Savings Groups — voluntary associations whose members meet regularly to save and borrow from group funds — have become well known across the development sector. Proponents point to a variety of benefits beyond savings and credit, such as improved resilience, mutual support, asset accumulation, and access to a variety of products and services offered through the groups.
The growing popularity of Savings Groups (SGs) has brought with it much excitement but has also highlighted some inherent challenges. As the benefits of SGs become increasingly apparent, new and diverse organizations are entering the field and adopting the methodology with a variety of goals and varying degrees of rigor. At the same time, organizations that have traditionally facilitated SGs are innovating with new approaches and technologies. While most of these innovations are assumed to bring efficiency, sustainability, and greater choices to SG members, their long-term impacts are still unknown.
To ensure that SG members are not harmed by this unprecedented growth and innovation, The SEEP Network’s Savings-Led Working Group (SLWG) brought together SG practitioners to define minimum standards for quality programming. Quality programs are understood as those programs that prioritize members’ welfare while meeting member interests, provide members with lasting and measurable benefits, promote group sustainability and minimize risk. Additionally, practitioners stress the importance of programs serving large numbers of disadvantaged people in diverse contexts.
The Program Quality Guidelines (PQGs) begin with the conviction that facilitating agencies have a responsibility to implement quality SGs that safeguard the well-being of members and the security of their assets. They represent a sector-wide effort to build quality from the onset as a guarantee for consumer protection, rather than waiting for problems to emerge before taking steps to address them.
The PQGs were developed by SEEP’s SLWG, representing over 70 organizations that facilitate SGs worldwide. Over 100 practitioners and industry stakeholders participated in written surveys and hour-long interviews, which informed the content of the PQGs and helped to identify programming priorities and emerging concerns. Between August 2014 and April 2015, the PQGs went through a number of drafts that were posted online for open comment; several agencies and individuals provided feedback that was reflected in subsequent versions. The Guidelines were also vetted at each phase by an advisory committee whose members were chosen for their interest and expertise on the topic. The authors had many exchanges with the advisory committee to discuss content and to resolve areas of disagreement among practitioners. The PQGs therefore represent a consensus on good practice based on experience to date and strive to recommend prudent actions, regardless of a particular agency’s approach.
Between June 2015 and October 2015, the Guidelines were validated with a wider audience through four in-country consultations (El Salvador, Guatemala, Zambia, and Senegal) and through this PQGs online portal. Based on the input of these extensive consultations, the Guidelines were updated and later launched in November 2015 at SG2015: The Power of Savings Groups conference in Lusaka, Zambia.
The Program Quality Guidelines are addressed primarily to those facilitating agencies (FAs) of Savings Groups, whether local, national, or international, promoting SG programming either as standalone interventions or as part of integrated programs. Understood as those incorporating Savings Groups on a strategic level but with objectives broader than solely financial inclusion, integrated programs are becoming increasingly prevalent as development organizations shift to affect a more holistic impact. Examples of integrated programming include agriculture and market-based initiatives where SGs contribute to the overall goal of building farmers' resilience.
The SEEP Network hopes that the Guidelines will also inform the approaches of nontraditional actors seeking to build relationships with SGs, such as financial service providers (FSPs) and mobile network operators (MNOs). Finally, it is expected that donors will find value in the Guidelines and that they will work with facilitating agencies to draft agreements that endorse and promote the best practices identified in this document.
The Guidelines consist of eight overarching principles that are believed to be both necessary and sufficient for guaranteeing quality Savings Groups. The principles are organized in such a way as to reflect the stages of the project cycle. They provide guidance at each major stage: design, implementation, monitoring, and exit. The tools section includes curated tools that support the implementation of the Program Quality Guidelines for Savings Groups.
Financial Service Provider
Management Information System
Mobile Network Operator
Program Quality Guidelines
Savings and Internal Lending Community
Savings-Led Working Group
Village Savings and Loan Association