What's Next? (Maybe just more of the same...)
Savings Group promoters keep looking for a New Thing, a product or service that will respond to the question “What’s Next” for Savings Groups that have learned how to save and borrow and manager their affairs. The idea of “What’s next” assumes that groups want a “next”. My own experience with groups is that, not surprisingly, some do, and some don’t. I suspect that more don’t than do, and that within the groups that say they do, it’s mainly the members that talk a lot who say they do, while the silent majority sits by.
I remain skeptical of the constant effort to add value to groups, beyond being an SG. Sometimes things are just fine the way they are. For instance, I’m a member of a ten year old bookclub. We haven’t diversified into movies or civic activism or an income generating activity. We haven’t formed a Federation of book clubs. We just meet monthly, discuss a book we’ve all read, have a glass of wine or beer or limonade, and then set a date for the next meeting. This can go on like this as long as there are books. Everyone is happy, no one wants to add bowling.
I’ve also been on a school board, and we mostly just tried to help the school run well. Doing that was hard enough, and managing a Savings Group is hard enough too, for most mortals.
On the other hand, I know that SGs are a very handy platform for adding things, and, clearly many groups do want some sort of more, different and better. Innovations bring varying amounts of value and risk. I still recommend the AKF study on combining SGs and other activities.. which I wrote with Ben Fowler. Its findings are still valid. The study points out that we want to maximize choice, maximize benefit, and minimize risk, and putting the collective savings of the group at risk is always a high-risk strategy. Facilitating agencies need to assume the moral responsibility when they, as trusted advisors, give really bad advice, which happens sometimes. No group ever sued an internatinoal NGO for bad advice, but if they did, some INGOs would be in deep trouble. You know who you are.
Even selling solar lamps to groups, which should be a no-brainer, and which I actively promoted for years, is riskier than I ever imagined. Members sometimes spend a lot of money (for them) to buy a faulty product, which fails and has an unenforceable warranty. Ouch.
There’s an America saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. I suspect that applies to Savings Groups.