Course Descriptions

Image of a group of women in Guinea

Course Descriptions

Photos courtesy of Mary Morgan

Spring- Summer 2015


We are offering one course for the first SMDP Online sequence which is a blended course that takes place online and in the field in Lusaka, Zambia.  Later this year, we will offer another course entirely online but includes field research that will take place as part of the course of study. Practitioners need the ability to problem-solve and adapt in real time. Online learning supporting action research in the field allows this opportunity. Each course will take the learner around 90-120 hours of time online and off line over the four to five months of the curriculum.

If you have specific questions about a course, please contact SMDP Online at full syllabus for each course will be available in mid-April. 


Savings Groups: Building Scale and Impact through Adaptation and Experimentation 
 A Blended Online Course for Savings Groups Professionals

Download Course Syllabus
Online Monday, June 15 to Friday, October 23, 2015
Face-to-Face Monday, November 2 to Friday, November 6, 2015
Facilitator Nanci Lee


Course Description

Savings groups (SGs) 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.

A range of innovative methodologies have been developed to support savings groups. Nevertheless, gains cannot be assumed and paths are not often linear or predictable. Income and asset gains can be precarious and slipping backward is always a reality for these families and our programs.

Experience has shown that program effectiveness and sustainability varies significantly by institution, incentives, and training. It is critical to combine an understanding of sound practices with the skills to test and adapt these methods in complex markets and diverse populations. 

Course Objective

This course aims to provide mid-career savings groups practitioners and policy makers with an opportunity to critically analyze their context and experiment with key strategic changes to their savings group programs and policies.

This blended (online and face-to-face) course offers four-and-a-half months of online learning and action research in the field culminating in a week of consolidation and innovation in Zambia.

The learning from the course will be simultaneously tested and applied in participants' work while they are connected to a learning community to engage in discourse, share, question and problem-solve with peer support and savings group experts. Each month, a different topic will be explored through articles/readings, video clips, expert panels, discussion forums, and small group applications.

Course Content

  • Savings groups and informal finance in the market
  • Models of outreach and governance
  • Evaluating complexity (financial and social returns)
  • Scaling up and scaling out (agent networks, linkages, branchless banking)
  • Innovations in the field (Zambia field visits and launch of Savings Group conference)
  • Action research skills and systems analysis

Throughout the course an action-learning assignment will be conducted, taking advantage of practitioners in their work environment and the support of the online learning environment. This community-embedded learning opportunity is unique to online environments. Practitioners focus their action-research assignments on current and relevant issues to practice experimentation and adaptation in complex systems


At least two years' work experience with savings groups, cooperatives, or member-based microfinance

Important Note:

The face-to-face component of this course will be held on Monday, November 2 to Friday, November 6, 2015, in Lusaka, Zambia, as part of SMDP Zambia and about ten days before the SG 2015 Savings Groups Conference in Lusaka. It is very important that students registering for this course will be able to attend both the online session and the face-to-face session at SMDP Zambia. The fee for this course includes full tuition for each component – online and face-to-face and room and board for six days during the Zambia session. See Course Fees and Registration page for more details. 

Understanding and Adapting to Complex Markets
An online course for market development professionals


Download Course Syllabus
Fully Online
This course will be offered later this year.
For more information, please revisit this page for updates.
Facilitator Mary Morgan


Course Description

Markets are complex. Even after conducting a market analysis, the market facilitation interventions that are designed and implemented sometimes go awry for reasons that we missed in the analysis or because of unforeseen factors that appear from what seems nowhere. How can we adapt to these new circumstances and still influence improving stability in a market where the poor are operating as suppliers and consumers?

Course Objective

This course is a guided and grounded learning experience that allows market development professionals to learn about complex systems concepts and how they play out in market systems. The learning from the course will be simultaneously tested and applied in the learner’s work with markets while they are connected to a learning community to engage in discourse, share, question and problem-solve with peer support and market development experts. 

Course Content

Conducted solely online, this course enables professionals to study while they are simultaneously engaged in this learning process. Webinars, guest panel experts and coaching, along with peer group work, and online group discussions are some of the methods of engagement to be employed. Each module will explore a theme, through articles, video clips and the instructor’s blog. To deepen the learning, students will work in small groups or engage in an online discussion and have access to guest experts.

In this course the students will learn about:

  • Complex Market Systems Elements:
    • Input, output, processing
    • Feedback
    • Delays
    • Boundaries
    • Environment
    • Interconnections
    • Leverage points
  • Complex Adaptive Systems Properties:
    • Emergence
    • Self organization
  • Action Research design

This learning and professional-development opportunity incorporates community–embedded learning [1] that is facilitated through virtual learning to enable professionals to have the opportunity to learn about, and apply complex adaptive systems thinking to address a current operational or managerial challenge they are facing in a market development program. The identified challenge will then be the focus for the action research assignment conducted throughout the course.

The action research assignment will be peer reviewed and guided by the instructor and other experts. The systematization of the students’ learning process, presented in the report, can then be shared with peers and/or replicated. 

[1] Community –embedded learning is the learning acquired by individual students who are embedded in a local physical community where they work and live, while at the same time creating shared knowledge in an online learning community.



  • At least 2 years of work experience in inclusive market development (M4P, Value Chain)
  • Currently working on a project engaged in inclusive market development
  • Currently in a middle or senior management position, or an advisor or consultant in inclusive market development  


William Maddocks