Benjamin Hess is a CRS international development fellow living in Guatemala and working with savings-led microfinance programs. He writes a weekly (schedule permitting) blog post about microfinancing in Guatemala.
In previous posts, I’ve emphasized that autonomy is an essential component of a successful savings group. In theory, it sounds easy to promote. In practice, however, providing sufficient information and training to savings groups without coming across as “prescriptive” can be difficult, especially when group members are asking animators for guidance.
One tool at our disposal is Learning Conversations, which CRS originally developed in collaboration with Freedom From Hunger to use among self-help groups in India. Learning Conversations is an innovative educational instrument that relies on stories with no “right” answer. Instead, open-ended questions engage members and encourage discussion.
This past fall, we developed a Spanish-language Learning Conversations guide to be used during the promotion and formation of savings groups. The savings group guide has 11 separate themes, ranging from general guidelines regarding group goals and rules to more specific topics such as setting obligatory savings amounts and evaluating loan requests. In most cases, each topic contains two stories with different outcomes, although we’ve made every attempt to ensure that no story is considered “better” than the other. Each topic also includes a list of three or four questions that the animator can ask the group to get the discussion going.
The Learning Conversations guide will be a valuable resource at CRS-led training-of-trainer workshops for animators. We’ve also shared it with our local partners so they can use it with new savings groups.
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