Self-help groups

Tearfund’s SHG model is built on the belief that people living in poverty can be agents of change rather than merely recipients of aid. Our SHGs promote economic, social and political empowerment, and have a focus on personal development, relationship-building, collective problem-solving, collective action, self-reliance and self-learning. Group members are encouraged to become drivers of change in their own lives and in their communities. Mutually supportive relationships are key; members often view the groups as sanctuaries where they can discuss their problems and build trusting relationships that support them through personal crises.

The SHGs have 15 to 20 members, and are intentionally targeted at the poorest sectors of the community. Many groups are women-only. Members save a small amount each week, starting at around 2p. Saving regularly enables them to build group capital to allow them to take out small low-interest loans for education and healthcare costs, urgent consumption needs and, ultimately, for establishing or extending micro-enterprises. The groups are self governing but facilitation-intensive, and are financed entirely by members’ savings.

The SHG model delivers very high returns and is demonstrating transformational change of people’s lives.

Tearfund has been working with SHGs since the first programme was started in Ethiopia in 2002. Tearfund now supports over 27,000 SHGs in sub-Saharan Africa and is scaling up the approach across Asia and Latin America. We are continually building evidence of the impact of our SHG programming.

Tearfund believes that SHGs are most effective for addressing poverty reduction when they are combined with training and advisory services in disaster risk reduction (DRR), adaptive and diversified agriculture, business development, health and sanitation, advocacy, literacy and other skills. The ‘SHG Plus’ additional activities and support maximises the potential of SHGs for livelihood resilience and poverty reduction.

resources on self-help groups

Saving for a very dry day coverSaving for a very dry day: The contribution of self-help groups to building resilience in East Africa? (PDF 685 KB)
Tearfund commissioned six research studies to assess the impact of SHG programming on people living in poverty in the Horn of Africa. This is a summary of these six research reports, focusing on recurring themes and bringing out key learning points relevant to all organisations supporting – or seeking to support – SHG programmes.

The full research reports can be found here:

Releasing potential front coverReleasing potential: A facilitator’s learning resource for self-help groups (PDF 2.9 MB)
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 it also 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, producing 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, nurturing and harvest of the SHG groups.

Humanitarian case transfers front coverHumanitarian cash transfers through self-help groups: Making the Most of Local Approaches? (PDF 1.6 MB)
This report contains findings from an impact study of a pilot project carried out in Ethiopia, in 2016. Through the pilot project, one-off humanitarian cash grants were provided to and through self-help groups to enable them to better cope with the effects of drought.

Partnerships for change front coverCost Benefit Analysis of SHGs in Ethiopia: Partnerships for change (Full report) (PDF 685 KB)
Tearfund commissioned a study to quantify the benefits of transforming people’s lives through self-help groups. Benefits included increased income, improved nutrition, education and healthcare, and being more involved in local decision making in Ethiopia.
Executive Summary (8 pages) (PDF 279 KB) and Summary (2 pages) (PDF 264 KB)

REVEAL Toolkit
Reveal is a collection of tools and activities to help churches and others work with Communities. It helps a process of community empowerment become even more effective, by providing tools to help uncover, explore and address hidden issues, and by providing technical advice and support for community actions and projects. Reveal also encourages Facilitators to access information locally, and build on their own community knowledge.