‘Conversations’ Guide Microfinance Decision Making

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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9 Responses to “‘Conversations’ Guide Microfinance Decision Making”

  1. Mark Says:

    The articles would be more informative if they offered a little more information, such as examples from the Learning Conversations guide, real-life illustrations, or downloadable samples.

  2. Mabel Says:


    Estoy interesada en obtener la guia de aprendizaje en el corto plazo, donde la encuentro?

  3. Ben Says:

    Mark and Mabel,

    Thank you for your comments. I will translate and post one or two examples of the Learning Conversations guide by the end of this week. We will be using the guide with new and existing savings groups in Guatemala over the next few weeks, so I will try to provide an update on that as soon as possible.



  4. larry mulligan Says:

    Our parish, Stephen, of Grand Rapids, MI, has a twinning relationship w/ St. Francios d’Assise in Cerca la Source, Haiti. To whom can I speak or email re what resources, if any, are available to us to work w/ our friends there to improve the school & work toward economic sufficiency? I look forward to hearing from you.

    Three of us will be heading to Haiti on 02-15-09, it would be of obvious benefit if we could have contact before then, if that is possible.


  5. larry mulligan Says:

    somehow the St. before Stephen got deleted.

  6. larry mulligan Says:

    I forgot to mention, we have had some early contact w/ Fonkoze, which has experience in microfinancing in Haiti. We would like them to allow our parishioners to make loans to parishioners of St. Francios d’Assise. Have you ever had experience w/ something similar, or w/ twinning parishes working together to encourage microfinance loans?

    Thanks, again, for your help.
    larry mulligan

  7. Ben Hess Says:

    Hi Larry,

    I will check with the CRS Latin American and Caribbean regional office about contacts and resources in Haiti. CRS is doing some innovative work on savings-led microfinance with the “mutuelles”, but I am not sure if they have any experience with what you mentioned about the twinning parishes working together to encourage microfinance loans. I’ll ask around and try to come up with an answer for you by early next week.



    (I apologize for not having time to translate the Learning Conversations example yet. I haven’t forgotten!)

  8. Microfinance “Conversations” Sample | Voices of CRS Says:

    […] response to comments about his microfinance “Conversations” post, Ben Hess offers this example from the “Learning Conversation” tool CRS and our […]

  9. Frank Kavanagh Says:

    would you have a contact for farmers looking to create market access in the capital of El Salvador?


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