Five Things to Know BEFORE You Start Your Next Project

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October 31, 2013

October 31st is not just about Halloween; it’s also about savings. October 31st was established as World Savings Day in 1924 to promote savings globally. Today also marks the end of Grameen Foundation’s four-year, $9.78 million savings project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The project was created to help increase the number of active savers throughout India, the Philippines, and Ethiopia, particularly those below $1.25/day.

We’re pleased that we helped our partners reach 850,000 new active savers. We’ve also learned a lot over the last four years that can benefit others. On October 22, we held a Savings Seminar in Washington, D.C. to convene 70 practitioners to discuss learnings, best practices, and things we’d do differently in future programs. While we planned extensively for this project, things do not always go as planned.

1. Strategically vet partner organizations, consultants, and team members

Selecting a partner institution with mission alignment, a desire to collaborate in a strategic way and the willingness to improve the way they currently work is a must. Grameen Foundation found this so important that we have now created a financial services partner selection tool to help ensure that partner’s organizational focus, staff capacity, culture, leadership, and other key factors are a match for our work. Additionally, we have enhanced our vetting of international consultants and staff members to ensure they are a good fit with our partner organizations. You may be in a rush to roll your sleeves up and get started, but make sure you have the right team on board first.

2. Change is hard: it’s a marathon, not a sprint

We started our project with “change” tasks in our massive project plan, not even fully realizing ourselves what it would take to help transform credit-led institutions to demand-driven financial service providers that offer an array of products. Throughout our years, we realized that good project management IS good change management. Strategic communication planning was one of the most important aspects of our work. Additionally, our human capital assessment (available on humancapitalhub.org) helped us understand leadership and cultural factors as well as potential barriers. These focus areas, in addition to numerous other tools, were critical to our project success, and not just a one-time task we could mark on a project plan.

3. Research & product design have to be iterative

We approached our initial project with front-loaded traditional market research to help define our product changes. However, research and product design are not a one-time activity; they must be done throughout your program. Our strong research framework throughout our mobile financial services pilot, as well as our behavior change pilot, taught us the importance of creating a research and data-driven program. These inputs allow important business decisions to be made – from product design to how you build your business case for savings.

4. It will take more training than you think

Offering someone money is very different from asking them to trust you with their hard earned money – especially the poor. Staff providing savings services need to focus on customer service, product features, and other details not required when offering credit products. We found that more staff training – from classroom training to hands on activities – was required than initially planned. Management training on change leadership was critical to help lead the transition to embracing savings services. Additionally, client training on product features and mobile phone usage was required in addition to traditional savings educational programs. You may have scheduled time and money for training in your program, but don’t be surprised if it takes three times more than you anticipated.

5. The importance of marketing cannot be downplayed

Selling savings products requires specific marketing expertise to define a product value proposition, identify how to message specific target markets, and plan campaigns that can help regularly bring new clients in the door. Decisions on marketing material cannot be made by comparing current costs, but must take future potential revenue into account. Marketing activities can serve as creative financial education activities, such as celebrations, comic books, and more. Marketing materials need to help customers understand products better, and the relationship they will have with those products.

For More:

Resources from our Oct 22 Savings Seminar can be found at www.grameenfoundation.org/savings-seminar-2013

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