FALS@Scale: IFAD, FARMSE and Opportunity Malawi

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

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

A participatory and inclusive pictorial entry point methodology for financial empowerment of women and men from all backgrounds,  including the ultra-poor.

It aims to:
  • enable ALL women and men participants to better manage financial resources, including those from community-based financial organisations and ultimately the formal financial sector.
  • increase the sustainability and wider developmental contribution of financial services through placing individual plans within a wider vision for social and economic change at household and community levels.

It 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.

Ideally over time it would be followed by or incorporate more advanced features of:

FALS@Scale is an adaptation of the generic PALS@Scale methodology designed by Linda Mayoux as an empowering, sustainable and low cost implementation through networks of Voluntary Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) and other Community-based Financial Organisations (CBFOs).

The IFAD FALS@Scale materials presented here were developed to support Financial Access for Rural Markets, Smallholders and Enterprise (FARMSE) Programme 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 Union. The materials draw significantly on input from the IFAD pilot with staff and FALS@Scale champions in Opportunity Trust Malawi.

This webpage provides a one-stop page of FALS@Scale resources developed for Malawi together with links to other empowerment tools and resources that can be used in parallel or as follow-on to FALS@Scale.

!!Insert links to further materials from Opportunity Trust and/or IFAD.

Community-based Financial Organisations (CBFOs) providing credit, savings, payments, insurance and other financial services for rural poor women and men can help them build livelihoods and confront economic, environmental and social challenges.

IFAD’s Inclusive Rural Finance (IRF) policy aims to create inclusive and sustainable food systems in which rural poor people benefit from accessible, affordable and useful financial products and services – to achieve food security, economic prosperity and resilience that leaves no one behind. This has included widespread promotion of Community-based Financial Organisations (CBFOs) of different types. IFAD’s 2021 Inclusive Rural Policy shifts focus from FSP systems to financial empowerment sustainability of members and scale of outreach. The IRF policy is aligned with and complements several other IFAD strategies and policies including Gender Policies, IFAD’s Rural Youth Action Plan (2019–2021) and IFAD Strategy and Action Plan on Environment and Climate Change (2019–2025). 

However, although establishment of CBFOs has increased access to savings and credit for very large numbers of previously financially excluded women and men, studies have often shown that:

  • 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.
  • women often provide the majority of the savings – sometimes foregoing food – but receive a lower proportion of loans
  • although CBFOs may strengthen social networks, they may also disrupt networks when problems arrive. They also often exclude the poorest and most disadvantaged.
  • 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.
  • 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 because:

  • low levels of literacy and/or multiple local languages require a pictorial approach where visual communication skills need to be developed at all levels.
  • difficulties attracting men to join ‘women’s empowerment’ processes, seriously limit what women as well as men can do to promote gender justice and hence also effectiveness of financial and livelihood interventions.
  • large distances between communities and/or economic and political risks 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.

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What is FALSatScale?

FALS@Scale has been streamlined and simplified in compliance with IFAD’s IRF policy as an inclusive and accessible methodology for use by CFOs working in particularly disadvantaged contexts and communities with high levels of illiteracy. It is based on a set of principles, tools, facilitation techniques and stages to:

  • Empower women as well as men of all ages and backgrounds to access and manage informal and formal financial services in ways that empower them to achieve a better and happier life.
  • Inspire men as well as women to identify and address gender inequalities constraining individuals, households and communities from achieving their visions and full potential.
  • Be accessible and inclusive for the most disadvantaged – those who have not had access to any or little formal education, from very low-income backgrounds and marginalised ethnicities.
  • Establish transferable visual communication, participatory and leadership skills for ALL participants that they can use in subsequent development interventions to increase inclusion and empowerment.
  • Be self-upscaling and sustainable within families and communities through establishing  voluntary pyramid peer sharing and support networks.
  • Establish networks of community-based champion practitioners who can be supported to become certified paid expert trainers to replicate the process in CBFOs in other areas.
  • Mainstream gender equality, women’s empowerment and other sustainable development concerns into the financial services of any specific project, including raising awareness across the commercial sector.

FALS@Scale is an 18 month process from initial design and sustainability planning to final assessment, based on a core catalyst training of 10×2 hour sessions integrated into CBFO meetings. Through a combination of voluntary peer sharing in households and communities and supported CBFO to CBFO replication the methodology can be expected to reach many thousands of direct and indirect participants, depending on the size and structure of the implementing organisations.

The training uses just one PALS diagram template: the Vision (Change) Journey, practising the same steps in three cumulative variants. Through integrating distinctive and innovative facilitation techniques that progressively develop confidence, skills and active participation of all participants to inspire changes at household and community levels.

By the end of 3 months each and every participant should have drawn for themselves:

  1. Happy Life Vision Dream: a life vision that includes not only dreams of nice houses and new businesses, but an awareness of the wider social context necessary for their achievements in terms of equality and fairness in family relationships and their community including environmental sustainability. And a commitment to taking action to promoting these aims.
  2. Happy Life 5 Year Vision Journey: a 5 year Happy Family Vision Journey plan to work towards the different elements of this vision, including more equal family relationships and community development.
  3. Financial Action Plan for 1 year: A 1 year financial SMART action plan for economic projects to which their membership in VSLAs will contribute as part of their progress towards their Vision Journey first circle. This is a workable financial plan for savings and credit from their group that members track and update over time. People with little or no formal education can use a pictorial number system that other participants learn to read, even if they use the standard numbers themselves.

Participants track their progress on these same drawings, and share experiences within other CBFO members as part of the monitoring and documentation process. The drawings provide a very rich basis for external qualitative assessments and the starting point for any impact research.

!! Insert final downloadable pdf of FALS@Scale Toolkit

Implementation process

Who is involved?
  1. FALS@Scale 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 FALS@Scale 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. FALS@Scale 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. FALS@Scale 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. Depending on extent of in-country or intra-organisational experience with PALS-based methodologies, this may or may not require initial or ongoing support from an international PALS expert.

!! Insert final copy of HTDN – downloadable?

FALSatScale Financial Empowerment Deepening and Movement-building

FALS@Scale can be used as an inclusive, effective and low cost:

  • methodology for financial empowerment and financial inclusion focusing particularly on the ultra poor and marginalised people and communities that can precede, follow or be integrated into CBFO mobilisation to promote inclusion, commitment and more equality and transparency between members..
  • stand-alone gender-transformative approach (GTA) through mainstreaming gender analysis and change strategies in both the tools and facilitation methodologies used.
  • entry point GTA to more advanced variants of the sister methodology GALS, establishing basic visual communication and participatory skills and bringing many more men as well as women into networks for change through leveraging the networks provided through CBFOs.
  • entry point methodology to make more advanced financial planning, livelihood strengthening and business development projects trainings more accessible and inclusive to currently marginalised groups.
  • a convincing starting point for establishing linkages between financial empowerment of CBFO members, including the ultra poor, and the other informal and formal sector financial institutions.

Ideally over time FALS@Scale would be followed by or incorporate more advanced features of:

  • Gender transformative and leadership development tools (GALS and iLEAD)
  • Financial Action Learning System (FALS) financial planning and management tools for financial service providers with Oikocredit partners NWTF and ASKI in Philippines.
  • PALS livelihood strengthening and value chain development tools
Links to useful follow-on resources on this website