S.G. Phone Home
After training a group in an initial cycle of savings, we graduate the group to continue their savings and lending on their own. And they do continue to meet, increase their savings and distribute even MORE in the second cycle… right? (At least it’s what we savings group implementers like to claim!) Well, although our anecdotal evidence has always pointed that way, we wanted to see if we could understand what really happens in mature SG’s cycles without sending a field staff member to visit them year after year.
So, we designed an interactive text messaging system (using Text-it) to collect data annually at the group’s share out: cycle number, share value, total shares purchased, total loan fund distributed, number of members, and if the group is going to start a new cycle. From this information, we can calculate their return on savings and watch how these values change from year to year, and in general monitor the group’s health.
We decided to test this system in DRC for two reasons – 1) we were just starting a new project that had fairly low targets so we could be pretty hands-on in the first year and 2) it’s DRC which has plenty of challenges, and, well, if it can work there it can work just about anywhere.
The setup was relatively easy. After designing our questionnaire and entering into the Text-it system, the program just requires a phone in our DRC office connected to wifi. Here’s how it works: the group calls us and then hangs up, so they won’t have any charges. A missed call from any number triggers the questionnaire to start. It sends a question out and the user replies with a numeric answer. When the reply comes in (in the accepted, set range) a new question is sent out.
After a few hiccups, we’ve been able to get this to work and we’re received information from the same groups after two consecutive cycles as well as new information from first cycle groups formed by volunteer village agents. The error margin is small so we think this is a neat and extremely affordable way to track groups and see how financial information changes from year to year.
- Pretty simple to set up as well as easy for the members to use
- Low cost! And reverse billing, so there is no charge to the member, is possible (although we didn’t set this up with the MNO)
- Can monitor and analyze groups’ information year after year
- Since groups only send data at the share out, the long gap between data collection times could cause them to forget to do it or how to do it
- While errors are pretty easy to spot (ie- a group replied that they are in their 22nd cycle when we know it should be cycle 2), there’s no easy way to correct the data
- Since members’ phone numbers can change year to year, you have to design a different way to sync the groups data (the best way we found was to assign them a unique number - see instruction sheet, laminated and given to each group to keep in the savings box) which requires some extra central office logistics
Here’s what we have discovered so far about our groups:
- 24/24 groups sent us consecutive information on their first and second cycles; all 24 groups said they were continuing for a third cycle of savings.
- Comparing the second cycle data to the first cycle data, they had an average of a 45% increase in savings and 25% increase In the return on their savings.
- 12 new first cycle groups have also responded but we only have this initial data so we can’t see changes yet.
Let me know if you would like to try this in your organization and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you have.
Senior Technical Advisor, Savings for Life