Volunteerism or Fee-for-Service?

Volunteerism or Fee-for-Service?


Three days ago I was in Western Kenya and saw some of the ways that Savings Groups are still being created and supported, ten months after CARE stopped paying trainers to form new groups.

Odowa Cluster has ten groups, whose membership is capped at forty members each. The groups meet fortnightly, with five groups meeting one Wednesday afternoon, and another five meeting the following week. CARE’s Community Based Trainer had left service after forming three groups in the cluster; the members have continued to add new groups to the cluster, and also have traveled to train two new groups “over the hill” from the village.

Odowa Committee (gatekeeper in the middle)The meetings I observed was disciplined and well-attended. All the groups use passbooks, and have metal lockboxes. The groups have a common social fund reserved for funerals; each group keeps its social fund, but they all contribute to the costs of funerals when any member of any group has a funeral. Members pay KShs 20 every fortnight, or USD 6.23 per person per year, into the social fund.

The cluster has a committee of five volunteers – four managers and a gatekeeper – who come to all meetings, help groups that need help, and train new groups. They have no salary, although groups usually give them some money at the time of share-out. I asked Walter Otieno Aouko, one of the managers, why he donated his time. “Many people around here are poor,” he said. “The groups help them get out of poverty.”

CARE has also been encouraging post-project expansion and support by converting their trainers into “village agents” who work on a fee-for-service basis. I had a chance to talk to six or seven of them. Most reported that they had trouble getting groups to pay the requested fee, and most were working for less than the requested amount of 200 shillings (about two and a half dollars) per person, for the total training cycle.  One young trainer, Veronique, was still supported by the active committee of the Catholic Church, and said that all the ten groups she had trained had paid in full. I asked a group of village agents what they thought of their prospects? There was a long pause. One responded cryptically, “There was life before the project came. There will be life after the project.”

Since the project’s first phase ended in June 2010, CARE says that 168 fee-for-service groups have been formed with about 5000 members; CARE also says they know of about 3000 members of spontaneous groups, though there is no easy or systematic way to track them, and CARE suspects that the spontaneous groups have more members than the fee-for-service groups. 

Which approach – volunteerism or fee-for-service – is better? I asked the village agents, and they argued that the quality of their training was better than the volunteer groups; perhaps that is true, although Odowa cluster seemed as well trained and disciplined as any groups I have seen anywhere.

Financial Sector Deepening Trust in Kenya is carrying out research to attempt to compare the quality of groups formed by the two channels. (NB: Since this article was written, the research has been completed and published as the Quality of Delivery Study). Oxfam has examined the question also in a very different context in Mali. There may not be a unique answer to this important question.

Do any readers think we already know the answer? Leave us your comments…


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Reader Comments (7) 

Wonderful work that CARE is doing with savings groups in rural western Kenya. Looks like concerted trainings are now resulting in group replication and more importantly, sharing of best practices. Keep up the good work.

Fri, May 6, 2011 | Dancan

I can't say that I have any answers at all. But I find this discussion intensely interesting because we are about to embark on a series of discussions with our groups regarding this very topic. 

What I do have is more questions. And the one that I haven't heard asked yet? 

Is it more effective for an organization to start by paying a community agent a stipend (or whatever) and then 'graduate' them to fee-for-service paid by groups....or is it better to go right to the fee-for-service? 

I, for one, will be very, very keen to see the results of the Financial Sector Deepening Trust in Kenya.

Mon, May 9, 2011 | Jill Thompson

Hi Jill,

Well, since I posted that I had a great talk with Nelly Otieno, and I see things a bit differently. In fact, both approaches can work well, and both approaches are having good results - but, so much depends on the person. It's wrong to assume that every CBT is a born entrepreneur, and it's wrong to assume that none of them are. It's equally wrong to assume that all groups and members are motivated by community spirit, but also wrong to assume that none are. So now I think the challenge is to find a way to be discerning. I'm proposing that CARE orient their CBTs like this:

Congratulations on being selected as Community Based Trainers! We are going to train you in all aspects of your job, so that you will be able to train the women and men of the area to save and borrow. We will pay you a stipend for each person trained, and you must provide excellent service to them, because after we leave, the people you train will train more people, until the GSL approach becomes a part of the culture, and everyone will have access to this. When we leave, you will be able to say that you made a real difference in the lives of the people here, and you will have more standing in the community, and confidence as you look for your next employment. And, we will invite some of you, based on your ability to train and empower groups, for special training so that after we leave, you can continue as independent business people collecting fees from new groups that you will recruit and train. This can be the start of a career for you, as a Village Agent, doing valuable and satisfying work.

Something like that - encourage volunteerism, AND take the most apt CBTs and turn them loose as independent entrepreneurs.

BTW, I'm enjoying seeing the Village Agent program working here in Rwanda. Seems fine! But it still is nowhere near the CPM of CARE in Kenya, which I now think is a Disruptive Technology - it is so much more efficient than any other approach, that the other approaches are obsolete, unless they adapt quickly.


Tue, May 10, 2011 | Paul Rippey

Wow! great stuff! This is why this type of project is so fascinating...there are very few black and white, slam dunk answers!

and I LOVE the concept of a Disruptive Technology! Something that doesn't behave like we think we want it to and keep us on our toes....as someone once shouted at me as they blazed running past me as I was jogging complacently.....GET OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE!! 

Best advice I ever got....

Tue, May 10, 2011 | Jill Thompson

Very helpful article, Paul. The Chalmers Center is inaugurating a program initially in West Africa that is a combination of fee for service training with outside support. We have been very encouraged by how entrepreneurial some of our existing trainers have turned out to be in our efforts to date. We are expanding our training efforts by finding local trainers who are selected for their training skills and entrepreneurial ability. The trainers will market and provide savings and credit training services and charge small, affordable fees. Because these fees will not fully cover expenses, each team of trainers will be supported with funds from the US in addition to program material, trainer training and operational support.

Wed, May 11, 2011 | Mike Abrahams

Thanks Mike. Interesting, and when you feel like the time is right, we'd love to have you write it up here. This is a hot topic, and the only thing I know for sure about fee-for-service is that the amount of confidence some people have in it seems over the top. I'm curious what your projected CPM is? Cheers.

Mon, May 16, 2011 | Paul Rippey

Let me be the devill's advocate here.what are we basically saying here?- that we have not been adding value to what communities can do with all the training mentoring and supervison , attempts to have best practices proved for recruitment , training and group support fo savings groups? if so where des the role of the agency like CARE start and end in promoting the savings groups concept? what obligations do we have on introducing this concepet to the community.?

what other aspects should be monitored to show quality of savings groups other than following meeting procedures and attendance whihc are amongst the ones Paul list. are ther other key performanc emeasurements that you can see 'stock and flow'? do we need to learn from each other? or why do savings groups in the first place if there is no value in directing the process?

who plays that role of ensuring the learning takes place and promotes tested practices?

Wed, July 13, 2011 | 


Note: This was originally posted in May 2011. We have reposted it with a more recent date to bring it to the top of our chronological list of articles. It has improved with age, like a fine wine.

 Volunteerism or Fee-for-Service - Part two

Volunteerism or Fee-for-Service - Part two

Who Will Get the Job Done

Who Will Get the Job Done