FALSatScale: IFAD, FARMSE and Opportunity Malawi

Financial Action Learning for Sustainability at Scale (FALS@Scale) Toolkit was produced by FARMSE and Opportunity Trust Malawi in partnership with IFAD and in the framework of the EU-RBA Joint Programme on Gender Transformative Approaches for Food Security and Nutrition (JP GTA). The JP GTA is implemented by FAO, IFAD and WFP in collaboration with and through financial support from the European

The Toolkit below was written and designed by Linda Mayoux with input from staff and FALS champions in Malawi. FALS@Scale is a simplified version of FALS designed for on-line WhatsAp delivery with minimum external facilitation by Community-based Financial Organisations (CBFOs) in contexts where few women and men can read and write.

FALS@Scale is intended primarily as an entry point inclusive pictorial financial planning methodology to establish visual communication and participatory leadership skills and upscaling systems for more advanced inclusive livelihood development processes. Although it can be used on its own, ideally over time it would be followed by or incorporate more advanced features of:

PALS livelihood strengthening and value chain development tools
Gender transformative and leadership development tools
Financial Action Learning System (FALS) financial planning and management tools for financial service providers with Oikocredit partners NWTF and ASKI in Philippines.

See further links at the end of this post.

Why FALS@Scale?

Although establishment of CBFOs has increased access to savings and credit for very large numbers of previously financially excluded populations, studies (including FARMSE reports) have often shown that:

  • even where women are the majority of the membership, leadership is often by men or by better-off women. This affects the degree to which women benefit from decisions made by CBFOs.
  • women provide the majority of the savings – sometimes foregoing food – but receive the minority of loans
  • the contribution to increasing incomes is often marginal – even where loans are invested in production, women’s incomes are generally used for the household while men then keep more of the money that they previously contributed for themselves
  • although CBFOs may strengthen social networks, they may also disrupt networks when problems arrive. They also often exclude the poorest and most disadvantaged.
  • linkages between CBFOs and the formal financial sector remain weak, particularly for women and more disadvantaged clients.

At the same time many contexts where development agencies are trying to implement inclusive and empowering financial service projects face challenges that require a more simplified entry point:

  • low levels of literacy and/or multiple local languages require a pictorial approach where visual communication skills need to be developed at all levels.
  • large distances between communities making frequent face-to-face meetings costly in time and energy as well as budget making on-line delivery through the expanding mobile phone networks a better option for part (not all) of the capacity-building.
  • difficulties attracting men to join ‘women’s empowerment’ processes, thereby seriously limiting what women as well as men can do to promote gender justice and hence also effectiveness of livelihood interventions.

What is FALSatScale?

Financial Action Learning for Sustainability at Scale (FALS@Scale) is:

A participatory visual methodology for financial inclusion and empowerment of women and men, including the ultra-poor, to:

  • enable women and men from all backgrounds, particularly those from marginalised and financially disadvantaged households, to better access, manage and benefit from financial resources as the basis for
  • sustainable and empowering community-based financial organisations (CBFOs) and
  • an accessible and socially responsible formal financial sector.

The core of the methodology consists of a sequence of five visual and practical action learning tools:

  • Vision Journey: starts with a broader economic and social vision for the individual, household and community to place savings, production and consumption loans (potentially also) insurance or pension products within this wider motivational longer-term context.
  • Happy Family Tree: analyses what women and men can do themselves through changing unequal work, expenditure, decision-making and property relations with the household and wider family.
  • Financial Empowerment Map: identifies the pros and cons of a range of potential sources of finance and how they may be combined over time to progressively achieve the vision, including other people they would like to help through peer-sharing the tools.
  • Financial Management Calendar: brings all the previous analysis together as a carefully costed loan proposal for a manageable investment, including savings and repayment schedule in the context of opportunities and challenges identified.

Implementation process

Inception meetings

The process starts with a series of inception, planning and capacity-building workshops with a process co-ordination team in the implementing organisations led by an experienced FALS@Scale adviser. These can be conducted by Zoom or face-to-face using on-line resources on this website. These should:

  • present the basic principles, process and tools of FALS@Scale and introduce the on-line resources.
  • discuss contextual opportunities and constraints – structures, capacities and experience of the implementing organisation particularly other PALS/GALS processes, gender empowerment/mainstreaming, participatory methodologies.
  • clarify the ways in which the CBFOs are structured in terms of decision-making, leadership, inclusion and loan access.
  • clarify the on-line technical opportunities and constraints faced at the different levels, including within VSLAs themselves.
  • agree on an initial implementation plan for the catalyst, and budget – though both should be left flexible at this point.

Who is involved?
  1. FALSatScale champions – members of CBFOs who learn and use the methodology and who will be the main facilitators for peer sharing and upscaling and the rationale for the whole process.
  2. Community FALSstScale ambassadors – other people locally eg FSAs, leaders, and hopefully over time some officials, bank staff etc who know enough about the methodology and are convinced of its usefulness enough to advocate and facilitate linkages with relevant decision-makers to avoid the sorts of expense and wastage of time and resources on hospitality that we discussed at the last meeting.
  3. FALSatScale facilitation team – field staff in the implementing organisation who are facilitating the catalyst process with people in the community – champions and ambassadors. They support the champions in upscaling to new areas and respond to needs arising, deepening local linkages with other actors and banks. They also coordinate documentation as the basis for planning the sustainability of the financial empowerment process, and communication with other stakeholders.
  4. FALSatScale process support team – the team that ensures smooth functioning of the process design and logistics for the work by field staff with CBFO champions, and provides the necessary training resources for the Catalyst process.

The methodology starts by focusing on the Vision Journey to develop the visual communication skills of facilitators to share the tool on-line through existing training networks eg Financial Support Assistants (FSAs) to all members of VSLAs.

It consists of two parts:

  • Vision drawing with gender dimension
  • Vision Journey plan for first loan cycle

This should take as long as it takes – usually about 2 months from first contact) to establish a firm and wide basis (at least 1,000) for delivery of the other more complex and powerful tools.

The focus is on:

  • developing the visual communication skills and confidence of ALL members of the VSLAs, not just those with higher level education and/or leadership positions.
  • establishing a large network for dissemination and community peer sharing of these basic skills and planning for this one basic but very powerful tool.
  • giving some time for participants to start to implement the first step of their plan and realise its usefulness – to inspire them to continue with the methodology themselves and also to share it with others.

3 full days meeting, arriving evening and leaving following day. With 20-40 of the most active VSLA champions who have not yet received a loan, plus the most active FSAs who will facilitate the process going forward.

This workshop should be in a place with good internet communication co-facilitated by the support team, but also supported by the FALS@Scale adviser. It should be well prepared through prior on-line capacity-building meetings with the FALS@Scale adviser covering both tools and ‘Fun with a Serious Purpose’ facilitation techniques.

It reinforces the empowerment and collective movement-building by community champions, consolidating visual communication skills, gender empowerment and participatory leadership and facilitation skills. It includes individual and group participatory activities for:

  • Happy Family Tree
  • Financial Empowerment Map

On the final morning there is a one hour certification ceremony for the first champions to facilitate upscaling of the empowerment deepening tools.

For staff and FSAs it develops participatory leadership and visual documentation skills and certification to support the champions in upscaling.

This is followed by a 2-month upscale process.

First evening

  • Video presentation of songs and fun exercises from other processes
  • Pairwise expectations

Day 1: Participatory Review of VJ

  • Soulmate Visioning and Pairwise exercise
  • Session 2: Reviewing progress of implementing and sharing the Vision Journey.
  • Evening writing Vision Journey Song

Day 2: Happy Family Tree

  • First thing: Vision Journey Song competition
  • Happy Family Tree individual drawing
  • Happy family tree plenary sharing
  • Evening Happy Family Tree song

Day 3: Financial Empowerment map

  • First thing: Happy Family Tree Song competition
  • Financial Empowerment Map individual drawing and sharing role play
  • Financial Empowerment Map collective sharing and upscale plan

Last Morning

  • Champion certificate ceremony with songs
Financial Management calendar

The final stage review the original vision journey, and produces a much more detailed quantified financial management calendar for a further, possibly larger loan. From the CBFO or formal sector financial provider.

This is designed and finalised by the FALS@Scale adviser with capacity-building for the FSAs and loan staff. They then upscale through the networks established in stages 1 and 2.

FALS@Scale Tools

Tool 1: Vision Journey (VJ)

The Vision Journey introduces basic drawing, pictorial number system, diagramming, participatory and planning skills: What does a happy family look like? what are women, men and children doing? what do they have? who owns what? what is the role of micro-finance? What is there already? what important changes are needed? What are my opportunities and challenges to reach my vision? What is my target by the end of the loan cycle, and what are the steps to achieve it?

FALS Tool 1 Vision Journey mobile version
FALS Tool 1 Vision Journey screen presentation
FALS Tool 1 Participatory Workshop Facilitation Notes


The Happy Family Tree looks in more detail at division of work, expenditure, assets and decision-making in the family. How to make these both more efficient and equitable in order to increase the funds available for savings and loan repayment – including increasing saving by men and the types of businesses that women as well as men can run. This tool forms the basis of empowerment and gender indicators and a tool that can be used and aggregated by CBFOs themselves to assess change.

FALS Tool 2 Happy Family Tree mobile version
FALS Tool 2 Happy Family Tree presentation
FALS Tool 2 Happy Family Tree: Participatory Workshop Facilitation Notes


The Financial Empowerment Map starts by looking at emotional, financial and power relationships that can help or constrain progress, then access to financial resources from family as well as institutions, and identifies people they can share the empowerment tools with who might help them achieve their vision. It enables exchange of information about knowledge and experience with different financial institutions and forms the basis for network strengthening and peer sharing.

FALS Tool 3 Financial Empowerment Map mobile version
FALS Tool 3 Financial Empowerment Map Presentation
FALS Tool 3 Financial Empowerment Map: Participatory Workshop Facilitation Notes


!! to be further simplified following piloting

The Financial Management Calendar is a plan for business and financial management, integrating learnings from the Happy Family Tree, Financial Empowerment Map and Challenge Action Tree.  The tools is tracked as a tool for learning to manage businesses and finance better. At CBFO level this becomes over time a required part of the loan application process, and assessing applications for loan rescheduling. When applying for loans members need to bring any previous FMCs and a new FMC for the loan being applied for. The same process can be used with banks.

FALS Tool 5 Financial Management Calendar mobile version
FALS Tool 5 Financial Management Calendar presentation
FALS Tool 5 Financial Management Calendar : Participatory Workshop Facilitation Notes

FALSatScale Financial Empowerment Deepening and Movement-building

!!Links to be inserted.

FALS is a one year process aiming to reach thousands of CBFO members and others in their families and communities. Sustainable mainstreaming entails FALS integration into:

  • CBFO Savings and Loan Management: Full integration of the Financial Management Calendar, backed up by the other tools in case of savings or repayment difficulties into the loan application process implemented by loan managers. This is started with the pilot, but requires a couple of loan cycles to fully refine and for CBFO members who cannot read and write to become fully proficient.
  • Other capacity building, and possibly addition of other PALS/value chain/GALSatScale/BALI tools.  Integration serves to reduce costs of FALS training and means that other trainings are further strengthening client planning, participatory, communication and analytical skills.
  • Financial empowerment and gender indicators with manageable modes for collection of information by CBFOs and FALS support team.
  • Product innovation and market research process: this requires capacity building, piloting and refinement of a further Tool 8: Win-win product innovation tree (based on IFAD FALS Challenge Action/Win-win trees piloted by IFAD with RUFIN in Nigeria).

Empowerment Review: a taking stock of the empowerment achievements and challenges, the peer-sharing and community-led upscaling and any further adaptations of the methodology. This will need assistance with participatory quantification facilitation. This could be from a consultant involved in the JP-RWEE Happy Family Review. It needs to be based on support skills available. Suggestions here are just to indicate what is possible. Alternatively it could be a simple aggregation of information by the VSLAs, supported by the Field Support Assistants, focusing on indicators decided by champions/IFAD.

Livelihood Strengthening and Value Chains: BALI etc

Gender Transformation: GALS process

Financial Action Learning System with FSPs – Oikocredit.

FALS Impact Assessment Philippines

French C Vibar 2019 Bridging the Gender Gap in Responsible Finance (FALS Impact Evaluation Report, Business Fair Trade Consulting, Quezon City, Philippines March 2019

This internal impact evaluation followed up on 16 out of the total 42 clients were interviewed at a one day participatory session using the Most Significant Changes methodology. It is unclear how this sample was selected. This information was supplemented through interviews with NWTF and ASKI staff .

Two most significant change [MSC] stories were selected from among the experiences shared by champions.

When good news spreads – the Josephine Osorio story presents an inspiring story of how a church and community leader integrated FALS in her membership promotion. She was able expand loan size of her association from €2,100 [ ₱125,000] for 25 members to €125,000 [₱7.4M] for 600 members.

From transaction to transformation – the Irene Pajarillo-Valdez story features the story of a client caught in a vicious cycle of loans and repayments. Through FALS, she expressed her dream/vision of a family home and a business providing stable income. She shared how using the tools has opened doors for negotiating gender roles in the family and guiding her towards the realization of her family vision.

Learnings from the pilot were classified at three levels (p8):

At champions’ level
1.1. Most clients are interested in more than just taking loans. They also want to be able to save, identify a stable source of income, and plan for a secure future -for themselves and their family. FALS tools and methodology appealed to the champions because they address their felt needs.
1.2. The informal peer support system among champions helped sustain interest in implementing life plans and in promoting FALS.
1.3. Although champions may have achieved their goals/visions and improved quality of life by using FALS tools as guides for life and business planning, they need additional support to address emerging needs. For instance, some champions asked about modalities of a retirement fund. Another champion still borrowed money from a loan shark to buy household appliances. A fisherfolk leader identified the need for a solar drier for drying fish.

At MFI level
1.1. MFI’s can play an important role in addressing social norms that constrain women’s financial inclusion.
1.2. The value of FALS tools depend on the quality of information generated through it. ASKI and NWTF can help clients produce relevant information by facilitating completion and updating of tools.
1.3. Current capacity of MFI staff is not enough for them to effectively facilitate FALS implementation and optimize its benefits.
1.4. The value of FALS as an approach to gender mainstreaming in ASKI and NWTF has been demonstrated by the pilot; the business case is yet to be established.

At project/partnership level

  • 1.1. Engaging ASKI and NWTF is a strategic move in testing the viability of FALS to mainstream gender in microfinance. Both institutions cater to marginalized sectors, mostly women who could use some leverage to achieve financial inclusion.
  • 1.2. Just as the clients are provided with capacity building support to use the FALS tools, MFI staff also need to be equipped with FALS facilitation skills and knowledge. Product development and innovation capabilities of staff need to be enhanced, too.
  • 1.3. The regular movement of staff to different assignments may slow the implementation of FALS as new relationships and trust need to be built anew. It should be included as part of roll out consideration.
  • 1.4. A monitoring mechanism or system is needed to track changes attributable to FALS. Baseline data on the clients is an important component for monitoring.

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