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The Little Sun – A social franchise for infant and young child nutrition counselling

A public sector social franchise to boost nutrition for infants and young children so that they can shine. 

The Little Sun brings quality care and nutrition counselling to antenatal and postnatal care  services to improve exclusive breastfeeding rates and infant and young child feeding  practices in Viet Nam. Today, there are 1,200 Little Sun nutrition counseling clinic across 15  provinces in Viet Nam.  

A sustaining innovation – An existing idea, model, product, or service in an existing market  We partner with the National Institute of Nutrition of Viet Nam.

Challenging the Status Quo to Impact Nutrition 

Q: What solution is offered by this innovation?  

While most women breastfeed in Viet Nam, only 45.4 percent of infants under six months of  age are exclusively breastfed,1 while complementary feeding practices continue to be inadequate; for example, semi-solid foods are often introduced too early and can be poor  quality. 

The causes of low exclusive breastfeeding rates and suboptimal infant and young child  feeding (IYCF) practices are varied and include the perception among mothers, caregivers,  health workers, and the public that Vietnamese women cannot produce sufficient breastmilk  to initiate breastfeeding early and exclusively for six months; aggressive marketing and ready  availability of infant formula; lack of support from family members and employers; and  limited health worker commitment and skills to encourage and support mothers. 

Our franchise model has been designed to systematically overcome these barriers, providing  quality and relevant training to health workers who can encourage and support mothers to  practice optimal nutrition behaviours and practices. Our franchise uses existing national  decentralized services, building trust over time. As a result, we have grown in brand  recognition, allowing us to continue to positively shape social norms and behaviors. Today,  more than ninety percent of pregnant women in Viet Nam access antenatal care at a health  facility. 

Q: What is most exciting about The Little Sun franchise?  

This is the first time that a social franchise model has been applied to IYCF counseling.  Franchises are normally operator owned, but in Viet Nam, the model has been adopted for  the public sector. Social franchising is an innovative approach to improving access to and  quality of health care services, particularly in low- and middle-income countries2. It applies  commercial franchising concepts so that a brand identity is equated with quality services that  help achieve social and health benefits. 

Q: How does The Little Sun franchise support system wide change?    

Our franchise model supports targets outlined in the government of Viet Nam’s National  Nutrition Strategy, including integrating nutrition activities into primary health care,  improving essential services, and upgrading the training of health care providers. 

The franchise increases the availability of accurate information on IYCF through fee-for service interpersonal counseling or group sessions beginning in the third trimester of  pregnancy and continuing through the first two years of life. Educational content was  developed by nutritionists and certified by the Viet Nam Institute of Nutrition. Standardization of service delivery, routine monitoring, and focused training builds the  capacity for providers to give IYCF advice and support clients across all our clinics.   

Looking Ahead: Lessons for our Impact Network  

In the development and replication of our model we experienced challenges in utilization and  demand creation. To solve this problem, we carried out analysis and user surveys to find  loopholes in service promotion, especially for mothers with children from twelve months old.  Based on findings, marketing strategies promote the franchise utilization among clients. 

In the coming years, we will adjust The Little Sun nutrition counseling clinic model to fit  mothers’ and families’ evolving needs and habits. We will combine playful parenting and  nutrition counseling so that mothers, children, and families are driven by enjoyment and fun.   


Read our social franchise toolkit

Find out more about our impact pathway  

Page references:
¹ Alive &Thrive data for all 63 provinces in 2019

² Beyeler N, York De La Cruz A, Montagu D, The impact of clinical social franchising on health services in low- and middle-income countries: a systematic review, PLoS ONE2013;8:e60669