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The Importance of the Program Quality Guidelines for Savings Groups The Development of the Program Quality Guidelines The Audience How to use the Guidelines Note to the Reader Contributors

The Importance of the Program Quality Guidelines for Savings Groups

Savings Group Chitral PakistanSavings Groups (SGs)—voluntary associations whose members meet regularly to save and borrow from group funds—have become well known across the development sector.1 Proponents point to a variety of benefits beyond savings and credit, such as improved resilience, mutual support, asset accumulation, and access to a variety of products and services offered through the groups.

The growing popularity of SGs has brought with it much excitement but has also highlighted some inherent challenges. As the benefits of SGs become increasingly apparent, new and diverse organizations are entering the field and adopting the methodology with a variety of goals and varying degrees of rigor. At the same time, organizations that have traditionally facilitated SGs are innovating with new approaches and technologies. While most of these innovations are assumed to bring efficiency, sustainability, and greater choices to SG members, their long-term impacts are still unknown.

To ensure that SG members are not harmed by this unprecedented growth and innovation, The SEEP Network’s Savings-Led Financial Services Working Group (SLWG)2 brought together SG practitioners to define minimum standards for quality programming. Quality programs are understood as those programs that prioritize members’ welfare while meeting member interests, provide members with lasting and measurable benefits, promote group sustainability and minimize risk. Additionally, practitioners stress the importance of programs serving large numbers of disadvantaged people in diverse contexts.

The Program Quality Guidelines (PQGs) begin with the conviction that facilitating agencies  have a responsibility to implement quality SGs that safeguard the well-being of members and the security of their assets. They represent a sector-wide effort to build quality from the onset as a guarantee for consumer protection, rather than waiting for problems to emerge before taking steps to address them.

The Development of the Program Quality Guidelines

The PQGs were developed by SEEP’s SLWG, representing over 70 organizations that facilitate SGs worldwide. Over 100 practitioners and industry stakeholders participated in written surveys and hour-long interviews, which informed the content of the PQGs and helped to identify programming priorities and emerging concerns. Between August 2014 and April 2015, the PQGs went through a number of drafts that were posted online for open comment; several agencies and individuals provided feedback that was reflected in subsequent versions. The Guidelines were also vetted at each phase by an advisory committee whose members were chosen for their interest and expertise on the topic. The authors had many exchanges with the advisory committee to discuss content and to resolve areas of disagreement among practitioners. The PQGs therefore represent a consensus on good practice based on experience to date and strive to recommend prudent actions, regardless of a particular agency’s approach.

sg2015_logoBetween June 2015 and October 2015, the Guidelines were validated with a wider audience through four in-country consultations (El Salvador, Guatemala, Zambia, and Senegal) and through this PQGs online portal. Based on the input of these extensive consultations, the Guidelines were updated and later launched in November 2015 at the SG2015: The Power of Savings Groups conference in Lusaka, Zambia.

The Audience

The Program Quality Guidelines are addressed primarily to those Facilitating Agencies of Savings Groups, whether local, national, or international, promoting SG programming either as standalone interventions or as part of integrated programs.3 The SEEP Network hopes that the Guidelines will also inform the approaches of nontraditional actors seeking to build relationships with SGs, such as financial service providers (FSPs) and mobile network operators (MNOs). Finally, it is expected that donors will find value in the Guidelines and that they will work with facilitating agencies to draft agreements that endorse and promote the best practices identified in this document.

How to Use the Guidelines

The Guidelines are grouped under eight overarching principles that are believed to be both necessary and sufficient for guaranteeing quality Savings Groups. Each principle is followed by core elements that better detail that principle, as well as guidance notes that offer further considerations and suggestions. This website also lists a series of tools that provide the reader a concrete way of implementing and measuring each principle.

The principles are organized in such a way as to reflect the stages of the project cycle. They give guidance at each major stage: design, implementation, monitoring, and exitThe interactive graphic on this website’s homepage serves to summarize the principles and their elements. Each principle is explained in greater detail on its respective page within the site.

Note to the Reader

The reader must keep in mind that some of the principles reflect new practices that are not yet well studied and for which common approaches are still debated. While no one would deny, for example, that the promotion of safe Savings Groups requires good training and a respect for the group constitution, it should come as no surprise that there is less agreement over best practices for linking SGs to formal financial institutions or combining them with additional services. As a result, the Guidelines are conceived as a living document that will be updated regularly to reflect evolution in the field emerging from evidence and experience.


The development of the Program Quality Guidelines has benefited from the input of a diverse range of contributors. Contributing organizations have included:


Access Africa


Acholi Education Initiative



Arabella Advisors

Brandeis University

Bright Hope International

Calipso Lda


CARE Kenya

CARE Malawi

Carsey School

CBM, Nigeria

Chemonics International

Children of the World Foundation (COW Foundation)

Community Development and Relief Trust (CODERT)



CRS Kenya

CRS/EFI Africa


EARDP-Community Initiatives

Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia

Fadhili Trust, Kenya

Freedom from Hunger (FFH)

FHI 360

Fidelity Bank

Fletcher School

Food for the Hungry

Frontline Associates Limited

FSD Kenya

FSD Zambia

Fundación Capital

Fundasaun Esperansa Enclave Oecusse (FEEO)

George Mason University


Global Communities

HOPE International

HopeFin Trust, Ghamfin


IED Microfinanzas

LGP Solutions

Light For Change

Maxwell School

Mercy Corps

Mercy Partnership Fund

MicamaSoley, Haiti

Microfinance Council of the Philippines

Microfinance Exposure

Microfion Plus Ghana

Microsave, Kenya

Mpendulo Savings



National Economic Empowerment Council (NEEC)

Ndasunungurwa Trust

Ni Sisi

Nowa Moyie Foundation

Organization for Rehabilitation and Development in Ahmara (ORDA)


Pact Tanzania

PCI (Project Concern International)

Philanthropiece Foundation


Plan International

Plan International Tanzania

Plan International West Africa

Plan International, Zambia

Plan Niger

Plan Togo

Plan USA

PlaNet Finance

Plant With Purpose

Power Africa Project

Reach Global

Red Cross

S3IDF – The Small-Scale Sustainable Infrastructure Development Fund


Savings Revolution


Sterling Micro Development Consultants (Rwanda) Limited

Tanzania Micro-finance Association of Practioners (TIMAP)


The MasterCard Foundation

Trickle Up

University of Bath

USAID – US Agency for International Development

VSL Associates

World Relief

World Relief Canada

World Relief Germany

World Vision

World Vision Brazil

World Vision Ethiopia

World Vision International

World Vision Zambia

Zimbabwe Association of Microfinance Institutions

  1. For more information about the structure and workings of SGs, please refer to SGs: What Are They? (The SEEP Network, 2010)  

  2. SEEP’s Savings-Led Financial Services Working Group (SLWG) that support the development and expansion of Savings Groups as a mechanism to promote financial inclusion and other development objectives. Known by many different names—for example, VSLAs (Village Savings and Loan Associations) and SILCs (Savings and Internal Lending Communities)— Savings Groups are growing in number and in popularity within SEEP’s membership and beyond. Established in 2007, SEEP’s Savings-Led Financial Services Working Group was at the forefront of this new movement and helped set the stage for broadbased industry coordination and the establishment of common definitions and methodological improvements. During this time, more than 160 individuals from 70 organizations have contributed to the Working Group by developing shared learning products and supporting knowledge mobilization through virtual and in-person practitioner-led events and conferences. 

  3. Integrated programs are understood as those programs where SGs are as part of the strategy, but whose objectives are broader than just financial inclusion. Examples of integrated programming include agriculture and market-based initiatives where SGs contribute to the overall goal of building farmers’ resilience. Development organizations are increasingly retrofitting SGs into ongoing programming to fulfill a holistic view of development.