Social change work is hard and frustrating and wonderful and terrible; it is also, at times, funny, quirky and just plain fascinating. With this blog we hope to capture all that goes into what we do at Capital Good Fund, and we invite you to join the conversation!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Financial Coaching + Health, Pt. 2: The Plan

Yesterday I talked about why there is a need for a health module within our Financial Coaching program.  Today, I'd like to talk about how we plan on implementing that module and what it will mean for our overall social impact.

First, a little background: when I first started seeing health issues coming up with many of our Coaching clients, I wasn't sure how to handle it.  After all, health can seem tangential to the financial coaching, free tax preparation and small loans that we provide.  What's more, I had no idea how to go about tackling health within our Coaching--I have no background in health and neither do any of my board members or employees.  Still, I've never been one to shy away from a challenging problem, provided that it's worth solving. So I decided to reach out to Partners in Health, one of the best non-profits in the world and whose co-founder, Paul Farmer, is a hero of mine (I highly recommend three of his books: Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights and the New War on the Poor; Mountains beyond Mountains; and Haiti After the Earthquake).

To my delight, the folks at Partner in Health's (PIH) Boston Office responded to my inquiry with enthusiasm. (As an aside, there's a lesson here--when you have an idea that's well thought out, don't be shy about reaching out to others to get feedback and think about ways of bringing it to reality).  Very quickly, we started thinking about how to add a health module to our Coaching.  The first step in that in mid-January, three PIH staffers will come to CGF to run a training for us.  The training will cover everything from understanding what it means to live with illness, to how to navigate the health care system, to learning motivational interviewing techniques that can help people identify, and overcome, barriers to success.

The ultimate goal of the training is for us to get the technical skills and knowledge to be able to build a training for our future financial coaches and to also create a health module that blends seamlessly with the existing banking, budgeting, credit, debt, saving and goal setting modules .  We will also work with PIH to determine what metrics we are going to track with respect to social impact.  For instance, we expect to look at how many people increase their utilization of preventative care services, take action on a health issue (be it attending an AA meeting or smoking cessation program, getting vaccinations for their children, etc.), improve their overall wellbeing (through better diet and exercise, habits, etc.) and so on.  What's more, we will incorporate these additional outcomes into the algorithm we use to evaluate loan applications completed after financial coaching--allowing people to increase their likelihood of getting a loan simply by taking steps to better their health.

One of the challenges, and potential pitfalls, of the health module is that the financial coach won't know how to approach and discuss a sensitive issue.  But that's where the training comes in: PIH will teach us how to broach these topics, how to help clients identify issues, what's holding them back and how to get around those barriers.  If successful, we believe that the health module will make our Financial Coaching + Program (the + refers to things like health) truly innovative and cost-effective.  After all, as I mentioned in the previous post, health care costs are rising even as health outcomes are stagnant.  We know that one-on-one time is the most effective way of helping people meet their goals, whether those goals are financial, health, educational or professional.  And because we use highly-trained university students to provide the Coaching, and further because the Coaching is often paid for by an employer or school, we can cost-effectively expand our reach while maximizing impact.  Not only that, but there's a moral component to this: wealthier Americans have access to career counselors, paid financial planners and wealth advisors and therapists and doctors.  As a result, we end up with the paradigm where the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor.  But thanks to initiatives such as the health module, we can reverse that iniquity by giving lower-income Americans access to that invaluable one-on-one time and creating ladders of opportunity.

Lastly, I'd like to say that, like with everything else we do at CGF, I have two goals: first, to create a revolutionary business model for social change, and second is to scale that model nationwide.  I am deeply committed to an open-source approach wherein I share lessons learned and content I create, such as curricula and algorithms, for free or low-cost to non-profits, social enterprises and government agencies.  Only by sharing and learning from one another can we accelerate the pace of social change and end poverty in America and around the world.  We believe that the health module and partnership with PIH can go a long way toward our goals.

We welcome your comments, thoughts, questions and suggestions!  This is a conversation, so get involved!

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