Independence Evaluation | September 2019

When we launched our savings program in Uganda, we hoped to be able to equip our groups to be completely independent of Seed Effect’s support after just one savings cycle (9-12 months). However, we had noticed that our second cycle groups were in need of more support than we had initially planned for, but we were unsure why. After two and a half years of operations, a lot of data, and many discussions with organizations running similar programs in other areas, we learned that independence is a common issue.

But rather than immediately shifting our expectations, this summer, Seed Effect supporters Stephen Reiff and Lexi Belote worked with Grace O’Hara, our Project Manager, to design and conduct an Independence Evaluation. The purpose was to evaluate how independent our second and third cycle groups are, exploring how much additional support they need from Seed Effect staff and why, and to answer the question: “How might Seed Effect equip our savings groups to operate independently from the oversight and support of a Seed Effect trainer?”

 “Our team’s goal was to highlight barriers to independence, so we hosted staff interviews and observed many member savings meetings in the field. We discovered two main opportunities for improvement: providing recordkeeping support and creating organizational alignment to incentivize and celebrate group independence.” – Lexi Belote

The evaluation suggested that only 24% of second cycle groups are independent as defined by “groups that are requesting many visits early on in their second cycle but no longer request many visits as the cycle goes on.” Here are the reasons we found that additional support was needed and/or expected:

  • Lack of literacy and record-keeping skills.
  • Qualified record keepers leaving the group to move to pursue job opportunities in more established towns.
  • Groups want Seed Effect staff to visit them regardless of their need.
  • Expectations were not made clear to staff/ members that independence is the goal.

Here’s what Grace said about the data collected,

“Upon speaking with Seed Effect Uganda Staff, we realized just how nuanced fostering sustainability by establishing complete independence is. Not only is record keeping difficult because of a lack of literacy and access to education, but we are also working with populations that are incredibly vulnerable and desire encouragement so as to not feel abandoned or neglected. In addition, Seed Effect is also helping to redefine the narrative around savings in this region. These variables appear to threaten independence, but the need, in actuality, is building structures to fulfill these holes, such as simplified record keeping, translation into local languages, increased training, and ensuring cross training within the groups. This inevitably increases the timeline in which true independence can be achieved.”

This invaluable information led us to temporarily delay launching new groups until we had addressed the issues uncovered in the evaluation even though the delay would mean that we would not reach our 2019 growth goal. Instead we focused on the efficacy of our program and the sustainability and resiliency of our members. To address these issues we:

  • Added an Assistant Record-keeper to each group’s leadership team.
  • Simplified the record keeping format.
  • Finalized the Bari, Madi, and Lugbara highlight document and Bible Study translations with plans to also complete Sudanese Arabic and a few other local languages.
  • Trained our staff to provide Chalmers Center’s ‘Plan for a Better Business’ training for second cycle groups.
  • Created a plan to better communicate a clear definition of independence and expectations with staff and members in upcoming trainings and group visits.
  • Finally, we’re in the process of creating intensive training manuals for Field Officers and Village Volunteers.

Lexi and Stephen have been an invaluable support as this study has played a critical role in helping us devise key improvements that we know will better serve our members as we continue to grow in 2020. We are so grateful for their time, effort, commitment, and sacrifice as we are now better positioned to grow more effectively.

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