In response to comments about his microfinance “Conversations” post, Ben Hess offers this example from the “Learning Conversation” tool CRS and our partners use with self-help savings groups.
I’ve translated an example of one of the 11 topics that we cover in the savings-led microfinance Learning Conversations guide that CRS developed in Guatemala. The 11 topics are:
1. Group Promotion
2. Group Formation
3. Internal Rules
5. Seasonality of Savings
6. Obligatory and Voluntary Savings
7. Evaluation of Loans
8. Interest Rates
9. Fund Distribution
10. Social Fund
11. Separate Funds
The order in which they are presented may change. The following Learning Conversation covers obligatory and voluntary savings. The animator reads the two stories first.
Group La Formación (Formation): When this group was establishing a minimum savings limit, some members wanted to save Q.10 (10 Quetzals – about $1.30) each meeting, while others say they can only afford to save Q.5. Since solidarity is the group’s principal goal, the members decide that they will all save Q.5 per meeting. At the end of the year, the group’s fund has grown to Q.2,400.
Grupo El Desarrollo (Development): This group’s members also have differences of opinion regarding the minimum savings contribution. Some say they can save Q.5 per meeting, while others want to save Q.10 or even Q.20. The group decides that it wants its fund to grow faster so that it can lend more money. It decides that the minimum savings limit will be set at Q.5, but that members can voluntarily contribute more. At the end of the year, the group has saved Q.3,600.
Afterwards, the animator opens it up to the group for the discussion. Sometimes group members are ready to jump right in and don’t need any guidance. If prodding is needed to get the discussion going, however, the guide gives the animator a few suggested questions.
Questions for the members
1. What do you think about these two stories?
2. What are the advantages and disadvantages of voluntary savings?
3. What could happen if some members are able to save two or three times more than others? Do you have any recommendations about how to avoid conflicts and disagreements?
4. Do you think your group should permit voluntary savings? Why or why not?
It is very important that the animator let the group members run the conversation. Usually, the animator asks the group president to facilitate the discussion. If a few members are dominating the discussion, the animator may step in to ensure that everyone has an opportunity to give his or her opinion.
If the members come to a consensus about certain decisions, then the animator may suggest that the group secretary write them down. (If nobody in the group can read or write, then the animator may serve as secretary, although all decisions would be read to the group to ensure that all members are in agreement with the way they have been worded.)
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