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Working Papers

Participation in informal savings groups and women’s empowerment in agriculture in Nigeria

While impact evaluations of formalized savings groups show that they can improve financial inclusion and women’s economic empowerment in a variety of settings in sub-Saharan Africa, only very few studies examine the impact of informal savings groups. This paper examines the association between informal savings group membership, individual-level asset ownership, and household-level decision-making power for men and women using panel data from a nationally representative sample from Nigeria. We find a small but statistically significant association between informal savings group participation, and women’s decision-making power and asset ownership in the household, but high drop-out rates from informal savings groups, especially for women. We hypothesize that informal savings group participation in Nigeria may not provide women with sufficient finance to accumulate resources required for investments in larger assets. We discuss implications for the design of formalized savings groups, with a focus on in-group trust, group governance, and access to capital.

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Exposure to women’s groups and empowerment in agricultural households: Evidence from Nigeria and Uganda

African governments increasingly support large-scale women’s groups interventions aiming to improve women’s economic empowerment with support from multilateral donors and Foundations. Previous evidence indicates that women’s savings, producer, and livelihoods groups can improve women’s access to savings and credit, and human as well as social capital, but it is less clear if the findings of existing evidence are transferable to women’s groups without a discernible focus on financial inclusion or livelihoods. This study uses nationally representative longitudinal data from Nigeria and a large longitudinal dataset from Uganda to examine the association between exposure to women’s groups, asset ownership and decision-making power. The results suggest small yet positive associations between exposure to women’s groups, asset ownership and decision-making power. However, most results do not remain statistically significant after controlling for individual-level fixed effects. The findings highlight the importance of triangulating results of experimental and quasi-experimental studies of specific women’s group interventions with estimates from nationally representative data to understand the transferability of impact evaluation findings.

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Convergence of Social protection Programmes in India: The Impact of Self-Help Groups on Access to and Employment under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme

The Evidence Consortium on Women’s Groups conducted a study to examine the convergence between large-scale self-help groups and public works programming in Bihar. We use publicly available administrative data from the National Rural Livelihoods Mission and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and merge those data with data from a randomised controlled trial (RCT). The combined dataset allows for an instrumental variable regression analysis to examine the impact of the number of SHG members on access to job cards and employment under MGNREGS. We find large and statistically significant effects indicating that an increase of 100 SHG members results in 26 additional MGNREGS job cards applied for, and 14 additional households that are provided employment under MGNREGS. We find larger impact estimates on access to job cards and employment for scheduled caste and scheduled tribe households, and evidence for similar effects for women and men. We present the results in a a working paper.

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COVID-19 Lockdown & Collective Activities: Evidence from the World’s Largest Self-Help Group Program

Using data on a large women’s livelihoods program in India – the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) – and a difference-in-differences design, this paper estimates that average monthly savings by SHG members of the NRLM declined by 85% during the nationwide lockdown from March to July of 2020. Decline in monthly SHG savings was likely driven by loss in income sources combined with lockdown stringency. Data from longitudinal phone surveys in six states indicate 30% decline in consumption and 26 percentage-point decline in work opportunities for both SHG and non-SHG households during this time. Although SHG households had lower consumption pre-pandemic compared to non-SHG households, both groups were equally impacted by the lockdown. In addition, households that received assistance from SHGs in procuring food grains or through community kitchens reported significantly lower rates of food insecurity. We present these results in a working paper.

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Women’s Groups and COVID-19: An Evidence Review on Savings Groups in Africa

This paper presents emerging evidence from studies in diverse contexts in sub-Saharan Africa —with a deep dive into Nigeria and Uganda—on how COVID-19 has affected women’s groups and how these groups have helped mitigate the gendered effects of the pandemic’s and the associated policy responses’ consequences up until April 2021. The synthesis presents evidence that savings groups found ways to continue operating, provided leadership opportunities for women during the pandemic, and mitigated some of the negative economic consequences of COVID-19 on individual savings group members. Savings, credit, and group support from other members all likely contributed to the ability of groups to positively affect women’s group member’s resilience during COVID-19. However, savings groups themselves often faced financial challenges because of decreased savings, which sometimes resulted in the depletion of group assets. These findings are consistent with a recent evidence synthesis on how past covariate shocks affected women’s groups and their members. We conclude the paper by presenting various policy recommendations to enable savings groups to achieve improvements in women’s empowerment and economic outcomes and research recommendations to address some of the current evidence-gaps on how COVID-19 is affecting women’s groups and their members.

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Women's Groups, Covariate Shocks, and Resilience: An Evidence Synthesis of Past Shocks to Inform a Response to COVID-19

Interventions with women’s groups are increasingly seen as an important strategy for advancing women’s empowerment, health, and economic outcomes in low- and middle-income countries, with the potential to increase the resiliency of members and their communities during widespread covariate shocks, such as COVID-19. This evidence synthesis compiles evidence from past shocks on women’s group activities and the extent to which women’s groups mitigate the effects of shocks on members and communities. We reviewed 90 documents from academic databases, organizational reports, and additional gray literature, and included literature diverse in geography, type of women’s group, and shock. We found that covariate shocks tend to disrupt group activities and reduce group resources, but linkages to formal institutions can mitigate this impact by extending credit beyond the shock-affected resource pool. Evidence was largely supportive of women’s groups providing resilience to members and communities, though findings varied according to shock severity, group purpose and structure, and outcome measures. Actions to support individual resilience during a shock, such as increased payment flexibility, may run counter to group resilience, however. We link the findings to emerging evidence on how COVID-19 affects women’s group activities and the extent to which women’s groups mitigate the effects of shocks on members and communities.

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Adolescent Girls’ and Young Women’s Economic Empowerment Programs: Emerging Insights From a Review of Reviews

This ECWG review of reviews aimed to assess what interventions, especially group-based interventions, show promise in economically empowering adolescent girls and young women in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). In addition, we examined the promise of specific economic components, combinations of components, and core topics. We searched five databases as well as other sources and identified 2,467 citations, resulting in 17 reviews, 10 of which quantified their results. We found too little evidence to classify any of the examined interventions as clearly “effective.” None of the reviews found negative effects or harmful findings, however. Most intervention–outcome pairings were unknown; that is, they were not examined by reviews. While we identified some intervention approaches that were promising, the review findings suggest extensive research gaps in terms of program content, implementation, and measurement.

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Economies of Scale of Large-Scale International Development Interventions: Evidence from Self-Help Groups in India

Livelihoods and microfinance programs for women often show reduced impacts after scale-up. Yet, program scale-up may reduce average per capita costs and maintain cost-effectiveness despite lower impact. Our paper presents evidence on the association between program scale, costs, and cost-effectiveness by analyzing how the costs of a large-scale Self-Help Group (SHG) program in India changed from its inception in 2007 to its scale-up in 2019. We use expenditure data from program’s audit statements of Jeevika – the Bihar Rural Livelihoods Promotion Society – and find that a 1% increase in program membership was associated with a 0.6% increase in annual program expenditures, indicating large economies of scale for this outcome. Building on a rich history of research on Jeevika, we argue that program implementers must identify key success factors in pilot programs to minimize tradeoffs between cost savings and potentially reduced impacts after scale-up.

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Improving evidence on women’s groups: a proposed typology and reporting checklist

Describing women’s group models with greater accuracy is key to ensuring transferability of evidence, both from pilots to scaled-up programs and across contexts.  To address this gap, this paper proposes: (i) a typology to categorize women’s groups and (ii) a set of common reporting indicators to describe implementation models. This a commentary piece led by Dr. Sapna Desai and Dr. Thomas de Hoop, along with ECWG members and colleagues who have conducted systematic reviews on women’s groups in India, Uganda and other low and middle-income settings. 

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