Course Description

Instructor: Nanci Lee
E-mail: | Skype: nancilee | Webpage:


Savings groups (SGs) and other member-owned models of microfinance (SACCOs, producer groups linked to financial institutions) have gained wide acceptance as a valuable complement to formal and other informal financial services where people can save, borrow, build assets and receive social supports, even social services. Semi and informal member-owned models reach populations that institutions simply cannot. 

Several models and methods have emerged to support this semi-formal sector. Drivers of scale and impact are becoming clearer. The course will review these and other key technical aspects of managing strong savings and other groups including strategies for scale and outreach, good governance, monitoring for outcomes and supporting groups as they mature and diversify. The limited studies that we have of mature groups have shown them to have tremendous resourcefulness and savvy. How do we genuinely support members to support themselves, their groups and group goals? Innovative cases will be shared related to achieving wide scale, contrasting outreach strategies, good governance, developing varied agent models, clustering/ networking, bank and other financial service provider linkages, branchless banking.

Unfortunately, technical solutions are usually not enough. Groups and their members, programs often deal with unpredictable risks and shocks. It is becoming widely accepted that since change is not linear, our strategies to address them must also use more complexity and adaptation. This course will be grounded in systems thinking and practice. Students will not only understand how to analyze systems and monitor for complexity and adaptation. A peer-supported action research assignment running the length of the program will progressively build participant skills to practice adaptive systems thinking on the job. Taking a key organizational issue, participants will learn, experiment and adapt in real time in their organizations and communities and pilot test a field tool and process. Organizations benefit from staff attending a course focused on key organizational challenges and outcomes. Participants gain valuable problem-solving skills that can be applied to any position particularly those in succession for leadership.


  • At least one-year experience working with savings groups and member owned models.
  • Policy makers and development practitioners who provide oversight and technical support to savings groups and other member-owned models are also welcome with an understanding that the course is focused on emerging practice.

Learning Outcomes

By the completion of this course, individual participants will have:

  1. Improved key skills in adaptive on-the-job problem solving, systems thinking and action research including how to:
    1. Practiced gendered contextual analysis across financial, political and socio-cultural systems
    2. Ask and adapt a strategic question to maximize organizational outcomes and personal learning
    3. Match key sub-questions to appropriate methods of quantitative and qualitative analysis
    4. Identify criteria for selecting focus groups as well as how to conduct them effectively
    5. Give and receive constructive and substantive feedback and adapt based on feedback
    6. Apply at least one case-study to their own work
    7. Make a convincing evidence-backed argument
    8. Critically reflect and adapt
  2. Contextualized and appreciated the role of informal and semi-formal finance within the financial, political and socio-cultural systems.
  3. Practiced designing outcomes to sharpen the monitoring of group quality and impact (financial, self-management and other goals such as household resilience)
  4. Understood and used program levers to improve outreach and outcomes.
  5. Understood the tensions between various forms of outreach (scale; depth of poverty; member demand; costs; returns to group and members) as well as member governance, risk management and product sophistication
  6. Critically reflected on own role and work

By the completion of the course, organizations will have a vetted piece of field research, draft proposal or policy brief to address a key institutional challenge or area of inquiry


Each module will include an introduction, objectives, one structured discussion (with possibility of many more emerging ones from participants), readings, podcasts and/or webinars and skill-based small group or individual exercise to deepen and apply what has been covered in the module. One step of the action research assignment will be due at the end of each month and module. There is one month to complete the learning modules before another is introduced. In this way, distance learning allows learners the flexibility to go at their own pace and to customize the learning to their style, schedule and preferences. Provided learners meet the requirements of participation in discussions and exercises, they are free to do the modules in the order that suits them. Expected level of effort is roughly 5-10 hours per week.

For more details download the Full Course SyllaBUS