FALS: IFAD, FARMSE and Opportunity Malawi

FALS: IFAD, FARMSE and Opportunity Malawi

Financial Action Learning for Sustainability (FALS) Toolkit produced as part of the IFAD Joint Partnership- Gender Transformative Approaches project implemented by FARMSE and Opportunity Trust Malawi, funded by European Union.

NOTE: Tools below based on PALS livelihood planning tools developed with women and men in Uganda, India and Ethiopia their more focused adaptation for financial services with Oikocredit partners NWTF and ASKI in Philippines.

To be adapted to the Malawi context following piloting.


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.

What is FALS?

Financial Action Learning for Sustainability (FALS) 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: places financial management within the context of a broader economic and social vision for the individual, household and community
  • 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
  • Finance Challenge Action Tree: looks at the challenges encountered in implementing the changes people have made through the previous tools and brainstorms actions that people can take to address them
  • 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.

These tools are introduced to women and men in CBFOs using inclusive, participatory techniques focusing on confidence-building and leadership capacity of people who have not yet received a loan. The tools are facilitated in different ways depending on particular mixes of participants, aiming for each set of participants to have a coherent and cumulative skill set and able to share with others in different types of setting.

Implementation process

Ideally the process would start with an exchange visit to an experienced implementing organisation.

Catalyst process (2 months): a participatory planning, capacity-building for the facilitation team and champions. with clients and staff being trained in parallel to allow both clients and staff to learn the same tools and use them for their own personal lives, and for staff to learn clients and for both to learn facilitation skills.   Details of the programme are adapted to the schedules of clients and staff with a combination of half and full days. Facilitated on-line over two months as an integrated process for co-development of contextually-adapted methodology based on practical input from the champions and facilitation team. This lays a solid basis of about 500 champions in selected CBFOs who are both practising and peer sharing the methodology. The experience is supported and empowerment achievements and challenges are documented on an ongoing basis by the facilitation team, disaggregated by gender and other dimensions of disadvantage.

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 includes

  1. FALS 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 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 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 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.

FALS Catalyst 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


The Loan Business Challenge Action Tree (name to be flexible/decided when we see priorities of champions) identifies in more detail recurrent challenges for the business for which they propose to take the loan in relation to production, marketing and household, looking at gender issues and role of financial services. This Tool is also used by the FSP for participatory market research on specific products and services.

FALS Tool 4 Business Challenge Action Tree mobile
FALS Tool 4 Business Challenge Action Tree presentation
FALS Tool 4 Business Challenge Action Tree : Participatory Workshop  Facilitation Notes


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

FALS Review: Empowerment Deepening

NOTE: This process and extent of Linda’s involvement is still to be decided – it 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.


The Happy Family Diamond looks at gender issues that constrain women and men from achieving their full potential. This builds on the discussion from Tool 2 Happy Family Tree and serves as a retrospective review of the changes that have happened because of FALS. It also identifies client priorities for further changes. These then enable client-led identification of gender indicators that can be integrated into SPM and used as a gender checklist for assessing product innovation. This same tool can be used with staff as part of development of an organisational internal gender policy.


The Empowerment Vision Highway brings together the Loan Management Calendar, Happy Family Tree/Client Empowerment Diamond and Financial Resources/Change Leadership Maps into a 3 lane ‘Highway’ plan. This is used to summarise the economic, gender and leadership changes that have happened because of FALS, and plan further change on all three lanes for the next loan cycle.

FALS Phase 3:
Sustainable Mainstreaming

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).

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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