Developing a Typology and Conceptual Framework on Self-Help Groups in South Asia

Women in India talking and laughing

Impact evaluations and systematic reviews show mixed but promising evidence that self-help groups (SHGs) have positive effects on economic outcomes, such as financial inclusion, asset ownership, income, and consumption. A systematic review found that SHGs and savings groups had positive effects on financial inclusion, but only found mixed evidence of positive effects on household expenditures, asset ownership, and income. In South Asia, where most SHGs are implemented, a recent evaluation of the large, country-wide India’s National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) found that longer SHG membership had positive impacts on household incomes, in comparison to households associated with newer SHGs (Kochar et al., 2020). The same evaluation showed considerable positive effects on savings and access to credit, and a decline in demand for informal loans. Another systematic review and meta-analysis demonstrated that economic SHGs had moderate but positive impacts on women’s economic, political, reproductive, and social empowerment. However, more recent evidence at scale is mixed.

Despite a large evidence base on the effectiveness of SHGs, there is relatively little public information or operational guidance about how to successfully design and implement effective SHGs. Moreover, SHG models vary widely across contexts, and context-specific documentation related to design frameworks, implementation modalities, and decision-making processes is limited. In fact, researchers, policy makers, and funders commonly use inconsistent terms to describe SHG implementation models. Moving away from umbrella terms to describe SHGs toward meaningful descriptions will support better understanding of the diversity of SHG implementation models and how they differ across contexts.

This project will develop a typology and conceptual framework on SHGs in South Asia. For the typology we will apply a coding sheet to a collection of program documents that we will gather from the World Bank and other key implementers of SHG programs. Then we will link the results from the coding framework to the existing evidence base and existing typologies to develop a conceptual framework. For the conceptual framework, we will link the results to existing theories of change and the evidence base to refine theories of change on SHGs and to examine whether the pathways in existing theories of change need to be updated.

Photo courtesy Gates Archive.