You have questions. We have answers! Read on to learn more about Seed Effect and microfinance in the hard places.
How does savings-led microfinance work?
Seed Effect hosts community meetings to share about the program with local leaders and community members. Those people interested in the program form a group with 15-25 others in their community whom they trust.
Once the group is formed, a Seed Effect field officer meets with the group to train members on the savings program, including the importance of saving, the mechanics of collecting savings and disbursing loans, how to create and maintain accurate records, and how to reduce risk within their group. In addition, the field officer facilitates a discussion among group members so they can determine certain terms for their group (e.g. weekly saving amount, interest rate on loans, priority uses for loan and Social Fund money, etc.).
The group meets weekly to save money and contribute to the Social Fund. Each weekly meeting also includes a Bible study and opportunity for prayer with group members.
Once per month, the group meets to evaluate and disburse loans to group members. Group members may request up to 3x the amount of their current savings. The group evaluates the merit and risk of each loan request and determines the amount of any loan given. Loan repayments are made monthly at a group agreed interest rate and completely repaid after 3 months.
The first savings group cycle lasts nine to 12 months. At the end of the first cycle, the group will go through a Graduation Share Out where the saved money plus the loan interest is distributed to group members based on how much they saved.
After the first cycle, the group then has the option of continuing into a second cycle where they can start with zero savings or agree to contribute seed capital from their previous cycle to kick start the second cycle. At this point, group members have the experience and training to operate their group independently. However, the Seed Effect team will continue to monitor the group and provide support as needed. A study by the Gates Foundation suggests that 98% of savings groups continue to operate independently 18 months after graduating form their first cycle.
Who participates in Seed Effect's savings program?
We currently have office locations in Moyo and Adjumani, Uganda. Our primary focus is empowering South Sudanese refugees living in refugee settlements near these locations. We also leverage our refugee settlement locations to serve local Ugandans in need of empowerment in the areas surrounding our locations.
Where do refugees get money to save?
Refugees are incredibly resilient and resourceful! Research shows that 99% of refugees in Uganda have some independent strategy to support themselves beyond the emergency aid they receive.
There are a variety of income sources for refugees. In fact, researchers in Uganda have identified over 70 different livelihood strategies in the refugee camps. Since refugees have the right to work in Uganda, they often earn income from small businesses operating in the camp marketplaces or working for other small businesses or NGOs. In addition, refugees are provided land to cultivate in Uganda, so refugees can earn money through agriculture. Farming is the most common livelihood strategy for S. Sudanese refugees and it provides an average of $29 per month. Finally, refugees may also save money received through remittances from family members outside the camps.
Where is the money kept?
A safe place to save money is one of the greatest benefits for savings group members. All money from the group is saved in a metal lockbox with three padlocks. Lockboxes may only be opened at group meetings and require four people to access the money (three padlock key holders and a separate box keeper). Not only does this protect money from potential thieves, but it also provides a place for people to save outside the household, which is important since there are cultural norms that require people to give money at the request of others in their community if they have it available (e.g. to help pay for the wedding of a friend or family member).
How many members are in a group?
Groups range in size from 15 to 25 people.
How are the groups formed?
The Seed Effect team partners with local church and refugee camp leaders to share about Seed Effect’s savings group program. People that are interested then form their own groups with people they know and trust within the community. This provides an opportunity for refugees to begin rebuilding the community they lost when they fled civil war.
How long is the loan program?
The first cycle of the program lasts nine to 12 months. During this initial cycle, the group meets weekly and the Seed Effect team provides consistent training as the group builds the skills to operate independently once graduating from the program.
Research by the Gates Foundation suggests that as many 98% of savings groups continue saving together 18 months after graduating from their first cycle. After graduating from the first cycle, the Seed Effect team will continue to support groups as needed as they continue saving together.
In addition, since we are working with a refugee population, we have adapted our training to accelerate how quickly groups learn the skills required to operate savings groups. Given that over 80% of refugee crises with more than 5,000 refugees last 10 years or more, it is unlikely the South Sudanese will return home in the near future. However, it they do, we want to ensure they have the skills necessary to continue using our savings program tools as they rebuild their lives in South Sudan.
What do savings group members use loans for?
Members can use these loans in many different ways: to pay school fees, to buy medicine for their children, to purchase a solar panel and other necessities for their home, or invest in their business. In our pilot test, the average loan size was approximately $7.
What is the interest rate?
With the guidance of the Seed Effect team, savings groups are provided the flexibility and autonomy to set their own loan terms, including interest rates. In our pilot test, most groups selected a rate of 10% per month. All interest is paid into the group fund and distributed among group members at the end of the cycle.
Where does donated money go?
Donated funds are used to operate and support the savings group program in Uganda, including purchasing program materials (lockboxes, padlocks, training guides, etc.) and providing in-depth training and spiritual discipleship through our indigenous team. Donated funds also support our operations in the U.S., including strategic and technical program support and fundraising and administrative expenses. You can always see a summary of how funds are used in our online annual report or send us an email and we’ll provide you a copy of our most recent financial reports.
How is the Gospel incorporated?
Our savings groups provide a platform to build relationships so that we can share the gospel and disciple believers. The gospel is proclaimed and demonstrated to every savings group member through our indigenous team and reinforced through a weekly Bible study incorporated into each savings group meeting.
Does everyone save the same amount?
Each savings group is given the opportunity to determine the amount they save each week. Before the group starts savings, they determine the minimum amount members are expected to save based on the resources available within the group. While trust is the most important consideration in forming groups, members are also encouraged to form groups with people who have a similar capacity to save. Members then have the flexibility to save up to 5x this minimum savings amount each week in order to accelerate the growth of their savings.
What's the social fund?
The social fund is an innovative, micro-insurance tool incorporated within the savings group model. Each week members contribute a fixed amount to the social fund (i.e. their insurance premium). Then, if an emergency need arises within the group, a member may request a grant from the social fund. Unlike loans, social fund grants are not repaid. The amount of the weekly social fund contribution as well as what types of emergencies qualify for grants are established by groups before they begin saving together.
Can they get their money out if they need it?
While members are discouraged from withdrawing their funds early, they always have the option to do so. However, we provide the social fund tool to assist members facing emergencies so that it is less likely they will need to withdraw their savings. If a member does decide to withdraw their savings, they will receive the amount of funds they contributed but will not receive a portion of the loan interest collected by the group (i.e. they will not receive a return on their savings if they withdraw early).
Do they loan to people outside the group?
Loans are only provided within the group at this time. This helps ensure funds are available for group member loan requests and reduces risk since members know each other. After completing their first cycle, groups may have the opportunity to provide loans outside their group if they have sufficient savings accumulated and choose to do so.