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Pilot Micro Enterprise Development Programme

Background ACROSS is an international interdenominational Christian organization founded in 1972. It operates exclusively in Southern Sudan where it has five bases and with its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. Over the years, the organization has changed its approach, and now focuses on capacity building and training aiming towards transformational development. ACROSS has implemented many projects in various locations in Southern Sudan among them is the pilot MED Programme in the Greater Yei River Counties. MED Pilot Programme was started in September 2005 in Yei and the neighbouring Counties for one year funded by Strømme Foundation with the aim of responding to the enormous need of financial services to invigorate the local economy and thereby poverty alleviation, using the approach of promoting and mobilizing community savings in groups. Purpose/objective The purpose for evaluating was to establish, with empirical evidence, the extent planned MED programme objectives were achieved, the results realized, challenges encountered, inherent strengths, replicable lessons and recommend best way forward after of the pilot project. Methodology Participatory approaches and methods were utilized in the evaluation to elicit direct participation of all levels of those who implemented including the direct beneficiaries. Appropriate tools and methodologies were applied making these simple for the key informants to be able to follow and actively take part. Sampling was done on identifying key informants from among field, management, beneficiaries and complimented by primary and secondary actors, stakeholders and competitors in the context of the pilot project. Qualitative applied social research methods were used for sample development, along with case study development.The evaluation focused on a range of programme interventions e.g. product development, lending policies, systems, process and procedures in place, levels of savings and credit. It also studied the strategies for harnessing the economic potential, business development strategies and outreach to women, capacity development for effective micro-enterprise and micro-finance, evidence of benefits and risk management strategies, loan portfolio, adult literacy and linkages to other interventions as well. Key findings - It was noted that ACROSS used Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) approach. The community facilitators have been trained who in turn trained the VSLAs on group formation and management, group leadership, and conflict resolution in groups. The pilot project was positively integrated by the community as witnessed through the number of groups in Yei and its environs.1- Despite the difficult context under which the programme was implemented, it has managed to mobilize 520 clients in 21 groups, out of the planned 600. It was noted from the project records, 810 clients have been mobilized but some of them had not started on the loan scheme at the time of the evaluation. It was also noted that over 65% of the clients are women. Out of the 26 groups formed 21 had started collecting savings.- The MED Programme has had some challenges in human resource. Out of the two staff hired at the beginning; one had resigned after three months. As a result some elements of programme lagged behind or were not implemented altogether. At staff development level, it noted apart from an initial in-Programme induction and orientation, staff did not have any type of training to strengthen their competence in MED project work as needed. The evaluation established that the ratio of VSLAs to the MED Field Officers was strenuous.- It was noted that in regard to access roads, some areas like Morobo were not easily accessible in the wet season. Communication was only confined to Yei town with a mobile telephone system. Other alternatives in communication were the FM radio or satellite telephone service to which majority of groups had no access. This implied high costs for monitoring and coordination of groups in MED and business operations for the groups.- Record keeping was another challenge owing to low levels of literacy. There were no by-laws to clearly define what actions group could take in case of death among clients with loans, absenteeism and defaults. Members do not keep individual business records. 90% of the members could not produce the purchases and sales records even though they attested to the fact that they could recall the items they had for sale and the amounts of money they had in the business. Business selection techniques were found inadequate and were not based on sound economic and business analysis. Recommendations i. Knowledge-based Awareness Creation Campaigns ApproachACROSS re-strategize its awareness campaign approach, and develop one that enhances gender empowerment on access and control of resources and benefits, opening opportunities for learning and documenting group dynamics.ii. Inadequate Loan FundsThe amount of savings be graduated as levels of income improve such that a member increases the level of savings as their income increased and as they graduated from a lower to a higher loan level. This in turn would increase the VSLA capital base as well as the collateral for the loans.iii. Addressing Growth, Coverage, Quality and Cost EfficiencyACROSS sets a new quality oriented strategy to address coverage in terms of localities where groups operate from, including raising the number of groups in a qualitative and cost efficient manner vide clusters and other mechanisms.iv. Monitoring and ReportingACROSS devises an integrated monitoring and reporting plan complete with tools and guiding frameworks that can effectively collect data and information useful for informing decision-making, learning and other uses relevant to the MED programme.v. Where there is no BankingThe idea of creating a perpetual community based finance system be explored courageously and that ACROSS confidently sets up a community-based vanguard entity based on this Networking and Collaboration among ActorsStronger links with like-minded actors be developed to enrich the programme and guide it to be a leader informing policy in community-based socio-economic development and innovating systems for graduation from groups to wider economic systems appropriate for the context of Sudan. Comments from the organisation Staffing has been improved with recruitment of another staff to assist in service delivery through training of the community facilitators and supervising their work.• One staff has been given an exposure trip to West Africa to study how the VSLA model has operated longer which gave him new ideas to improve on VSLA after his return.• Better record system has been developed for capturing information on clients and the programme by staff.• Training in business skills and bibilical values in the market place implemented• Adult education classes have been started and is growing