The SG Poverty Action Team

The SG Poverty Action Team

The Savings Group Poverty Action Team is working to find the most effective way that Savings Groups can aid the very poor. A core group first came together around this question at the last micro-credit summit in March 2016, and since then has grown to include practitioners, micro-credit veterans and committed Rotarians with a long history of supporting anti-poverty measures.

We know a lot, but there is a lot that we still want to learn.


We know:

  • Two to three million of the 14 million Saving Group members are the ultra poor, and
  • 15 million of the 103 million Self-Help Group members in India are the very poorest


We still want to learn:

  • Do the poorest remain in their group?
  • Do established groups incorporate more or less of the poorest over time?
  • Do new groups and replicated groups incorporate more or less of the poorest?
  • Do the poorest move out of poverty or at least substantially improve their economic situation?
  • If they move out of poverty, how long does this take?
  • Do group members provide each other support to assist the poorest?

We know:

  • It will take a variety of approaches to reach a significant proportion of those at the absolute bottom of the economic pyramid.
  • There is much interest, which we share, in what are called graduation programmes – interventions including short term feeding support, grants for equipment to start income generating activities, training, mentoring, and access to health care.
  • Graduation programs are great, but expensive.


We still want to learn:

  • How can graduation programs best collaborate with their natural partners, including Savings Groups and self-help groups; conditional and unconditional cash transfer programs; poverty-focused microfinance; and the hybrids of these methodologies


In addition to the ultra-poor graduation programs, it will take a variety of approaches including savings groups, self-help groups, conditional and unconditional cash transfer programs, poverty-focused microfinance, digital finance, and the hybrids of these methodologies to reach a significant proportion of those at the absolute bottom of the economic pyramid.Our hunch - this is the focus of our research - is that when groups are in place for at least five years, and when there are more groups in each village, the poorest will join in greater numbers. As the number of members increase and the groups manage more money the poorest will also share in the overall increase in prosperity. And generally, the security and social support that comes from being in a Savings Group makes almost any other activity, including a graduation program, more effective and more efficient.


The proposed research


When I visited Saving for Change groups in Mali I often asked, "What is the difference between a poor person and a rich person in this village"? One woman summed it up this way:  "A rich person has food to eat all year, oxen to plow, animals to sell and a bed to sleep on. A poor person goes hungry, cultivates with a hoe, has no animals and sleeps on the ground." As we scour the literature and carry out the case studies we will determine if the poorest after they join Savings Groups: 

1.     Have enough to eat for more of the year

2.     Have more savings and animals to serve as a cushion when money is scarce

3.     Have money to pay school fees and seek medical care

4.     Have a bed to sleep on and a pot to cook in and more household items

5.     Move from day labor and working as unpaid housekeepers, shepherds and other marginal activities to working as small farmers and/or businesswomen.

6.     Better deal with shocks – drought, floods, sickness, death, plagues and the loss of livestock.

7.     Become leaders or are at least more accepted in their villages   

Ultimately, we hope to shed light on this question: does this approach that is simpler, self-replicates, and can be carried out by local NGO and other organizations at very low cost have an important impact on the poorest? Assuming that what we learn through the literature and the case studies is positive, we will present the case for launching the pilot projects.


Savings Group Poverty Action Team five year plan:


Year 1


  • Comb the literature on Savings Groups/Self Help groups to see what we can learn about ultra poor outreach and impact.
  • Select a handful of projects that have been the most successful in reaching and benefiting this population.
  • Carry out case studies to understand how these projects deliver services and how they have benefited (or not benefited) the poorest.


Years 2 to 5


  • Mobilize funding for pilot projects to test if what was learned about reaching the ultra-poor can be replicated. The initiatives that most effectively reach the poor will be scaled.
  • Assess the success of the pilot projects and fine tune the methodology.
  • Advocate for, track and evaluate the scale up savings group methodology.


The focus of the Savings Group Action Team will be on research, program design, tool development and advocacy.  A variety of practitioner organizations will train and support the groups.

The research effort will be guided by a committee of experts in the field to insure that the research is sufficiently methodologically rigorous to be credible.

For more information, please contact me.


Jeff Ashe

Co-Chair, Savings Group Poverty Action Team




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