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Technical Tracks

The SG2018 Agenda will feature Peer Learning Sessions in four technical tracks:

Despite the strong evidence of benefits that members, households and communities derive through participating in Savings Groups, the system faces several constraints. First and foremost, there is simply no prospect of sufficient donor funding to meet the global demand for Savings Groups under the current model and there are few if any current models that can reliably create new groups and support existing groups) absent recurring donor funding. Secondly, while most groups continue to operate independently for several years, many dissolve or do not function to the full benefit of all members, either due to poor training, lack of ongoing support, elite capture, etc. And finally, relationships between Savings Groups and external service providers often require facilitation – beyond the finite period of project cycles – to ensure that service providers understand the market and members have the capacity to make informed decisions. 

In response to these constraints, there has recently been interest among several funders and development organizations in applying a market systems approach to Savings Groups. The market systems approach is based on creating the foundation for lasting change where the market system is equipped to meet future challenges and continue to meet the changing needs of the poor. The result is sustained impact, rather than impact that is short-lived or dependent on further injections of development funding. If sustainability is not considered in the context of the market system—and the functions and players within it—change will not be sustained and, ultimately, will not improve the lives of poor people. Some strategies include providing communities with the methodologies and tools to form groups themselves, catalyzing the promotion of Savings Groups by local market actors, thereby hoping for sustainability. Others have focused on developing technologies to improve group security and operations, or support the work of trainers. As the principles of market systems development are applied to Savings Groups, continued experimentation is required, along with more evidence to determine which interventions work, why, and how. Importantly, lessons of what interventions do and do not work need to be shared so that interventions that do work can be replicated and scaled. 

This track explores the market system approach to increase the scale, impact and sustainability of Savings Groups, examining the elements of a well-functioning system, current constraints in the system, effective responses address these constraints through facilitation including the respective roles of development and market actors, and good practice in monitoring and measuring systemic change.

Guiding Questions

  • What is the evidence so far that a market systems approach is more effective than traditional, donor supported training of savings groups?  Consider sustainability, scale and impact in your response.
  • What is the role of private sector in sustaining and scaling savings groups, if any?  In particular, is there:
  • A business case for savings linkage?
  • A role for supplemental lending?  If so, on what basis?
  • What does the evidence suggest regarding the role of ‘village agent’?  Are their systematic studies which suggest their role is durable and necessary?
  • What is the right role for donor supported development agencies, if a market systems approach is followed?
  • What is the role of government, and what are the risks and rewards of registration of groups?  Is the case for registration or the case against registration strongest in light of a market systems approach?  Is there a role for public funding in savings group promotion?
  • What are the issues of consumer protection associated with a market systems approach to savings group promotion?

Over two billion adults worldwide do not have access to a bank account/Formal Banking services; and Savings Groups represent a promising pathway for financial inclusion in new and underserved markets. 

Savings Groups offer an entry point to isolated communities. With total assets of about $1 billion, they aggregate demand among a large number of low income clients. They are organized, disciplined and experienced in money management.  And they have identified needs that financial service providers (FSPs) can address. The business opportunity for FSPs is to leverage the resources and established processes of Savings Groups to offer a suite of individual and group-based products in new and underserved markets.   

Over the last decade, there has been a proliferation of initiatives to expand access to formal financial services in underserved markets through Savings Groups. And by 2016, the State of Linkage Report identified 95 FSPs offering financial services to Savings Groups across 27 countries. Increasingly, groups want a safe place to store long-term savings and excess liquidity, especially when large sums accumulate towards the end of saving cycles; and new business models, partnerships and alternative delivery channels are improving the viability of delivering formal financial services to Savings Groups. 

This track explores the demand for formal financial services by Savings Groups and their members; good practices for the delivery of financial services to Savings Groups; alternative delivery channels and innovations in product design; customer engagement; consumer protection; and the impact of these strategies on Savings Groups, their members, and FSPs. 

Guiding Questions 

  • What are the characteristics of the demand for formal financial services by Savings Groups – market size, unmet needs of groups and members, client profile? 
  • What are the characteristics of the supply of formal financial services to Savings Groups – scale, product mix, services, partnerships and delivery channels?  
  • How access issues such as alternative delivery channels influence demand for formal financial services by Savings Groups. 
  • What are the key components of a successful strategy to expand access to formal finance by Savings Groups and their members? 
  • What do Savings Groups require (information, knowledge, skills, attitudes, tools and equipment) to engage effectively with financial service providers? 
  • What do financial service providers require (information, knowledge, skills, attitudes and infrastructure, Sustainability) to engage effectively with Savings Groups? 
  • What is the impact of bank linkage initiatives at the levels of the individual, household, community, and financial service provider?  
  • What are some of the latest approaches to bring formal financial services to Savings Groups.  
  • How access to formal financial services affects the operations and membership of groups?  
  • Is there a proven existing profitable linkage model? 
  • With telcos increasingly providing financial services, what role does mobile money play in linking groups?
  • How does the digital divide affect scaling up of linking of savings groups, given that scale if often achieved through technology?  
  • Savings groups are often limited to 20 or so members, with the growing use of technology allowing linkage models to allow members to deposit remotely, will this affect the 20-member limit?
  • How financial institutions are addressing the issue of client protection and integrating linkage principles when engaging with Savings Groups?

Savings Groups reach very poor and vulnerable populations more effectively than institutional microfinance programs. They require limited infrastructure; savings deposits and loan repayments are flexible; and even the most vulnerable members of the community can understand and participate in group operations.  

While the very poor can and do join Savings Groups, recent evidence indicates that not as many are joining as had been assumed. New strategies are now being developed to reach the very poor, including changes in targeting, messaging, training, delivery channels, group procedures and governance, as well as combining Savings Groups with complementary activities and inputs, including conditional cash transfers and poverty graduation programs. Recent efforts to target the extreme poor and underserved groups – such as orphans and vulnerable children caregivers, HIV-affected households, internally-displaced and refugee populations, the disabled, and youth – provide a growing body of experience upon which to develop good practices. 

Two billion people now live in countries where development outcomes are affected by fragility, conflict and violence. The share of extreme poor living in conflict-affected situations is expected to rise from 17% today to almost 50% by 2030. In fragile and conflict-affected states, Savings Groups represent a viable approach to social protection and improved access to basic financial services. Savings Groups have been introduced in areas characterized by armed conflict, violence, political instability, and exposure and vulnerability to economic, social and environmental shocks. The expansion of these efforts requires additional exploratory work, recognizing the potential impact of Savings Groups in such settings and the unique challenges and risks within diverse environments. 

This track explores the inclusiveness of Savings Groups, and the promotion of Savings Groups within more vulnerable and underserved populations, including specific target groups; in marginalized environments, fragile and conflict-affected states; and through an expanding range of actors including government-run programs.  

Guiding Questions

  • To what extent do Savings Groups reach vulnerable populations, and what are the drivers and barriers for inclusion?
  • How do outcomes vary by population segments or target groups?
  • What strategies– adaptations to methodology, tools, delivery channels, partnerships –  improve the outreach of Savings Groups to more vulnerable populations, marginalized environments, and fragile and conflict-affected states?
  • Are Savings Groups an effective financial inclusion strategy for the vulnerable and underserved?
  • How are savings groups increasing resilience, particularly in fragile contexts?
  • How are Savings Groups being integrated into graduation-model projects and government-run social protection programs? What is the contribution of savings groups to these approaches, and what are their limitations?

Savings Groups contribute to women’s economic empowerment by increasing access to and control over assets. Beyond financial intermediation, Savings Groups can also be gender-transformative. 

Harmful and discriminatory gender norms, the burden of unpaid labor, sexual violence, unequal access to inclusive education and health services, are among the barriers and injustices that adversely affect the life trajectory of girls and young women, reinforce inequalities between men and women, impede inclusive growth, and perpetuate poverty across generations. 

Savings Groups are also an appropriate economic empowerment strategy for youth: they provide access to basic financial services with minimal risk; they are participatory; and acquaint members with the principles of money management and good governance.  In combination with other interventions, savings groups that integrate a gender-transformative lens can also serve as safe spaces for girls, boys, young women and men to become agents of change by challenging harmful gender norms and gender inequalities in all forms. 

This track will explore the potential causal pathways between Savings Groups, the empowerment of girls and young women, the roles of men and boys in women’s economic empowerment, as well as the ability of Savings Groups to incorporate personal, social and political dimensions of empowerment.

Guiding Questions

  • What are the ways in which Savings Groups can be used to promote gender equality?
  • How can Savings Groups foster social and psychological changes (ex. social capital, self-efficacy, agency) among members?
  • What are the ways in which men as partners can be engaged in promoting and sustaining women’s economic empowerment? What are the benefits of doing so? The risks?
  • Can Savings Groups incorporate additional dimensions of empowerment (personal, social, political), beyond financial intermediation? How?
  • What is the potential for Savings Groups to positively affect the life trajectory of girls and young women?
  • What are the main constraints, enabling factors, and effective strategies for the improved engagement of men with Savings Groups, as direct participants or through their female partners?


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