The Impact of Digital Technology on Self Help Groups

This is the final videos in our series about Self Help Groups (SHGs) and the digital platform we’ve built to help them. Earlier, we explored how SHGs build resilience and social transformation as well as social and economic empowerment for women members.

We're so committed to helping scale the SHG model that our free and open-source Self Help Group app and online dashboard have been available to any organization who is programming with savings groups. Since our first East African pilots in 2014, our user community has grown to over 13 organizations across sub-Saharan Africa, India and the Caribbean. 

Prior to the SHG platform, facilitators either ran meetings from memory or from a series of binders that they carried around on meeting days. Now, facilitators have frequently updated, best-in-class facilitation materials, prompts and training materials available on the phones or tablets that they carry with them all the time.

We see serving facilitators and their coordinators with the SHG platform as a key support mechanism that will help SHGs scale with quality. Using digital technology in a Self Help Group comes with unique opportunities, but also challenges.

Facilitators enjoy asking group members to read from the handset in order to build their familiarity with new mobile technologies. They report that group members are motivated to attain smartphones and often download the Self Help Group app to review the business skills section on their own.

We take seriously the opportunity to be the very first point of contact that many of these women have with smartphones and apps. As our platform evolves to give facilitators a chance to track group level financial data, we will also be developing new curricular activities that help to prepare SHG members for the specific vulnerabilities and risks of using digital technologies: like loss or theft of data or currency, stalking, bullying and more.

Our global community of implementing partners are excited to help meet the appetite that people have for technology and also to help technology arrive responsibly and with the greatest chances of making a lasting impact. This year, our platform evolves to meet the need of program coordinators as well.

As Nathaniel Calhoun, a Principal at Code Innovation says, “With the latest developments of the Self Help Group Platform, we begin to enable a two-way flow of digital information between the facilitator and the coordinators."

"Coordinators now have the ability to review key information about their entire community of Self Help Groups at a glance. This is a chance to identify and act upon key information about group health and progress much faster than a coordinator could do if she was relying upon infrequent field visits or paper-based reporting.” 

We will continue to share our journey as we explore the impact our digital platform is having on SHG health and the ability of SHG programs to scale with quality.

Self Help Groups Catalyze Women's Economic and Social Empowerment

This week, we’re sharing video content that helps to explain the impact of Self Help Groups—the groups that we support by building a customized, open source digital platform. This week’s first video focused on how SHGs build resilience and the second looked at the social transformations that SHGs make possible.

Today we’re sharing two new videos, both exploring how women benefit, in particular, from membership in Self Help Groups.

One of the major gains available to SHG members is financial independence from their husbands. Instead of relying upon unpredictable sources of revenue from their partners, SHG members work together until they can meet their needs, take loans and invest in their businesses.

As SHG Facilitator, Stella Millanga says, “Women don’t want to depend on their husbands. They want to lift themselves from the challenges of poverty.”

Elie Calhoun, Principal at Code Innovation elaborates, “People already know that women are likely to spend their money to help secure the well-being of their children and their families. Self Help Groups can amplify the impact of this good decision making, by helping women to profit and become independent financial actors.”

The business and financial literacy of our curriculum draws on more than a decade of field-tested materials from India and Ethiopia, where Self Help Group programming has a rich history.

We are proud to aggregate the highest quality content and then move it into the Creative Commons where it has the greatest likelihood of benefiting people around the world.

It’s no surprise that social empowerment goes hand-in-hand with financial independence. Where SHGs take root, gender roles and social roles can become more fluid. The power dynamic in a household can flip.

Young women may start to see role models emerge from an older generation, as women support one another through their learning and entrepreneurship.

There are truly inspiring stories emerging from the community of SHG members: members who started off by saving handfuls of grain can be running their own network of dump trucks back and forth across national borders moving commodities by the ton.

There are limitless ways to rise out of poverty and SHGs help vulnerable populations to hone in on the most strategic pathways while minimizing the downside risk.

Stay tuned for our next post that explores the impact of mobile technology on SHGs in particular.

Social Transformation as an Outcome of Women's Self-Help Groups

This week, we’re sharing a series of short videos that explore how Self Help Group (SHG) programming is a transformational and trend-setting approach to ending poverty.

Yesterday’s video highlighted how Self Help Groups improve the resilience of women members and their households to shocks. Today’s video focuses on the broader, social transformation that Self Help Groups enable.

In smaller towns, the impact of Self Help Group programming can be felt throughout the community. Our implementing partners describe how small communities can be transformed by Self Help Group programming.

Because of the benefits they realize, SHG members often show an enthusiasm for helping to start additional SHGs in their community or in neighbouring communities.

“This passion for SHGs has lead members to create powerful network effects in countries where SHG programming is mature,” says Nathaniel Calhoun, Principal at Code Innovation.

“In such cases, we see groups nominate members to join regional associations or even national level federations. These members become more sophisticated in their understanding of global economy and politics and use their united power to lobby government or the financial sector to meet their needs.”

Next, we’ll explore how Self Help Groups advance women’s financial independence and social empowerment.

When women start to make massive contributions to the financial wellbeing of their families, gender norms can start to change in ways that bring more opportunity to women of all ages.

Self Help Groups Create Resilience for Women Members and Their Families

Earlier this year, Code Innovation travelled to rural Kongwa District in central Tanzania to visit some of the facilitators and Self Help Group members most experienced in using our digital Self Help Group platform.

This week, we’ll share a series of short videos that explore how Self Help Group (SHG) programming is a transformational and trend-setting approach to ending poverty. We’ll also highlight how our SHG platform is helping facilitators scale up their programs with quality.

We’ll begin with a focus on building resilience and creating social transformation at the community level. We’ll highlight the gains to women in SHGs by exploring their progress towards financial independence and their efforts towards social empowerment, and then focus on the impact that the SHG platform is starting to have on SHG facilitators and their members.

First, we’ll explore how Self Help Groups bring added resilience to the lives of their members. As the risks from climate change and uncertainties continues to rise, developing networks of resilience is a key coping strategy for women on the lowest poverty level, whose families are often depending on them for basic needs.

The women in these videos have been in Self Help Groups in rural Tanzania for up to five years already. Here, they share how their participation in SHGs has made their households more secure and also given them the confidence to plan for bigger business and better livelihoods.

 

Self Help Groups routinely target the most vulnerable and disadvantaged members of a village or a neighbourhood for membership —the people who are struggling most to meet their basic needs.

When these people come together and begin to pool their resources and begin to learn together, new opportunities open up. Their joint savings might be enough to help one member buy a few chickens to start a microbusiness selling eggs. Or they might be able to purchase something together in bulk, that they sell in small portions for a mark up that enriches the group.

These business successes (and failures) offer the group an open and transparent way to understand the dynamics of markets and commerce.

Groups also typically set money aside to serve as insurance fund for unfortunate events that might usually drive a member deeper into poverty: for example emergency medical expenses or funeral expenses for a family member.

Elie Calhoun, Principal at Code Innovation, says, “As Self Help Groups are studied more in the coming years, we’re likely to see that the insurance that these groups provide to members is one of the key reasons why groups continue to meet.”

The oldest Self Help Groups are in India and have been meeting for more than three decades, but the SHG model is still not well-known outside of the savings group sector.

We hope you find this exploration of our work interesting. If you’re already working with savings groups or SHGs in your work and you’d like to learn more about the platform, visit www.shgplatform.com.

Stay tuned for our next video, where we’ll be sharing about how SHGs transform the social landscape by bringing women together in collaborative new ways.

A Mobile App to Help Rape Survivors to Get Emergency Health Care

WASHINGTON DC, 16 March 2018 - The first mobile app to address the needs of rape survivors when they go to the emergency room was released today by Code Innovation and the Washington DC Rape Crisis Center, one of the first rape crisis centers to open in the world. Although approximately one in four people experiences the crime of sexual assault, most of us still have no idea how to cope with rape when it happens to us or someone close to us.

“Research shows that after sexual assault, going to the health center to get treatment dramatically improves long-term outcomes for the survivor, especially if an advocate accompanies them through the process,” says Elie Calhoun, a former rape crisis counselor in New York City and Principal at Code Innovation. "We digitized the training that an advocate receives into a free and open-source app. Now we want to make the app into a global public good that’s available in as many languages as possible so that anyone who needs it can access this necessary information.” 

Creating a digital resource for survivors of sexual violence is new territory and the Rape Crisis Counseling app was made possible through the expertise of partners at the DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC), whose Executive Director Indira Henard championed the app from the project’s early stages in 2015.

“The DC Rape Crisis Center is proud to partner with Code Innovation on this state of the art resource for global rape crisis advocates,” says Henard. “The Rape Crisis Counseling app is not only a game changer for the global community, but it raises the standard of trauma-informed care for survivors of sexual violence. The rollout of this app means that there will be uniformity in the way we treat sexual assault survivors at home and abroad.”

The app contains a Training for Volunteer Advocates and is a basic primer of the information that a US state-certified rape crisis counselor would receive as part of the 40-hour training that is generally required before a counselor can volunteer at hospitals. The original training material was developed by US rape crisis centers based on their experience with decades of emergency room advocacy work and has been adapted by a multicultural coalition of partners to be relevant for global use.

"As a global society, we're getting more comfortable talking about sexual harassment and sexual assault as real issues. But most of us still don't know how to respond when it happens. Now, anyone can use our app to help a survivor – or themselves – get necessary treatment after sexual assault," says Calhoun. “The Rape Crisis Counseling platform shows how easily and cheaply digital technologies can be leveraged to meet gaps in information and access that translate into real life outcomes and systems change.”

“We look forward to piloting the app with organizations working in women’s health and human rights around the world and already have pilots lined up in East Africa and the Middle East,” says Calhoun. “The plan is to get direct feedback during our pilot phase so we can develop and release a 2.0 version in other languages that we know will work all over the world to help rape survivors get adequate and appropriate care.”

The app is being released in English but Code Innovation has plans to scale it into more than a dozen languages with the next round of funding. The project has US non-profit status and a Bitcoin wallet address to help cryptocurrency investors donate some of their bitcoin or other cryptocurrency gains to helping survivors and their advocates in the immediate aftermath of sexual assault.

In the process of digitizing the rape crisis counseling material into a mobile learning platform, Code Innovation drew on the Digital Principles to co-design the app's content with a broad coalition of international stakeholders, including gender-based violence experts, women’s human rights advocates and US-based rape crisis centers.

The Training for Volunteer Advocates section of the app covers basic medical advocacy and includes a treatment overview and details about how to navigate the forensic exam, which is essential for evidence collection that can be used later in court. There are sections on safety planning and working with survivors of intimate partner violence, as well as special considerations, for example, materials for the LGBTQIA community and for survivors of drug-facilitated sexual assault.

Two additional user pathways, an In-Hand Resource for Survivors and an In-Hand Resource for Advocates, provide adapted information for use at health centers.

The community helping to build this resource is aware that many survivors enter health facilities that are not yet equipped to provide them with the appropriate treatments or facilities that cannot adequately collect forensic evidence. Our goal is for the Rape Crisis Counseling app to help generate awareness and demand for better quality services for sexual assault survivors around the world.

The Rape Crisis Counseling app is available on the Apple Store here.

The Rape Crisis Counseling app is available on the Google Play Store here.

For more information, visit rapecrisiscounseling.org

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About the DC Rape Crisis Center

The DC Rape Crisis Center (DCRCC) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating sexual violence and creating a violence-free world through conscience and action. Since its inception in 1972, the DC Rape Crisis Center has been making a significant contribution to the health, economic, social and cultural well-being of Washington, DC. As the oldest and first rape crisis center in the country. The DC Rape Crisis Center provides counseling and mental health services to the most marginalized sexual assault survivors in the District of Columbia; facilitates education to equip children and adults with the tools, and skills needed to establish and maintain healthy relationships. Our call to action obliges us to us to build the capacity of the Washington, DC community to respond to survivors of sexual assault with compassion, and dignity.

About Code Innovation

Code Innovation consults with the private and public sectors on systems strengthening, with a focus on equity. We leverage technology to bring field-proven interventions to scale and our developers span three continents (Africa, Europe and Asia). Code Innovation focuses on programs developed in and for vulnerable populations. We create and consult on free and open-source platforms, instructional design and social innovations that enable communities to lift themselves out of poverty. For more information about our work, visit http://www.codeinnovation.com.

Follow Rape Crisis Counseling on Twitter @crisisadvocacy

For more information, contact support@rapecrisiscounseling.org. For media enquiries, contact elie@codeinnovation.com.

Usability Testing the Self Help Group Digital Platform

 A woman in Kongwa District, Tanzania shares her experience of being in a Self Help Group. ( Photo by Rita Langley, CC-BY 4.0)

A woman in Kongwa District, Tanzania shares her experience of being in a Self Help Group. ( Photo by Rita Langley, CC-BY 4.0)

New Round of User Acceptance Testing

We decided to initiate another round of Self Help Group (SHG) Platform User Acceptance Testing (UAT) that was run in early 2017, with 9 facilitators in a workshop-style day in Kongwa, Tanzania.

All of the participants were involved in SHG programs run by Tearfund Tanzania partner Christian Churches of Tanzania (CCT), who have been using the app with a select number of their SHG facilitators since it was first piloted in 2015.

The 9 facilitators present ran 21 groups between them, involving 517 members. Time was allowed at the beginning of the workshop for non-guided usability testing of the new features, and assessment of issues found there preceded the UAT. As well as the UAT workshop day, we met with them and their groups in the field and heard stories of individual member’s success as well as group resilience.

Rather than assess the successfulness of SHGs overall, the SHG project’s UAT aims to assess the app’s ability to aid in that process by providing education and job support for facilitators.

Key feedback points from the UAT session:

We heard about the advantages of using the app over other facilitation methods. While the volume of information in the curriculum was an obvious advantage here, the facilitators were also appreciative of the ease of updates. Additionally, they talked about the amount of time they spend studying and preparing for meetings, which is considerable but necessary, and the benefits of having a powered device to do that on whenever they had the time, rather than needing a light on at night to read.

Challenges

The key hurdles to facilitating with technology continue to be access to charging facilities, and infrequent connection for those who have to travel to receive a cell signal. We've written more about this here.

Digital advantages and perception of technology

The facilitators were asked some additional questions focused on the way that their use of a tablet was perceived. Of the people in their groups, approx. 45% of people had their own mobile phone, but only a tiny number had access to a smart device.

For 5 of the facilitators, their facilitation tablet was the only smart device in their village. While group members were excited to have use of a tablet, there were some reports of envy from those not in the group. One facilitator mentioned he worries that certain groups of youths will see him carrying it and take it.

However, it was overall seen in a positive light, and the tablets were an aspirational asset for the facilitators who were proud of their access to and expertise with technology. All of the facilitators used the tablet’s other features (camera, phone, email capabilities) for personal and community use outside of its original intent.

Conclusion

We're training our Self Help Group coordinators to run User Acceptance Testing and User Acceptance testing protocols independently. In the future, we will be able to access a network of SHG coordinators to test when we want to explore how certain features are working or could be improved. We see UAT and UT as a key part of the Digital Principles 'Design with the User'.