Self-help groups

Saving for a very dry day: The contribution of self-help groups to building resilience in East Africa (PDF 685 KB)

Saving for a very dry day front cover

There is growing interest within the international community about the role of self-help groups (SHGs) – of which there are many different models globally – in poverty reduction and building resilience and food security among poor communities.

Tearfund has been working with SHGs in Ethiopia since 2002, using a model inspired by Myrada, India. Our local partner, Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church (EKHC), supported by Tearfund, introduced the approach into their programming with five SHGs. By 2016 there were over 20,000 Tearfund-supported SHGs across Ethiopia. Other countries within East and Southern Africa also have adopted this model.

Tearfund and Tear Netherlands have collaborated over the last ten years to grow the SHG network in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somaliland. This has included securing funding from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (BuZa). 

We have also had the support of Tearfund Ireland and a number of other donors (institutions, trusts and individuals) over the last 15 years, allowing us to learn from each other while supporting and growing the SHG network. 

We are building evidence on the impact of our SHG programming. We believe it is important to document this evidence, draw out key learning, and share lessons learnt for the broader evidence body around SHGs. This is for the benefit of the local, national and international community. 

In 2016 we jointly commissioned six research studies to assess the impact of our approach to SHG programming on people living in poverty in the Horn of Africa. Research was undertaken by a variety of external evaluators and institutions, including the ODI, Tufts University and Trinity College Dublin. Each study generated learning and recommendations relevant to all organisations supporting – or seeking to support – SHG programmes. 

Tearfund has made summaries of the six research reports, focusing on recurring themes and bringing out key learning points for us as an organisation. Our summaries are included in Saving for a very dry day

The full research papers can be found here: 

Releasing potential: A facilitator’s learning resource for self-help groups (PDF 2.9 MB)

Releasing potential front cover 

This learning resource documents the self-help group (SHG) process as implemented by Tearfund staff and partners in Ethiopia. Its primary function is to provide a learning resource for facilitators in Ethiopia. But given the level of interest in this work because of its impact, it serves as an introduction to the SHG process as a whole for other Tearfund staff and development professionals around the world. 

The process of cultivating, processing and enjoying coffee, a crop of significant economic and cultural importance in Ethiopia, has been used throughout the learning resource as symbolic of the establishment, nurture and harvest of the SHG groups. 

The SHG process, once well established, brings life-changing skills and opportunities for those involved: the very poorest people in society. When mature and confident, SHG groups, with their democratic support systems, provide a challenge to established hierarchies, ultimately with the potential of bringing far-reaching political, social and economic changes. 

‘It is my privilege to work with the Tearfund team and local partner organisations in Ethiopia introducing, developing and replicating self-help groups. Together we have supported hundreds of thousands of the poorest people to transform their lives across Ethiopia and beyond. I never feel more nourished or satisfied than when I am hearing about how these groups have supported people to transform their lives and, together with others, are developing a vision and hope for the future. I hope this resource helps others to experience and share in this privilege.’ 

Keith Etherington, Tearfund Ethiopia

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