From sales to service: One woman's journey as a family planning champion
Sujata Kumari Singh had little interest in her husband’s pharmacy. They had been running their business in Bardibas, Nepal, for around five years, and to her it was just that: a business. But this year, Singh participated in trainings on voluntary family planning (including adolescent sexual and reproductive health) and business skills through the MOMENTUM Private Healthcare Delivery Nepal project. Now, Singh is using her role at the pharmacy and her newfound contraception expertise to bring young people the information they need.
MOMENTUM Nepal seeks to expand access to high-quality, voluntary family planning services, particularly to adolescents (15–19 years) and young adults (20–29 years), through private sector facilities in Nepal’s Karnali and Madhesh provinces. MOMENTUM Nepal is part of the MOMENTUM suite of awards, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by FHI 360, PSI Nepal and local social marketing company Nepal CRS Company. Between November 2021 and September 2022, 229,458 client visits were made to the 103 MOMENTUM Nepal-supported sites for family planning services.
Singh participated in training programs that are part of MOMENTUM Nepal’s work to improve the ability of private sector health facilities and pharmacies to provide high-quality family planning services for adolescents and young people. The trainings equipped pharmacies with the information and skills necessary to help younger customers understand their options for contraception.
“[The trainers] talked about how sexual [and reproductive] rights are something that everybody has,” she says.
Now, clients come to the pharmacy and ask for Singh specifically, and she even gives out her phone number so people can call her with questions if they are unable to come in. “They keep coming back, and they go back happy,” she says of the young people who visit her.
By building trust with clients and treating them with respect, Singh has seen an increase in clients not just for family planning, but for a variety of services, as people refer their friends and family members. “That change has happened ever since we started counseling people who come for family planning services,” she says. Between January and April 2022, there was a 23% increase in clients ages 20 to 29 and a 12% increase in clients ages 15 to 19 seeking family planning care at MOMENTUM-supported sites.
Contraception is a touchy subject for many; even Singh used to feel uncomfortable when young people asked about it. But she has realized the positive difference she can make in people’s lives, and she now feels that it is important for there to be educational programs that teach young people early on about their rights and options. Singh even led a session at her son’s school where she talked about sexual and reproductive health and rights.
“They had so many questions,” Singh says of the adolescents she spoke to. “You ask a teacher, it’s uncomfortable; you ask your parents, it’s uncomfortable; you ask your friends, they don’t know because they’re in the same boat.”
The session was supposed to last an hour, but it went on twice as long. Singh’s son is in ninth grade, and she said she thought it made a difference. “If I can see a change in my child, I’m sure guardians or parents of other children can see a change in their child also,” she says.
Although many who participated in the MOMENTUM Nepal program initially thought of contraception as something to sell, they now see how education and consultation are key to ensuring clients can make informed choices. “There was an attitude transformation from sales to service,” says Srishti Shah, FHI 360’s social and behavior change communication specialist for MOMENTUM Nepal, about the pharmacies that participated in the program.
The project also rolled out an online feedback mechanism that uses a QR code, so clients can share their feedback anonymously. Singh says that she and her clients have quicky taken to the feedback mechanism. She notes that it has sparked actionable ideas — like making a practice of asking a customer about their needs, instead of expecting them to know which method they want — for how to improve the pharmacy’s services in family planning and other areas.
The training has changed the way Singh thinks — and she feels she has changed as a person, too. While she and her husband used to run their pharmacy motivated by profit, she has since realized: “The small things that I’m sharing can help change a person’s life.”