mobile apps

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.

Sankofa mHealth Innovation Brings PTSD Support to War-Impacted Communities

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Monrovia. 3 May 2017 – Second Chance Africa and Code Innovation announce our partnership on the Sankofa project to create a mobile application of an innovative clinical curriculum that helps people recover from trauma in war-impacted communities.

The mHealth curriculum pioneered by Second Chance Africa will be used by the organization’s cohort of mental health facilitators, half of whom are graduates of the program. Since 2008, they have reached more than 7,000 war-impacted Africans on a shoestring, crowdfunded budget. Participants in one of their clinical outreach projects report a 65% reduction in the debilitating symptoms of trauma like intrusive memories, hyper-arousal, and avoidant behavior, a difference that allows them to return to a more stable life in their families and communities.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex trauma and extreme stress are common outcomes of war and debilitate a person’s ability to function in society. In West Africa, the recent Ebola outbreak worsened existing war-related PTSD, compounding long-lasting community mental health issues that remain unattended. In post-conflict areas, trauma often becomes a silent epidemic and while some people get better with time, many do not.

In some areas, rates of PTSD diagnosis are close to 100% based on the nature and severity of events, and trauma symptoms have been documented in refugee groups decades after traumatic exposure. PTSD may heighten the risk for poverty, aggravating the consequences of war and conflict.

“Approximately 17.6 million people are currently impacted by war and conflict across East, West and Central Africa,” says Second Chance Africa founder and Executive Director Jana V. Pinto. “Yet despite the clear need, trauma relief is not yet a humanitarian priority, as current efforts are expensive and there is no evidence base available to guide treatment choice. We urgently need more scientific research to develop best practices around trauma relief interventions in war-impacted communities.”

“While it may seem secondary to investments in maternal health or child survival, research has shown that communities with a high prevalence of trauma struggle to progress economically,” says Elie Calhoun, Director of Code Innovation. “Trauma becomes a piece of the poverty trap and needs to be addressed before war-impacted communities can make lasting social and economic progress.”

“The Sankofa mHealth app is designed as a tool for civilians and community health workers to lead local trauma relief groups independently and without prior training or experience,” says Calhoun “The 10-hour protocol directly addresses major PTSD symptoms without one-on-one psychotherapy or drug interventions. Digitizing this model on a free mobile app makes the approach accessible to health systems and organizations all over the world. It is a truly game-changing model.”

“Although feature phone handsets still significantly outnumber smart phones in Africa, we expect to see a gradual shift to smartphones as they become increasingly available and affordable. Because the Sankofa mobile app is designed to be used by one facilitator working with many groups over time, the program model leverages what is still a relatively rare technology to harness its impact.”

Field testing of the digital tool will begin in June in Northern Uganda with South Sudanese refugees fleeing current conflict, and in Monrovia, Liberia with a core team of Second Chance Africa facilitators who have been with the organization since its inception in the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana in 2008. As early recipients of the intervention, the facilitators are a testament to the transformative potential of the Second Chance Africa model and have dedicated themselves to ensuring that others in their country receive the same life-changing services.

The Sankofa digital tool will help them and other heroes in the battle against trauma to reach more people and help more people impacted by war regain their lives.

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Sankofa is crowdfunding to cover its program costs: https://www.razoo.com/story/Sankofa2017

For more information about the Sankofa project, visit http://secondchanceafrica.org/sankofa

Second Chance Africa After six years delivering hands-on clinical services, Second Chance Africa’s team of scientists and health workers now focus on rigorous research and development of innovative, scalable and culturally-adapted intervention tools to advance trauma relief for African communities impacted by war. For more information, visit http://www.secondchanceafrica.org.

Code Innovation’s team of ICT4D experts specialize in helping high-impact development solutions go to scale. Our projects have been supported by UNICEF, the UK Department for International Development and major philanthropic foundations. For more information, visit http://www.codeinnovation.com.

For more information, contact:

Jana V. Pinto, Executive Director, Second Chance Africa, jana@secondchanceafrica.org

Elie Calhoun, Director of Operations, Code Innovation, elie@codeinnovation.com

Experiments in Collaboration

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proportional piling helped us visualize what indicators were the most important to capture in the app Early this month, we invited nearly 50 people to join us in Nairobi for a two day “Co-Creation Workshop” in order to help us determine development and partnership priorities for our Self Help Group Digital Platform.

This mobile app began as a simple directory of content, tailored to the cultural context and organizational needs of Tearfund in Ethiopia (who have great expertise with the program model). But we built for scale and our app is becoming a multi-lingual, content-rich digital platform capable of meeting the needs of a much wider partner ecosystem.

There are hundreds of millions of people around the world who participate in savings groups and self-help groups. And there are scores of organizations who devote time and money to founding and supporting these groups because of the transformational impact such groups have demonstrated in vulnerable communities.

There is a diverse and fast growing ecosystem of technologies being built for these groups, often focused on digital bookkeeping, mobile money transfers or enabling monitoring and evaluation protocols to provide transparency into group health and function.

We’re focused on providing a content-rich, field-tested volume of curricula specifically crafted for facilitators to use during group meetings, along with curricula that helps facilitators to develop their skills outside of the meeting context.

The organizations that joined us in Nairobi included large international organizations that are already household names, to smaller national NGOs that may be focused on spreading just a few hundred groups per year. A few donors, technologists and government organizations rounded out the field.

Nathaniel Calhoun leading a discussion on development priorities for the next version of the app

Different NGOs have different thematic priorities like improving conditions around water and sanitation, for example, or improving maternal and neonatal child health. They also run different varieties of group, for different durations and with different norms and expectations around interest and “pay-outs” or “graduation.” On top of that diversity, organizations operate in a variety of linguistic and cultural contexts.

When we received funding late last year, we made it clear that we’d need to gather together our potential partners in order to take direction from their needs and perspectives. That’s what this workshop was all about: bringing organizations together to look for areas of consensus that can determine where we invest and develop.

In advance of the workshop, there was trepidation among organizers and participants. After all, in other contexts, these organizations can emphasize their differences and their special ways of modifying the basic programmatic nugget: people saving small amounts of money together each week for their mutual benefit.

Although 90% of the people in the room focus many of their working hours on promoting and supporting self help or savings groups, when we asked people to raise their hands if they knew five or more people in the room, only a handful could do so.

We thought it would be helpful for these different organizations to learn about one another's (sometimes competing) priorities for (at least) two reasons: first, it will help our user community to understand that our development priorities are not set at random and that things which might not be immediately helpful within one organization’s context might be critical to another; second, we hoped to see priorities converge.

Our sessions focused on a few key areas:

* The front-end of the application—what you can see if you download the app from the play store (link)—which is what our facilitators and group members see;

* The back-end of the application—what you see if you have a password-protected coordinator login. Dashboards and panels that give you an indication of how your groups are functioning and what sort of data has been gathered from them.

* Different methods for monitoring and evaluating the groups, whether to validate the program model in general by surfacing increased resilience and prosperity, or whether to track aspects of the impact of our involving technologies in particular.

* What sort of thematic content is most urgent for these groups? What is most live-saving? What brings the greatest prosperity and health?

We assigned seating so that people from the same organizations and countries were rarely together and relied heavily upon table discussions to fill out worksheets that would then be presented to the larger group. We’re still chewing through roughly 150 pages of concrete and quality suggestions and perspective from the event.

And one of our favorite event innovations was to leave the last two and half hours relatively free on the second day, a Friday. We asked each organization to sit with one of our team members for 15 minutes at a pre-agreed time and provided a table of 15 minute time slots—all the rest of which were open. We encouraged participants, throughout the event, to make meetings with one another and to use those two and half hours to connect with one another.

But this was a Friday afternoon after the formal closing session of the event; so there was, understandably, some worry that people might pull a vanishing act. Instead, organizations sat together in all sorts of combinations even past the time we’d allotted for the meetings.

Having been at a ton of conferences that generate momentum and then end with some calls to collaborate afterwards, it felt great to move the “end” forward by a few hours and actually give that collaboration a chance to develop.

We’re grateful to all those who attended and to the Foundation support that it made it possible for us to hose this event. Stay tuned to hear what development priorities float to the top and which organizations join us soonest to continue improving upon this powerful open source tool for development.

Diverse partners implementing self help and savings groups came together to inform our app development process

PRESS RELEASE: Self Help Group Platform to be Further Developed as a Digital Financial Resource for the Poor

Self Help Group app in food insecure regions of Tanzania (www.codeinnovation.com) 11 November, 2016 – Code Innovation is pleased to announce that it has received a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to further develop our Self Help Group digital platform. The grant will help to improve the free and open source Self Help Group mobile application while increasing its accessibility and partner ecosystem, with an initial focus in reaching women and girls in South Asia and Africa.

“Self Help Groups have a unique ability to teach business and financial literacy and to seed new ventures while reducing risk to the individual,” says Nathaniel Calhoun, Director of Strategy at Code Innovation. “In the process of improving the platform, we anticipate growing our global coalition of participating organizations from the NGO community, the donor community and also from relevant private and financial sector entities. We aim to build momentum behind this coalition of beneficiaries and benefactors who see value in lowering the barriers to scaling and spreading the Self Help Group model to reach more women and girls. We look forward to developing this into a key platform for the low-risk, scalable and cost-effective delivery of digital and financial services to populations that have not previously benefited from financial services or digital technologies.”

Over the course of the 18-month grant, improvements will focus on building out tools that support Self Help Group processes, as well as incorporating additional thematic content around financial inclusion, women’s and girls’ empowerment, family planning, HIV and other risk reduction behaviors, maternal, newborn and child health, agricultural practices and other areas based on users’ expressed needs. Development priorities will be informed by the Principles for Digital Development and determined by our growing coalition of global partners who are seeding and supporting Self Help and similar groups in an effort to help vulnerable populations lift themselves out of poverty.

The platform, originally built as a simple content app for guiding Self Help Group facilitators through the process of forming new groups, has evolved to support wider facilitation needs. The Self Help Group app is currently reaching over one thousand English, Kiswahili and Amharic-speaking users, and new language versions will be added so that a wider range of communities can access and use the tool.

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To download the app on Android devices, visit: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.self_help_group_code_innovation_one_hen&hl=en

For more updates on the Self Help Group digital platform, visit http://codeinnovation.com/blog/.

About Code Innovation: Code Innovation digitizes and scales programs that help vulnerable populations. We create educational materials and social innovations that strengthen communities and enable them to lift themselves out of poverty. We’ve had projects in more than a dozen countries and specialize in challenging, low-resource environments.

For more information, please contact: Elie Calhoun, Director of Operations, Code Innovation, Tel. +64-27-460-8994, email: elie@codeinnovation.com

Our Rape Crisis Counseling App is 100% Funded!

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Crowdfunding our Rape Crisis Counseling app for survivors of gender-based violence to receive emergency medical care (www.codeinnovation.com)

Code is happy to announce that our Rape Crisis Counseling app project is now 100% funded, thanks to support from the Imago Dei Fund after our crowdfunding campaign ended.

During the campaign, we saw support come from many sides and perspectives. We heard from colleagues that news had spread about the project from West Africa to Geneva, from the Philippines to Washington DC.

Rape Crisis Counseling App Social Media Update - Gloria Steinem posts about our project on Twitter (www.codeinnovation.com)One highlight of the campaign? When we received a Monday morning email from the "Office of Gloria Steinem," sharing that she would post a project endorsement on Twitter. This email was one of the most exciting that we received.

We're very proud to have the support of the important advocacy and research organization Report the Abuse, AWID and, since the campaign ended, we have also been joined by a national US sorority and several more women's rights and anti-violence organizations in sub-Saharan Africa.

Rape Crisis Counseling App Social Media Update - Gloria Steinem posts about our project on Twitter (www.codeinnovation.com)

Code created an extensive African-language mobile app, "About Ebola," with Snapp.cc, and we welcome partners who would like to see the basic content of the Rape Crisis Counseling app in their own languages.

Interested in joining us? Get in touch with me (elie@codeinnovation.com) to introduce yourself.

We are looking for women's rights organizations, anti-violence organizations and communities who would like to use our Rape Crisis Counseling app curriculum for training their own volunteers in crisis centers and health programs.

Also, we are designing the resource to provide in-hand support to rape survivors and their advocates, to help them navigate through the health system.

Next Step: Mobile Curriculum

Right now, the Code Innovation team is hard at work on a first version of our mobile app's content and curriculum. This is a big process, and we're taking our time to get primary training materials from partners including the Pittsburgh Action against Rape coalition, the Washington DC Rape Crisis Center and the Victim Assistance Training from the US Department of Justice.

Sign-up HERE for Updates on our progress!

Thank you for supporting the Rape Crisis Counseling app and spreading the word.

 

 

PRESS RELEASE: Global Partnership is Crowdfunding to Create Digital Resource for Volunteer Rape Crisis Counselors

Indonesia, 22 February 2016 –  Code Innovation is leading a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to create a Rape Crisis Counseling mobile app to support rape survivors and their advocates as they access medical care anywhere in the world. “One in five women will be raped in her lifetime,” says Elie Calhoun, Director at Code Innovation. “Where rape crisis centers and their volunteer counselors exist, they provide a vital resource to survivors and their communities. But rape crisis counseling isn’t a luxury – it should be available to everyone who needs it, regardless of where they live. And anyone who wants to become a volunteer rape crisis counselor should be able to access the basic training they need to support survivors as they access critical health services.”

“DCRCC is pleased to be collaborating on this important global initiative,” says the DC Rape Crisis Center, the oldest rape crisis center in the U.S. “It is important that the International Community come together to not only address gender based-violence, but create resources and tools to enable self –determination and freedom for all. This mobile app does just that, it is a game changer for being able to educate and access resources for sexual assault survivors in a timely manner.”

The Rape Crisis Counseling app will digitize information and training for volunteer rape crisis counselors, who accompany and advocate for sexual assault survivors in emergency rooms as they access crucial medical services to prevent pregnancy, HIV and STIs. The app will also serve as an in-hand resource for family, friends or colleagues who accompany a rape survivor to the health center, and for survivors accessing medical care alone, to help navigate the medical system and to get the care they need to begin the journey to healing.

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To support the campaign, visit: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/rape-crisis-counseling-app/x/3176191#/story

For updates, visit http://codeinnovation.com/blog/.

About the DC Rape Crisis Center

Since 1972, the DC Rape Crisis Center has been making a significant contribution to the health, economic, social and cultural well-being of society. Dedicated to creating a world free of sexual violence through conscience and action, DCRCC’s call to action obliges us to build the capacity to respond to survivors of sexual assault with compassion, dignity and respect, regardless of race, class, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, immigration status, ability, age or religious affiliation.

About Code Innovation

Code Innovation digitizes and scales programs that help vulnerable populations. We create educational materials and social innovations that strengthen communities and enable them to lift themselves out of poverty. We've had projects in more than a dozen countries and specialize in challenging, low-resource environments.

For more information, please contact:

Elie Calhoun, Code Innovation, Tel. +62-812-3802-3425, email: elie@codeinnovation.com

Scaling Up our DIY Self-Help Group App with Partners in East Africa

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Community-savings-and-credit-group-rural-Tanzania-East-Africa-open-source-mobile-app-code-innovation In early 2015, Code Innovation and our partners at One Hen Inc. visited the implementing partners for our Self-Help Group app in Ethiopia and Tanzania. After a successful pilot in 2014, our plan was to scale up the use of the app by 1000% focusing on new users in food insecure areas of both countries.

We met with partners at Tearfund Ethiopia and with Tearfund Tanzania's local NGO implementers, the Christian Council of Tanzania (CCT) to decide on a viable plan for multiplying our impact and rolling out a new-and-improved iteration with content that we estimated would last for about six months worth of weekly Selp-Help Group meetings. According to our previous coordinator, during our 2014 pilot in Ethiopia this was about the time it took for new groups to raise enough capital and develop enough business acumen and group momentum to begin to give their first loans.

This is a write-up of how Phase 2 of the project went, in terms of fidelity to our plan and also around ICT4D best practices and lessons learned. Wherever possible, we'll tie what we're doing and learning into the Digital Principles because we're proud to be one of the endorsing organizations contributing to this emerging field of practice.

 

An Overview of our DIY Self-Help Group App

(If you're already familiar with our project, feel free to skip this section. You can also read more background here and here.)

For those of you new to the project, in 2013 we began working with the US non-profit One Hen Inc. to digitize and scale Tearfund Ethiopia's successful Self-Help Group model of savings and credit groups, themselves adapted from the model pioneered by Myrada in India. The groups have shown a cost-benefit ratio of approximately 1:100* with long-term and far-reaching social and economic impacts on members and their communities, lifting people out of poverty over time with very little outside support.

Working closely with Tearfund Ethopia, we adapted their Self-Help Group modular curriculum to a mobile interface on a free and open source Android app you can download from the Google Play store here -- although it's very much still in Beta for now. Over a 12-week pilot, we found that the facilitators thought the app was a useful professional tool and facilitation guide and that they'd already begun using it to start new Self-Help Groups not officially involved in our pilot.

 

Our Plan for Phase 2, a.k.a. How to Scale 1,000% in Six Months

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Based on the positive feedback we got from Self-Help Group facilitators, we sought to expand our reach in Ethiopia and begin working in a new country, Tanzania, with the same organizational partners. With DfID funding, we were able to focus on food insecure regions facing hunger because of the failure of the previous year's rains. Due to a poor harvest because of the drought, families and communities in these regions were considered particularly at risk for hazards related to food insecurity. Our partners selected the Humbo and Angacha regions in Ethiopia and Kongwa in the Dodoma region of Tanzania to scale-up our pilot with 25 new Savings and Credit Groups to be created in each country over six months of field implementation.

Because we were working in two districts in Ethiopia, and also to see if closer supervisory support would yield better weekly reporting data, we tried a new approach to coordination, appointing one District Coordinator for each area, supervised by a single Project Coordinator based in Addis Ababa. In addition to regular check-ins by email and phone, the Coordinator visited every other month in person to ensure the District Coordinators were feeling supported with the technology and the savings and credit group formation process.

In Ethiopia, we worked with experienced Self-Help Group facilitators working in new parts of the country starting groups of primarily young people out of school and over age 18. The focus on youth created some challenges because there was an assumption that young people did not have any source of income, although Tearfund's program model specifically addresses this assumption with a reframe of available local resources and close-to-home economic activities. Nonetheless, we did see below average group retention rates in Ethiopia because the SHG system itself was not established in the communities we selected and was, instead, fairly unknown. Accordingly, parents and youth members were quick to get discouraged and to discourage others from attending the groups. In the Nazaret region, where we first piloted, SHGs had been established for over a decade and belonging was considered to be admirable and beneficial, so this was our first time as a partnership facing a situation where people did not show up with motivation because of a favorable context. Also, in some cases youth decided to enroll in school or move to urban areas to look for work during the pilot program period, so SHG membership was more variable than is usual for Tearfund Ethiopia programs.

In Tanzania, our partners at CCT decided to work with entirely new and inexperienced facilitators in regions where Pamoja groups ("Pamoja" means "together" in Kiswahili and is CCT's name for our Savings and Credit Groups) had not yet been established. This created a number of early challenges that were evaluated to be worth the extra effort because of the acute community need for this kind of support system, given the hazards and risks members were facing around food insecurity and with the drought. It meant that our Coordinator spent half of his time directly working with and training facilitators on the mobile technology, app functionality and reporting protocols, but also that the gains that we saw over time there showed that the program can work in a new and extremely challenging use case.

Because we're still early in the app development and digitization process, we continued our system of weekly feedback from facilitators to get specific inputs on areas of the curriculum that worked well and that need expansion. This system continued to give us the real-time, actionable data that we need to make strong iterations between phases, and we anticipate continuing it in the future until we move out of Phase 2 (testing with new countries, partners and in new world regions). Phase 3 will happen when the app can be used by a new, inexperienced facilitator to successfully learn facilitation skills, recruit and start a group, and save and lend while building group ties over time. We have a ways to go, but we'll get there!

 

What Went Well in our Rapid Scale-Up

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We are happy to report that a number of key areas went extremely well. We're going to summarize them here, but do get in touch (info@codeinnovation.com) if you'd like to hear more details as we're keen to share what we know with our ICT4D community.

  • App Functionality and Usability: The app did not require repeated training for new facilitators to use, especially around the key curricular areas of meeting content.
  • Expanded Content around Case Studies, Games and Stories: We hoped to include content in the app that would take group members well into six months of weekly meetings, and we succeeded in doing that with our expanded curriculum around social business skills development, conflict resolution and disaster risk management/disaster risk reduction. Facilitators and group members enjoyed the illustrative content in particular, and over the course of Phase 2 we've collected a wealth of additional content to help us build out the curriculum further.
  • Facilitator Training: Our new module created a step-by-step training guide for new facilitators to learn basic skills, recruit group members and develop self-organized learning for their own professional development. We heard from facilitators throughout field implementation that it was an appreciated part of the content.
  • Facilitator Preparation: Before each module throughout the content, we expanded the information needed to prepare facilitators for their weekly meeting. We heard that this was an extensively used part of the app this time around and were requested to continue building it out as a resource for planning meetings.
  • Hardware: We selected locally-purchased Tecno tablets available for about $200 in Ethiopia per device and about $100 in Tanzania per device. The higher cost in Ethiopia is due to national taxes on ICT, as the tablets themselves were almost identical. Every device continues to function without damage at the time of writing, a testament to the care with which our facilitators treated them and also to the durability and appropriateness of the tablets themselves in rural East Africa.
  • Reporting and Supportive Supervision: Weekly reporting kept facilitators, coordinators and us in close contact to problem-solve proactively and ensure that our content and UI/UX was meeting their needs in running groups and also in their own professional support and development. In Tanzania, reports were sent via facilitators' Gmail accounts and our users created a What's App group on their own initiative to share success stories, keep in touch and help each other resolve group, tablet or meeting challenges.
  • Secondary Benefits of Accessible Mobile Technology: In most cases, facilitators used their tablets for professional and personal development, including engagement with LinkedIn, online news and Facebook social networking. In many cases, facilitators began to pass around the tablet during meetings so that members took turns facilitating the key discussion points during group meetings. In a few cases, facilitators made their tablets available to community and group members to access the internet, creating strong secondary benefits in areas that did not previously have easy access to mobile technology.

What We Learned for Future Partnerships

There were some key areas for lessons learned as well, detailed in brief here. Again, please do get in touch (info@codeinnovation.com) if you're keen to hear more about these, as we'd love it if no one in ICT4D ever made these same mistakes again!

  • Solar Chargers: In all cases where hardware is provided, we will be advising partners to purchase locally sourced solar chargers to enable the tablets to be charged directly by the facilitators whenever needed. Relying on local charging stations is both time-consuming and expensive, and could in the future be a source of low motivation to use the app.
  • App Updates: Because access to mobile data is so slow and wifi is often completely unavailable, we needed a new system to update new app versions so that facilitators would be sure to be using the latest app version. We are using our Coordinator's laptop and installing APKs directly onto tablets during field visits in the future. But this is a function of our beneficiaries being in unusually remote areas underserved by electric infrastructure. If we were targeting robust growth in an urban area, this recommendation would likely not apply.
  • New Group Formation: We had anticipated that 25 groups would be fairly easy to form over six months in each country, but in fact we will only reach our target in late 2015/early 2016. In Ethiopia, working in a region where SHGs were not known by the community made their establishment slower than anticipated. In Tanzania, new facilitators were only ready to create new groups after their existing ones had been established for about three months, so relying on facilitators to create multiple groups should anticipate some phasing delays. At the moment in Tanzania, new group creation is on hold because members would not have the income needed to contribute to savings, since it is the very end of the dry season and family resources are very scarce. A few weeks after the short rains begin (in December or January, we hope), members will once again have the financial resources and be able to begin group savings.
  • UI/UX and Usability Testing: Secondary app functionalities were not as easy for new users to navigate as the curricular modules, namely our Community (or social media) section and our group login system. Based on usability testing directly with facilitators in Tanzania, we have a great list of priority fixes in this area.
  • Multimedia When Possible: Adding photos and illustrations, especially for case studies, will help to make the content more personal and come alive for members and facilitators. It was a repeated ask from our group interviews and something we're looking into while keeping in mind that we don't want the app (already around 10MB) to become too heavy to download in low-bandwidth areas.

 

What our Self-Help Group App Group Members Had to Say about the Project and our Process

During a recent field visit to CCT's Pamoja Groups in Kongwa, Dodoma region in Tanzania, we were able to interview nine groups in four village areas.

In our Self-Help Group model, each group member contributes weekly through buying two types of shares, social shares and savings shares. Each week, each member contributes one share to the social fund, for use by group members in emergencies. In addition, they can buy savings shares at a minimum and maximum set by the group.

In all Pamoja groups, the social fund is repaid without interest and had minimum 1 share @ 500 Tsh contribution per week, slightly less than $0.25 at the time of our visit.

In Mautya Village in Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, participants reported:

  • "We are facing hunger in our families and communities because we are primarily agricultural and because of the lack of rains last year and the failure of our crops."
  • "We are using the social fund to buy food."
  • "Group social ties give us strength to face the challenges of the drought together. We do not feel alone."

In Nguji Village in Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, participants reported:

  • “We are facing hunger in our families and communities because we are agricultural and because of the lack of rains and the failure of crops.
  • "We are using the social fund to buy food and pay school fees."
  • "Because of the group, we are not facing too much hunger at the end of the dry season and we feel supported by each other."
  • "Belonging to the group helped to improve my existing business and my profits have increased."

One-third of the participants in Nguji owned their own mobile phones and 80% had their own businesses.

In Machenje Village in Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, participants reported:

  • "There is no rain, and everyone here are farmers. Bad harvest means hunger. Lack of rain increases the price of food."
  • "If I don’t have money, I can take a loan to invest in a business and use the profit to pay back the loan and buy food for my family."
  • "Our economy is so much affected by the drought because we depend on agriculture and there is no rain or harvest. It is difficult."
  • "Because I now have a small business, I can buy food and eat with my family."
  • "If someone is sick, a loan [from the social fund] can take them to hospital and pay for their immediate needs."
  • "If a group member has any emergency, anything in life, we can support them."
  • "These groups are good. We encourage anyone to join. However, know that if you take a loan, it can be challenging to pay it back so that another person is able to take a new loan."
  • "The community originally thought that these groups were a trick, but now that they've seen our success and the capital we've raised, they themselves want to join."
  • "I had a business before, but I was inexperienced. Belonging to the group helped to improve my business skills and share with others. Now, I am helping my family to have a good life."
  • "Belonging to the group has really helped my family. With a loan, I have been able to expand my tomato selling business."
  • "This is a bad year because of the lack of rain, so buying shares every week is difficult, especially now that it is dry season. My savings come from collecting firewood in the bush and selling it in the village."

30% of the group members had businesses before joining and 46% do now. 58% own their own mobile phones.

In Laikala Village in Kongwa District, Dodoma Region, participants reported:

  • "Life is difficult. I joined this group to get out of poverty."
  • "In most cases, we struggle to pay for school fees and because of the group, we make sure that we pay for all the school expenses."
  • "Using the tablet has introduced me to new things and ideas, and it is good for me."
  • "The social fund is for problems or unexpected disasters."
  • "Our group made an IGA whose profit goes back into the social fund, because we depend on it so heavily now. The IGA involves buying sugar and rice wholesale and each members sells some and returns with the profit."
  • "People should join groups because they are sustainable. Members are there for each other and will continue to be there to help each other."
  • "This community depends on agriculture. Without rain there is no food. We have hunger and no money to buy commodities. We are all affected."
  • "Without a good harvest, there is no money and without money, you cannot buy anything. There is no water for gardening."
  • "Without food at home, after a poor harvest, loans help our families to eat."
  • "With the problem of the lack of rain, most people are bankrupt so others can’t help, but the group can help, especially with a small business."
  • "I didn't have a business, but then I took a loan and now I have a profitable small restaurant."

13% of the group members had businesses before joining and 52% do now. 55% own their own mobile phones.

Next Steps for our DIY Self-Help Group App

We are in discussion with CCT, Tearfund Tanzania and Tearfund Ethiopia to continue to scale up with their new and existing Pamoja and SHG facilitators in the coming months and into 2016. In addition, we have a new partnership with World Vision Tanzania working with their Volunteer Savings and Loan Associations with groups in the Babati regional cluster (of Tanzania). Stay tuned for more developments early in the new year, when we'll be releasing a new-and-improved iteration based on what we learned during this Phase 2.

Our own goal at Code is to scale the Self-Help Group App impact to 1 million direct beneficiaries within three years. Because of the economic and social need, we hope to concentrate mostly in sub-Saharan Africa but it will depend where we find implementing partners and funding. Of course, as we iterate closer to a stand-alone app with full functionalities, , our own inputs for consecutive iterations will become less necessary.

We hope to find partners in all parts of the world, but in Africa in particular, who are interested in using our Self-Help Group app to train and support facilitators starting their own groups in their own communities, helping to empower people to create social and economic support systems that reduce their vulnerability to stresses, shocks and poverty.

Want to partner with us on this or other projects? Get in touch (info@codeinnovation.com)!

* Cabot Venton, C et al (2013). “Partnerships for Change: a cost benefit analysis of Self Help Groups in Ethiopia.” Tearfund, Teddington, UK.

An Overview of Our Self-Help Group App Pilot

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Self-Help-Group-mobile-app-microcredit-microfinance-microsavings-codeinnovation.com This is the second article in our series about the Self-Help Group app project. In the first article, we explain a bit about the Self-Help Group as a model and explore "Why the Self-Help Group Program Model Is Ready for Mobile." If you'd like to receive our updates by email, subscribe here.

Appifying the Self-Help Group Model

In the summer of 2013, Code Innovation began speaking with development economist Courtenay Cabot-Venton about the exponential impact she had assessed in a Self-Help Group (SHG) project funded and implemented by Tearfund Ethiopia. As we talked about the potential of using mobile to adapt the approach and help take it to scale, Courtenay became Director of International Programs for the U.S.-based the financial literacy and microfinance educators at One Hen, Inc. We worked together with Tearfund Ethiopia to create a project plan for an early iteration of the app in Phase 1. The goal was to develop, test and iterate a Self-Help Group app that trains facilitators how to start and lead a strong and self-reliant SHG, because we see mobile as being the best way to take this innovative and impactful approach to scale.

Once we had secured funding and agreed on an implementation plan, the next steps were to begin the process of user-driven design with Tearfund's expert facilitators and program team. Through extensive Skype and email conversations, we began to understand the existing ecosystem that Tearfund, their partners and the SHG model work within. We also began gathering all of Tearfund Ethiopia's SHG content: everything from facilitator training materials and trust-building games to the sample passbooks each SHG members carries to keep track of her savings and loans. Tearfund already had a project model with a cost-benefit ratio of 1:100 that grew steadily at 20-30% per year -- it was up to us to build on what was already working and to adapt their approach for m-learning. Over months of collaboration, we developed a mobile curriculum that mirrored the basics of the SHG process with modular content for self-guided group development and a basic structure for each meeting.

We worked with a group of application developers and technology educators in an organization called eMobilis based in Nairobi, Kenya. Because the app would be tested in East Africa, we chose capable developers from the region who were able to input around user interface and user experience (UI/UX) with confidence because they had a clear understanding of our target market and user base.

We believe that the open source standard is a game-changer for international development and humanitarian aid, and should be mandatory in all innovations and ICT4D projects, so the Self-Help Group app is built on an open source platform and released under a GNU General Public License. We are publishing our open source code on GitHub in a couple of months. We also made our content material free and open under the Creative Commons. Some of our partners were not familiar with the open standards of ICT4D, and we took the opportunity to share about the importance of the aid and development community building around the open source ethic. We found that communicating the value of open source helped to align our partners around a similar vision for the end-product of our collaboration: a free open source Self-Help Group app that trains facilitators to seed and lead the SHG process.

Phase 1 of the Self-Help Group App

You can find the Self-Help Group App free on the Google Play store here -- but please note that although this is the latest version, it is not intended for use by untrained or unsupported facilitators yet. If you are interested in using it and testing it out, please contact us at info@codeinnovation.com so we can advise you when we'll have a version that's ready for that use case.

Here are the core areas we created for Phase 1 of the SHG app:

Modules, Lessons and Steps: The basic content for the SHG process, from a group's first meeting to when they are ready to give their first loan, happens here. We divided our content into three Units that mirror basic group formation, from setting out structures for participatory decision-making to deciding on bylaws and what to do if a member taking out a loan is delinquent in paying it back.

Each SHG meeting has a series of steps. To make the basic structure of meetings easy to follow, we created a Meeting Checklist screen that helps facilitators to ensure that the group has covered everything for that week before the meeting adjourns. Although our facilitators were extremely experienced, they found the Meeting Checklist helpful to guide the SHG meetings, using it as a memory aide when they needed it.

By the way, we're changing the language of the content sections to Units, Modules and Steps in Phase 2 in order to move away from overly school-based curricular language. We wanted to ensure that the facilitators don't feel the need to lead or "teach" the content, but rather to participate collaboratively without hierarchy in the process; this was just one of many ways we sought to do that.

Facilitator Preparation: Becoming a skilled facilitator is not something you can learn from reading material in an app; it takes attention, focus and lots of practice. All the same, we seek to create a strong training for facilitators who want to create and catalyze their own SHGs. In Phase 1, this material was very basic and in some places, non-existent, as we were focused on getting the basic content of SHGs covered and not yet on facilitator support.

Supplementary Materials: We wanted to be sure that the SHG app didn't replace or substitute for any of the paper-based bookkeeping and accounting practices of the SHGs. To ensure that they were maintaining a paper-based analog system for their savings and loans, we uploaded versions of forms and tables that they might find helpful in their bookkeeping process. There can be a temptation to use technology for everything that it is capable of; but if we had encouraged groups to share their sensitive financial data with the app, we would be decreasing the transparency of their current process, decreasing the number of people in the group who gain financial literacy through practice and exposing it to risk (via lost or malfunctioning hardware) and potentially exposing their data to theft as well.

Community: This is the social section of the app, the place where groups can add some text about who they are and upload a photo to share with other SHGs. This section also included a section for the SHGs to record audio and video stories.

Resources: This includes training material, a list of good games to use during SHG meetings, a loan calculator and a list of the financial forms and templates references within the app content as "Supplementary Material."

We designed the app with a simple UI/UX because our primary users are not smart phone literate and we knew that the majority of them would be using smart phones for the first time. Tearfund Ethiopia provided the smart phones, Vodafone Smart II’s that had been donated by Vodafone. We built the content so that no data connection was required, and because the app wasn't on the Google Play store yet, facilitators had to learn how to use a free APK Installer to manage their versions. Luckily, because our facilitator cohort was so small, this did not prove the technical hurdle that it could have been.

Field testing of the app's content within SHG groups lasted 12 weeks, or three months, with three experienced facilitators (two women and one man) each leading two groups of 15-20 young people, some in-school and some out-of-school. A project coordinator, hired and supervised by Tearfund, trained and supported the facilitators and served as an intermediary between Code Innovation's team and the implementers on the ground. The coordinator sent weekly written feedback reports to the group that the Code team would follow-up on via email. Weekly, each facilitator filled out an Amharic feedback forms for each group she facilitated. These were then translated by an external translator with no connection to the project, to minimize the potential of editorializing our primary source data. At the end of the pilot, we collected information from the youth in the SHG groups personally, finding out what they enjoyed and what they didn't about using a smart phone in the SHG process.

The feedback schedule was heavy during Phase 1 because we did not have an ICT4D specialist on the ground to input on how things were working and where we were failing. We needed regular feedback to be as detailed and real-time as possible, so that we could make decisions on project implementation to fix any issues in-process and before they became distracting to the process.

After the pilot, we debriefed the facilitators screen by screen, ensuring that our Amharic translations were up to scratch and also that the flow and content of the UI/UX mirrored the expertise of how facilitators preferred to lead the formation and growth of an SHG. We were most surprised by the overwhelmingly positive feedback from our facilitators. Aside from some content adjustments, Amharic translation issues and technical issues here and there, they were happy with what we had created and considered it a useful, valuable tool in their work.

What We Learned from our Self-Help Group Pilot in Phase 1

Overall, the Phase 1 of testing the SHG app was a success, in that the app worked reasonably well at doing what we wanted it to do, namely to help facilitators move through the process of forming a new SHG. However, we also had numerous failures that we've learned from that are strengthening the next iteration in Phase 2.

Here is a snapshot of the biggest lessons learned. We're happy to share in more detail about any of them -- just email elie@codeinnovation.com.

ICT4D Lessons Learned

These are the lessons learned that pertain directly to ICT4D's Principles of Digital Development and that we think might be most relevant to the ICT4D community.

Group learning with a one-to-many approach: At Code, we like to up-end the industrial assumption that technology should be one-to-one, especially in low-resource environments. If even one person in a community has a smart phone, it can be used as a powerful tool for change. The SHG app leveraged this same model, relying on a facilitator with access to a smart phone or tablet, as a way to impact the entire group or groups with information and guidance on how to establish and strengthen an SHG.

Facilitators determine when to use the app in SHG meetings. Our Project Coordinator was right to encourage the facilitators to use the app as they saw fit and to decide for themselves whether to use it actively in a meeting. The experienced facilitators working with us on the pilot rarely needed the detailed content prompts, but did use them as a tool to prepare for meetings and to check in and make sure they'd covered everything. This was a good move, as it avoided the technology taking center stage and distracting the group from the content and purpose, namely the creation of strong SHGs. As we start using the app with less experienced facilitators we’ll keep a close eye on how it alters the normal dynamic of meetings.

Translations done as locally as possible: It was challenging to work in Amharic for Phase 1 and our developers in Kenya hired Amharic translators whose language didn't meet the criteria of our partners at Tearfund Ethiopia. Because of this, we spent a lot of time and energy tracking and fixing text line by line that would've been better focused on quality activities like improving UI/UX and content. Next time around, we will source our translations with the input of our implementing partners.

Amharic script on Android phones: In our Community sections, where we expected the groups to create a brief introductory profile, we hadn't thought to enable the smart phone keyboards for Amharic typing. This was an oversight, but because we didn't discover the issue until the debrief session after the pilot, we weren't able to fix it during field testing. Where different scripts and alphabets are involved, we cannot assume that an appropriate keyboard will be integrated automatically.

Poor speaker quality for audio materials: Several times within the content of the app, we relied on audio case studies that the groups would listen to. However, speaker quality on the donated Android phones wasn't good enough for the groups to understand what was being said. In Phase 2, we are supplementing audio case studies with written transcripts and our partners are eager to improve the quality of the locally-purchased hardware to include better speaker quality.

Social: Our social sections were embedded within the content of the app in Phase 1, but didn't take into adequate account the privacy and security issues of our users. This is an area we'll build out and test more in Phase 2. One Hen in particular seeks future features where youth SHGs share their stories, challenges and best practices with each other, so this is something we're building slowly with each phase. We noticed, also, that it’s difficult to anticipate when a social (outward facing) activity will seem appropriate within the normally internal and private process of a group. Our efforts to guess at the right moments were not successful; so we are moving the social content out of the core curriculum and into its own area. In this way, groups that identify an eagerness to try out a social function can navigate to the appropriate section and find structure for their experience when they are ready.

Internet connectivity: We meant to build the app so that it did not require any data or connectivity to operate, but users who navigate to certain social sections found their phones trying to connect—or worse, using data. Version two will include tight controls around the phone’s appetite for data so that no user costs are incurred in its routine use. Because facilitators will have periodic access to free wifi to send their data and download new versions as we scale in Phase 2, the latest version of the SHG App will be available on the Google Play store for our facilitators to automatically download, so they don't have to learn how to manually install APKs.

Self-Help Group Content Lessons Learned

This section explores the content of the app as it follows the standard SHG process. It includes how well we were able to adapt the analog process into a digital experience, and places that we're already building out for Phase 2.

Time before first loan: After our document discovery process, we were able to draft basic materials that help a facilitator establish an SHG. Over the 12 weeks of our pilot project, we were able to test the entirety of this content, but in reality a group takes much longer to establish. Group members need time to develop and explore business ideas and to save enough capital to be ready to give their first loans. In reality, the app needs to stretch to about a year of content, although there will be a range in how fast or slow some facilitators might like to explore the content modules. This means that our field testing is going to run longer in Phase 2, for a minimum of six months, and we'll be getting weekly feedback on the filler content we develop and how it works in the field.

Cash box vs. banking vs. mobile money: Most groups in rural areas use a cash box to hold their savings and develop a consensus-based protocol to establish trust and transparency around who holds the money and how they secure it. In urban and semi-urban areas where banks are available, groups are encouraged to start their own bank account. In the future, we see SHGs electing to use mobile money as a way to hold and manage their group savings. This was content detail we didn't focus on in Phase 1, but that will be increasingly relevant as we scale and move to two-country implementation in Phase 2.

How to show impact for in-school SHGs? We realized in our pilot debrief that parents of in-school SHGs are very eager that the groups not encourage small business loans to individual members because they want their children to have extra incentive to stay in school. Because the standard metric of success for SHGs, on a group and a community level, are the small businesses that are created by its members, we are focusing on finding new ways to measure impact and success for these young people, including group income-generating activities (IGAs) that could raise the capital holdings of the group without creating distractions from school and also ways of encouraging in-school youth to support their own further education and training.

Implementation Lessons Learned

These are things we learned about how to be more effective and efficient in our working process. It's great when ICT4D projects can test and iterate quickly, and we saw areas to improve around these specific points.

Coordinator buy in to ICT4D: We realized midway through the process that our Project Coordinator was not supportive of the ICT4D process and did not think that technology should be used in resource-poor contexts because it created needless attention towards disparities. This meant that we were often having philosophical discussions about the value of our pilot and the SHG app with the person we were looking to coordinate the implementation of testing the app in the field. A project coordinator position is regularly difficult to hire for as it requires cross-cutting ICT4D and content-specific skills, and to make things a layer more political, it is usually done by the partner organization so we do not have direct supervisory control over the person who plays the largest role in determining the quality of the process. Perhaps we will write more about this in a separate article in the future, as our lessons learned about how to hire for ICDT4 projects with partners may be useful to the wider community.

Facilitator feedback: We asked for detailed feedback from facilitators after each of their two weekly SHG meetings. Despite training them on the need for and importance of high-quality detailed feedback, it was difficult to get answers from them about specific areas where they relied on their own expertise to fill in the gaps that the app didn't cover. It was also difficult to avoid duplication of their reports across both meetings; in most cases, the content was almost entirely identical. Facilitators only spoke Amharic so conversations around quality feedback had to be mediated by our Project Coordinator, who was not entirely bought in to the process. All the same, we received enough quality feedback to make important changes for our Phase 2 iteration.

We hope that this in-depth look at Phase 1 of our SHG app project is useful to ICT4D practitioners and to those working on similar m-learning projects. We are currently in process with Phase 2, scaling 1,000% in Ethiopia and Tanzania over 2015 . We'll be posting updates here and continuing to document our work for the community.

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Thanks for reading! For more information about our work with mobile education, ICT4D and the Self-Help Group app, email info@codeinnovation.com. You can subscribe to future updates from Code Innovation here.

Why the Self-Help Group Model is Ready for Mobile

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self-help-group-app-version-1-ethiopia-code-innovation In June 2013, Code Innovation began working with partners at One Hen Inc. and Tearfund Ethiopia to "appify" Tearfund's Self-Help Group approach. To document Phase 1 of our project and share what we've learned with the ICT4D community, we're writing a two-part series about the Phase 1 of the project. We’re just beginning Phase 2, so there will be updates about this project phase through 2015.

A Brief Background on the Self-Help Group Approach

Since 2002, Tearfund Ethiopia[1] has been working on developing and scaling an innovative Self-Help Groups (SHG) approach to help lift people out of poverty. Unlike many aid and development projects that struggle to show impact, the SHGs have demonstrated a cost-benefit ratio of 1:100 and an organic growth rate of 20-30% per year.[2] When we first learned about the project and saw these numbers, we knew that Tearfund's SHG model was special.

Tearfund adapted its SHG model from an SHG program run by an Indian organization called Myrada. After a few program visits to India to see how things worked, Tearfund Ethiopia's leadership began to implement the approach locally. In the 13 years since, Tearfund has supported local leaders in establishing and operating more than 12,000 SHGs around Ethiopia that have impacted more than one million people.

When we started to look more closely at how the SHGs effectively create long-term, holistic benefits, we learned that the impact of this approach lies in a participatory group model that is based on relationships. Facilitators help to catalyze the groups and guide the progress of their weekly meetings, but they are not leaders and do not exercise authority over group members. Instead, they lead members through a self-organized learning process that empowers members to take charge of their own development process.

How is the Self-Help Group Approach Different from Microfinance?

The original approach to microfinance, pioneered in the late 1970's by Muhammad Yunus at the Grameen Bank, relies on external capital to set up small business loans for groups of people who have little of what banks traditionally consider assets. The model relies on banking institutions to see the poor as potential customers and to create saving and loan products specifically for their context and needs.

Yunus’ model has enjoyed widespread adoption in the decades since he first developed it. In 2006, Yunus and the Grammen Bank received the Nobel Peace Prize and microfinance is now a pillar of banking services around the world. However, the microfinance model's centralized approach means that communities eager for microfinance must wait for a bank to reach out to them with appropriate products and services. Self-starting in this model is not an option.

SHGs are a similar to traditional microfinance groups in that they include approximately 15 to 20 people living in the same geographical community and with roughly the same economic status. However, their difference lies in the fact that SHGs target the poorest of the poor, many of whom don’t qualify for microfinance. Although both models are created by affinity, SHG members self-organize around a predominantly decentralized approach and do not need external institutions to begin their microsaving process. Together, SHG members establish their group’s bylaws, which are the operating principles that will guide the group as it begins to save and then loans its slowly-growing microcapital to members. The bylaws change and evolve with the needs and values of the particular SHG, forming an important structure for participatory processes of group decision-making.

In the SHG approach, groups slowly save enough for their first loan, collecting savings during weekly meetings and talking through agenda items that the group members identify themselves. Once members have discussed and agreed on the basics of group formation, saving and loans, the facilitator may lead the group through collaborative discussions around other topics of mutual interest to members, including issues like maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS and group members' vulnerability to hazards and disasters. Discussions are interspersed with activities and games that encourage the group members to brainstorm risk reduction, problem solve, and build trust in each other and themselves.

In addition to their savings pool, SHGs often set aside money for a social fund that they use as a form of emergency assistance for themselves and members in their communities. If an unexpected tragedy occurs, the social fund is disbursed to offer unconditional assistance to the person or family in need, helping to build the capacity of the community to meet the challenges they face. The social fund can also be used for community development projects that the SHG decides to undertake for the good of their community. Microfinance groups often have a social fund as well, but SHGs regularly act as powerful and self-reliant local development actors within their own communities.

Each SHG sets their own interest rate on loans, which is often a small fraction of the interest rates charged by local moneylenders in Ethiopia, estimated at around 60% in some communities. Like their bylaws, SHGs can also change their interest rates when they feel it's time. This allows them to be flexible and make loans that are well-aligned with the group and members’ interests, circumstances, and local context. Microfinance banks are usually not so flexible.

Another thing we find exemplary about SHGs is their capacity to self-organize into Cluster-Level Associations (CLAs) once there are eight or more mature SHGs in one community or area. CLAs include two members from each SHG who serve for two-year terms -- although the specifics of these logistics are self-determined by each CLA and, therefore, can vary. CLAs allow SHGs to democratically respond to and support each other through trainings, problem solving discussions, and conversations, with weaker groups benefiting from the experience and expertise of stronger groups. The CLAs’ functions reinforce the democratic processes in place at the SHG level. What's more, CLAs often seed new groups, so the SHG process effectively self-replicates without outside program support or assistance.

Once SHGs are so established that a network of CLAs exists, members form a Federation-Level Association (FLA) to host a general assembly of CLA representatives and guide other participatory decision-making processes with the aim to strengthen and support SHGs at scale. None of this would work if the groups themselves weren't making a substantial and lasting impact on the lives of their members. The SHGs' ability to self-organize into participatory, democratic FLA structures that advocate and advance their interests speaks to the powerful mechanisms at play within these groups. Some of these FLAs have even taken the steps to gain government recognition as formal associations and now use this status to further advocate for the needs of their members.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that some recent studies of micro-finance initiatives have concluded that, on their own, these initiatives are not sufficient to combat poverty. It’s our belief that the SHG model holds the promise of greater impact than any of the finance experiments so far undertaken by vulnerable or marginalized communities.

How Self-Help Groups Work to Benefit their Members and their Communities

The main purpose of SHGs is to empower impoverished community members to come together to lift themselves out of poverty. In addition to the microsavings element, relationships are key. Over the course of many meetings, the group members form strong bonds and become like family to each other. In addition to supporting one another through loans and micro-entrepreneurship, members also support one other in times of challenges and encourage each other in times of opportunity. Through group discussions and collaborative activities, members also learn about small business skills including market research, production, sales, bookkeeping, and so forth. By becoming successful micro-entrepreneurs, the members -- who are predominantly women -- lift themselves out of poverty while benefiting their communities. Women make up the majority of SHG members and their financial success has wide-reaching impacts on gender norms and roles, including women's participation in family and community decision-making.

Tearfund Ethiopia has also found that as they continue to meet, SHG members learn to speak up and more freely express their opinions and needs. As such, SHGs are often found to be an effective empowerment strategy for women and girls who otherwise would not be encouraged to express their thoughts and opinions or participate in powerful decisions that affect their opportunities and lives. SHGs have also been found to improve relationships between different religious communities because Muslims, Christians, and people of other faiths are routinely members of the same SHG.

The wealth created over time by members in their SHGs has a wide-reaching impact on their households and communities. Members also enjoy increased opportunities for leadership development and improved decision-making status and power within their households, as well as strong social and emotional bonds their SHG peers that create powerful incentives for mutual support and assistance.

Most SHGs members remain in their groups for over a decade and many express a life-long commitment to one another. There are regularly cases of SHG membership being inherited by family members when an SHG member dies, because belonging to an SHG is seen by the family and community as a highly-valued social and economic asset. Long-term relationships between group members also play a strong role in creating social resilience to shocks and disasters that may occur within the community. Even without shocks or disasters, strong SHG relationships encourage members to pursue their own empowerment and self-organized learning, helping them to become agents of change in their lives and communities.

Why We Decided to Take the Self-Help Group Approach Mobile

As mobile increasingly becomes the preferred technology platform and begins to connect hard-to-reach rural and poor communities, we are building mobile apps that extend the reach of proven high-impact aid and development programs.

The one factor limiting the rapid scale of SHGs is that, for their first few years, they require the weekly presence of a trained facilitator who understands the SHG process and the importance of collaborative, horizontal groups and a participatory self-organized group learning process. These facilitators require training, mentoring and supervision, as well as resources to adequately pay them and the NGO that supports them. Scaling in this way will take decades and huge sums of money.

Tearfund is scaling up its SHG approach in other countries, and we see mobile as a way to support this process and eventually to create SHGs that do not require direct contact with their organization. With mobile, SHGs can have the opportunity to scale globally and impact hundreds of millions of people. We hope to spread these resilient and transformative groups throughout the world and are hopeful that this will make a meaningful contribution to empowering women and their families’ lives.

Our next article will examine the SHG pilot that we ran with One Hen Inc. and Tearfund Ethiopia last year, looking at how we set up the project and what we learned.

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Thanks for reading! For more information about our work with mobile education, ICT4D and the Self-Help Group app, email info@codeinnovation.com. You can subscribe to future updates from Code Innovation here.

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[1] Tearfund actually works with a network of strong local partners who implement, support and scale the SHGs. However, to keep things simple, we’ve called the whole network “Tearfund” in our series.

[2] Cabot Venton, C et al (2013). "Partnerships for Change: a cost benefit analysis of Self Help Groups in Ethiopia." Tearfund, Teddington, UK