Program Quality Guidelines

for Savings Groups

The Program Quality Guidelines (PQGs) begin with the conviction that facilitating agencies have a responsibility to implement quality Savings Groups (SGs) that safeguard the well-being of members and the security of their assets.

1

Design the program with clear outreach and quality objectives that are responsive to member interests and align all stakeholders with the desired outcomes.

2

Know the populations you intend to serve, including the most vulnerable, and take deliberate actions to reach them.

3

Select, train, manage, and monitor trainers in a manner that recognizes their essential contribution to the program.

4

Promote a tested Savings Group model and instill in members an understanding and respect for that model’s procedures.

Phase

Design

Implementation

Monitoring

Exit

8

Put in place a clear exit strategy that leaves behind post-program structures for sustainability, expansion of services, and ongoing support.

7

Consistently monitor and evaluate program performance using responsible data collection, management and dissemination practices.

6

If choosing to promote a relationship with a financial service provider, empower SG members to make good choices based on their interests and demands.

5

If choosing to combine a Savings Group with other activities, plan carefully and respect the autonomy of the group.

Design the program with clear outreach and quality objectives that are responsive to member interests and align all stakeholders with the desired outcomes.

Program integrity requires clear objectives that are shared by all stakeholders and that balance quality and scale through good design and rigorous implementation. The sector will benefit from agencies willing to share learning on best practices for designing systems for scale and quality, all while continuing to meet member interests.

Key Elements

  • Common understanding of program objectives

  • Realistic benchmarks for both quality and scale

  • National level coordination

Principle 1

Know the populations you intend to serve, including the most vulnerable, and take deliberate actions to reach them.

SGs can benefit a broad range of people, including the physically disabled, persons living with HIV/AIDS, and those socially excluded because of gender, caste, economic status, faith, age, or ethnicity. However, it is unrealistic to assume that vulnerable groups will join SGs in the absence of specific actions to include them. Programs with a mission to serve the most vulnerable will benefit from purposeful identification and targeting of vulnerable populations, proper planning, and a consistent measurement of inclusion.

Key Elements

  • Identification and measurement of intended participants

  • Program processes that reach the intended population

  • Messages that are inclusive of vulnerable populations

  • Group procedures that reflect the needs of vulnerable populations

  • Alignment of trainer incentives with the objective of inclusion

Principle 2

Select, train, manage, and monitor trainers in a manner that recognizes their essential contribution to the program.

Program outcomes depend above all on the trainer, the person who teaches members the policies, procedures, and values of SGs. Increasingly, facilitating agencies are recognizing the crucial role of trainers not only in the organization of SGs, but also in their ability to deliver ongoing support after the close of a program. The quality of service delivery, whether by program-paid trainers, by FFS trainers, or even by volunteers, depends on their motivation, commitment, skills, and management.

Key Elements

  • Careful selection of trainers

  • Tested and effective training methods

  • Streamlined training structures

  • Appropriate incentives for trainer performance

  • Clear trainer monitoring criteria and responsive feedback

Principle 3

Promote a tested Savings Group model and instill in members an understanding and respect for that model’s procedures.

The various SG models have much in common. They all teach procedures based on the core values of SGs: democracy in decision making, transparency in group transactions, and autonomy of group operations. The strength of SGs depends on members’ commitment and respect for the chosen model and is manifested by members’ disciplined adherence to its values and procedures.

Key Elements

  • Commitment to the group constitution

 

  • Caution with tempting shortcuts

 

  • Attention to the security of group funds

 

  • Respect for both borrowers and savers

Principle 4

If choosing to combine a Savings Group with other activities, plan carefully and respect the autonomy of the group.

SGs are rarely seen as stand-alone initiatives. In a majority of cases, the groups are used as platforms for the introduction of products and services by facilitating agencies or external agents. In other cases, SGs might be retrofitted into existing programs, such as agriculture or HIV/AIDs initiatives as a way to provide financial and social safety nets. Facilitating agencies bear the responsibility to clearly communicate expectations and make information available to help members decide whether or not they want to engage in the additional activity, or, if being retrofitted into another initiative, in the SG itself. In either case, it is important to consider the objective and value-add of the proposition, develop a clear theory of change, and carefully assess the impact on members.

Key Elements

  • Transparent communication of expectations

 

  • Respect for the procedures and structure of the SG

 

  • Demand-driven quality products and services

 

  • Safety of additional services and activities

 

  • Caution with the allocation of group funds for any purpose outside of savings and lending

 

  • Caution with anyone who views the SG principally as a market for products and services

Principle 5

If choosing to promote a relationship with a financial service provider, empower SG members to make good choices based on their interests and demands.

While building relationships with formal financial institutions has not traditionally been a central objective of SG programming, members and facilitating agencies are increasingly recognizing the benefits that these relationships may bring, such as security for excess liquidity, long-term savings, and access to larger loans. In some cases, SGs are opening accounts on their own; in others, facilitating agencies are actively bringing SGs and banks together and working with financial service providers (FSPs) to develop financial products especially intended for SGs. At the same time, however, many are concerned that some linkages may have a negative impact on group stability, group dynamics, and even members’ financial well-being. Irrespective of the approach, these models require careful assessment of possible risks and thoughtful implementation guided by group demand.

Key Elements

  • Education of all parties involved in the financial relationship

 

  • Careful assessment of the financial service provider

 

  • Care for the interests of the group

 

  • Understanding of the implications of mobile banking

Principle 6

Consistently monitor and evaluate program performance using responsible data collection, management and dissemination practices.

Increasingly, facilitating agencies are collecting data on SGs and their members, and carrying out operational and impact studies to better understand the benefits and challenges of membership. As the sector continues to grow, practitioners stress the need to adopt responsible data collection and dissemination practices, and to ensure that programs operate on well-researched and well-tested assumptions.

Key Elements

  • Varied methods for assessment

 

  • Respect for data ownership and security

 

  • Monitoring of post-project outcomes

Principle 7

Principle 8

Put in place a clear exit strategy that leaves behind post-program structures for sustainability, expansion of services, and ongoing support.

Although SGs are designed to function autonomously after approximately 12 months, most FAs have been experimenting with the best solutions for providing ongoing support to the groups. Some have started to leave in place cadres of trainers to continue group formation post-project, and to support groups at share-outs, elections, or during challenging times. Others have been shaping alliances with municipal governments, local organizations, and village councils as a way to guarantee the recognition and continuity of SGs and the resolution of any disputes.

Key Elements

  • Clearly planned and communicated exit strategies

 

  • Culturally appropriate post-project contracts

 

  • Carefully designed oversight structures

 

  • Responsive redress mechanisms

Phase

Design

Implementation

Monitoring

Exit

Select a principle to learn more

Principle 1

Principle 2

Principle 3

Principle 4

Principle 5

Principle 6

Principle 7

Principle 8