Mzungu in Kasungu

Mzungu in Kasungu
Daniella in Kasungu

Thursday, 10 March 2011

New interactive client training

Chiko and I have just completed an action-packed few weeks testing some new training material aimed at new clients. This material is designed to boost the amount of training new clients get after their loan has been disbursed, as well as making sure that the training is truly participatory and can be easily understood by clients who have had little to no formal education. We’ve created training modules, which will be delivered at each repayment meeting, with clear delivery instructions for the loan staff, and using all sorts of training props that are readily available … from leaves to beans! Armed with this new material the objective is for loan staff to provide a standardised training experience for clients, and for clients to absorb more information and make commitments to apply it in their own groups, businesses and households.

Nkhotakota branch staff were chosen to help us test the modules, and embraced the new training material with gusto! They had a go practicing in front a group of their peers, Chiko, the regional managers and operations manager first of all. This was to iron out any wrinkles in the training materials and get the hang of the new way of teaching, which engages the clients to apply the lessons to their own lives using role play, case studies and pictures. They then tried the modules out on clients, who responded very positively and said they’d enjoyed the new interactive approach. Using a simple evaluation exercise we were also able to find that they’d come away from the sessions knowing more about the topics than they had before.

We’re covering a diverse range of important subjects with this material including:

· How the group support each other when clients face problems

· The importance of savings and setting savings goals

· Carrying out market research to plan the business

· Working out costs, pricing and profit

· Doing a business plan

· Working out what loan size is appropriate

The idea is to start piloting these modules as well as modules the clients receive before loan disbursement at two branches in a few months’ time. It’s an exciting time for client training so watch this space!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Latest SPM adventures

It’s been a non-stop Social Performance Management (SPM) adventure the last few weeks! Chiko, the SPM Officer, and I have been travelling all over the country facilitating workshops for all the field staff in the various regions. With the help of a training committee – composed of our star trainers from each region – the workshops have allowed our staff to focus on key SPM issues using role play, small group discussions, games and songs. The staff came up with all manner of good ideas, including using secret voting for groups to screen potential clients to ensure group quality, providing more standardised guidance to groups in how to formulate their Constitution which governs the way the group runs, and ensuring clients take responsibility for each other’s loan sizes and visit each others’ businesses to check on progress. The picture shows a training committee member explaining ones of the games.

We’ve also gone to all the regions assessing how the two new loan products that are being piloted are faring. One is aimed at reaching the poorest and the other involves longer repayment intervals. Generally they are progressing well, though a few tweaks are necessary.

Just to illustrate that you never quite know what’s going to happen on any given day, we were sitting with one of our groups getting a sense of how their businesses were progressing, whether they had faced any challenges and the like. Suddenly out of nowhere a small copse of trees ran towards us! (see picture) These ‘trees’, I was afterwards told, are young men in the community undergoing an initiation ceremony into adulthood. The unexpected is a part of most days here – though no day more so than that one!

And back to work..! Finally we’ve been checking up on how the poverty assessment work has been doing in Central Region. This is the assessment we’re doing using Grameen Foundation’s Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI). Again, overall the trend is positive, though we need to fine tune some issues, for example Loan Officers not doing the assessment at the new loan application meeting but ahead of time, meaning that clients are more likely to make themselves seem poor to access the loan.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Field staff training

I’ve been back in a hot November Malawi for a week now, fitting in meetings with management and visiting branches and groups. It’s very nice to be back, to catch up with everyone, and meet a number of new staff at the head office. Chikonzero (SPM officer), Julius (Operations Manager), the Regional Managers and Senior Branch Managers have been planning our three regional workshops, which all Loan Officers and Branch Managers will be attending over the course of this month. The purpose of these is to ensure that the main messages of the SPM workshop in July are trickling down to field level, and give the field staff tangible tools for putting these changes into place.

For example, we’ll be talking about making sure client groups screen themselves carefully, loans are the appropriate size to the business and savings are made regularly and not in a lump sum. We’ll have on hand three of our star MicroLoan trainers who are helping to facilitate the workshop, and will share their best practice for training clients using games, songs and role play. Our first workshop is taking place in the Southern Region this week.

Whilst in the south, we’ll also check to see how the piloting of the new products aimed at reaching the poorest (smaller loans with no initial savings required) and in response to client requests for longer repayment intervals (3-weekly rather than fortnightly repayments) are faring.

More updates to follow once we’ve been in the field!

Friday, 22 October 2010

Preparing for my return to Malawi

It’s all go as we sort out the plans for my 5 week visit to Malawi in November. We’ve got lots to cover including checking the progress of the Progress out of Poverty Index roll out and completing the training of the final branch in the Central Region; talking to our star trainers about the detail of how we’re going to structure our redeveloped training approach and what delivery methods (like songs, dancing, games, etc) we’re going to use; and facilitating workshops with all our Loan Offers across the 3 regions of the country.

The workshops are a really exciting opportunity to meet with the people – our Loan Officers – who work at the front line with our clients and know them the very best. They’ve been kept up to date with all the Social Performance Management work we’ve been doing and have started making changes to the way they work, but now’s we’re taking the time to meet with them all personally. We’ll cover important issues including helping clients to appraise the appropriateness of each other’s loan sizes, ensuring that clients save regularly and don’t just dump in a large sum right before disbursement (which wouldn’t therefore be representative of their cash flow and probably means they have borrowed the money), empowering the clients to problem solve within the group, and so on. We’ll be using interactive approaches – like role play – to make the messages fun and help our staff to remember them.

The operations team have also been hard at work piloting some new products, one of which is a small loan aimed at the poorest clients which doesn’t require them to have any savings as a deposit and has a maximum loan size of K5,000 (just over £20). The other is in response to clients telling us they don’t like the fortnightly repayments: we’re therefore trialling a 3-weekly repayment product aimed at those clients who have already demonstrated their capabilities, and are ready to move to slightly bigger loans than our average standard loan sizes, of between K30,000-K60,000 (around £125-£250). So whilst I’m in Malawi it’s a good opportunity to see how these pilots are progressing, talk to the branch staff about any technical difficulties and to the women about how they’re finding the products. It’s still very early days, but important to catch any potential problems as early on as possible.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Poverty assessment rolled out in Central Region

I am happy to report that we are now ready – following lots of field testing and piloting to make sure all the processes are easily operationalized and results are accurate – to roll out the Progress out of Poverty tool (PPI) in the Central Region of Malawi. It’s an exciting next step in the Social Performance Management (SPM) work, as it means we’ll be able to gather data on clients’ poverty levels at entry, during the course of their time with MicroLoan and at exit. We’ll therefore be able to see the poverty levels of the clients we’re reaching and the changes to their poverty status.

Chiko, the SPM officer based in Kasungu, has been in the field the last couple of weeks training the Loan Officers at branches in how to carry out the PPI. They’re given classroom training and lots of hands-on experience in the field to test their new skills.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Muzungu nowhere near Kasungu

Despite now being back in slightly more chilly and grey England, the Social Performance Management work we're doing continues unabated. Chikonzero (or Chiko to his friends and colleagues) is working incredibly hard on all sorts of projects: making sure that the Progress out of Poverty Index (measuring clients’ poverty likelihood) pre-implementation work is going well and preparing for roll out across the Central Region, putting in place pilots testing new products aimed at reaching the most poorest and providing a longer repayment period to fit in with clients’ business schedules, documenting MicroLoan’s training best practice…etc.

Training in practice

On the subject of training, we’re going to be integrating a different training methodology for our clients. Loan Officers will be taught to use the ‘adult learning approach’, which is designed to help clients with limited formal education to learn more effectively. Before that can happen though Chiko’s been speaking to our star training Branch Managers and observing them at work training the groups. We’ll pull together all the best bits from our current in-house training as well as looking at the way other organisations across the globe do their training to develop a new and improved training programme, helping our clients to become even more effective businesswomen. We’re hoping that we can start piloting this very early in the new year.

Above is a picture of one of our Branch Managers working with a group. One of the exercises he has developed which highlights that clients need to know each other well before forming a group is to ask each woman to add a chitenje (cloth worn as a skirt) to a pile. Each potential client has to then give one chitenje back to another potential client, demonstrating that they know each other and recognise each other’s possessions. These kinds of practical exercises are part of the adult learning approach and ensure that lessons are more easily understood and remembered by clients.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Tionana (see you later) Malawi

Sadly this will be my last post for a while, as I head back to the UK this week, leaving MicroLoan Foundation’s (MLF) Social Performance Management (SPM) work in the capable hands of Chikonzero.

It’s been an amazing experience for me! An opportunity to work with MLF’s hard-working and inspiring staff, to learn so much about what the nitty gritty of microfinance really involves, see how clients are benefiting and listen to clients to serve them even better – and of course the opportunity to spend almost a year working in the beautiful and welcoming country that is Malawi.

I am not going altogether, but will continue to work for MLF based out of the UK until the end of the year, assisting Chikonzero with the many facets of SPM work that are coming up. This includes amongst other activities…starting to roll out poverty assessments for new, ongoing and exiting clients to better understand who MLF’s client base is and the differences MLF is making in their lives; integrating the adult learning approach into training methods so it’s easier for clients with limited education to apply the messages; using exit data at branch level, and allowing exiting clients to discuss their issues and suggestions with their Branch Manager.

The plan is to be back in Malawi in November so more updates will follow then. However, until then, it’s tionana!