Combining Savings Groups and Other Activities

A few years ago, most savings group projects promoted pure SGs - the facilitating agencies only offered training in basic group formation and management; since then, however, pure groups have almost disappeared. Almost all programs today give their members some sort of assistance in addition to basic SG training - in health, agriculture, gender empowerment, bookkeeping, business start up skills, and the list goes on and on.

In fact, combining SGs and Other Activities (OAs) is the norm, not the exception, and practitioners should know what they are getting into, and getting their groups into, before they promote SGs and OAs. 

To help you with this task, Dear Reader, we have two studies to recommend. 

First, in 2009, Aga Khan Foundation with support from the MasterCard Foundation, commissioned a series of field studies and desk reviews of the few cases that could then be identified and studied of combining SGs with Other Activities. The final report (2011) was a synthesis with the long title Beyond Financial Services: A Synthesis of Studies on the Integration of Savings Groups and Other Developmental Activities written by Paul Rippey and Ben Fowler. The report is still useful in helping to think about these issues: it looks at different models for using SGs as platforms or entry points, and it asserts that Facilitating Agencies' moral responsibility for the outcomes of combining SGs and OAs increases to the extent that the risk to the group is great, and to the extent that the FA uses its authority and reputation to push members into the other activity. The Synthesis is worth a look, particularly the discussion of risk and choice beginning on page 22, and the warnings about "breaking the box". 

The AKF synthesis report was based on studies conducted in Kenya, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nepal, as well as a literature review of old banking linkage projects from Niger and Rwanda. If you are particularly interested in one of these cases, check out the case study, but otherwise, you are probably getting all the essential information from reading the Synthesis.

In May 2015, FHI360 published Savings Groups and their Role in Child Wellbeing: A Primer for Donors, a document with multiple authors. Like most that is written about SGs these days, it uncritically repeats outreach data given from VSL Associates, which considers anyone ever reportedly trained as a "member", thereby including many people in multiple groups, or former members, or deceased members and overstating total trained membership by millions. It has a fine description of SGs for people who are unfamiliar with them, and reviews some of the principles for combining SGs and Other Activities. Most readers of Savings Revolution could safely start around page 26, where there is a useful graphic of targeting strategies, followed soon by some nice conceptual work on SG+, and a bibliography.