Trim Tabs and Savings Groups
Good development work is about putting in small inputs which help existing systems work better. To get the maximum impact, you want the inputs to be smaller and the impact to be larger. So to use the old example, a good project doesn’t give a woman a fish, it teaches her to fish.
But Better Projects don’t teach a woman to fish. Instead, they create a sustainable fishing school where lots of women can come to learn to fish.
But Even Better projects don’t create a fishing school. Instead, they empower the Ministry of Marine Resourses to create many specialty schools.
And Even BETTER projects don’t just empower the ministry, they work across the board in the government to help them have the capacity to analyze needs and find the resources within the national budget to address them.
Here’s another analogy (and this is an example I got from Werner Erhard in the 1970s!): there is, on the back of rudders on planes and boats, a smaller rudder-like device called a trim tab, the function of which is to control the rudder. (See the picture). It’s difficult to control a rudder the size of a tennis court moving at 600 miles per hour, so you use a trim tab to help control the rudder. It is in essence a rudder on the rudder. That strikes me as the nature of development: we should be trim tabs, not rudders, and certainly not cargo planes. (Relief is another question, of course.)
So, how does that apply in practice to SGs? In fact, I suspect that good projects often buy outreach, and that is flying a cargo plane, not being a rudder or a trim tab. Donors want quick wins, and they are impatient. So, they pay facilitating agencies to form SGs. That’s why we call them “facilitating agencies”, meaning they don’t provide financial services themselves, but they facilitate groups to provide services.
That’s good, and this approach satisfies the requirements of systemic change, leverage, and sustainability. But it is not good at VFM - Value for money. The way to improve on VFM is to move to a higher level intervention. See below, for more analogy:
Here’s where I think we can all learn from the work that CRS has done - they have really thought this through, and developed fishing schools, not just taught people to fish.
Donor instruments, unfortunately, are lagging behind. Even though everyone says they are creating Fishing Schools, donors need to contract specifically for that, and then verify it by looking into the classrooms, checking the manuals, seeing what attendance is, and interviewing some of the students.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with forming SGs during the period of the project. But contracting for that is very likely to be a distraction and even perverse incentive, if we use simply numbers of groups formed and memebers trained to assess performance and contract compliance.