfinance and Health: Benefits, Challenges, and Reflections for Moving Forward. A 2011 Global Microcredit Summit Commissioned Workshop Paper. November 2011. Valladolid, Spain. Accessed November 20, 2014

[ii] Junkin R, Berry J, Perez ME. Healthy Women, Healthy Business: A Comparative Study of Pro Mujer’s Integration of Microfinance and Health Services. New York, NY: Pro Mujer. 2006.  Available at: . Accessed November 20, 2014.

[iii] See “State of Access: Success and Failure of Democracies to Create Equal Opportunities” by Gowher Rizvi and Jorrit de Jong (2008) at: