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Does slow and steady win the race? A Reflection on PUCA’s First Year >

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Last August, my colleague Babacar Sambe and I set out in earnest to plan Grameen Foundation’s first deployments of the Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI) in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). After analyzing the landscape, considering budget constraints and the location of local GF staff, we decided to begin our first efforts in Mali and Senegal. Rather than go it alone, we reached out to other international NGOs that support poverty-focused microfinance institutions (MFIs). And to round out our collaborative group, we invited other important locally based constituents-- namely a microfinance rating agency and the national associations of both countries. Our group of PPI supporters was formally branded the PPI Users Collaborative in Africa, otherwise known as PUCA (pronounced PUCK –a). PUCA includes Catholic Relief Services, Grameen Foundation, Oikocredit, Terrafina Microfinance, Planet Rating, and the national associations – APSFD Senegal and APSFD Mali.

Our intent was to go slow and steady – selecting the right MFI partners, training local staff and consultants, and engaging the national associations strategically as we moved along. We formally began our journey together in February of this year with three MFI partners of the international NGOs – two from Senegal and one from Mali – that are committed to managing their social as well as financial performance. Of the three, two have their completed pilots and one is very well-positioned to start its implementation.

Beyond working with these three partners, PUCA has expanded the number of local staff and consultants trained in both countries. At the beginning of 2010, there were five local PPI trainers across the two countries, and now there are 11. We pushed beyond the early boundaries we’d set for ourselves – hosting trainings in Mali and Senegal – by supporting APSFD Senegal’s trainer, Absa Gueye, in her first PPI training in English outside of her homeland. This event made APSFD Senegal the very first national association in the world to offer a retail-priced PPI training outside of its borders.

At the start of the year, Senegal was the only country in SSA to have had a GF-led PPI training. Six months later, a total of four trainings have been held in both countries – two in Senegal and two in Mali. Each collaborative member of PUCA now has staff with good knowledge of the PPI and their training capacities are still being strengthened. The PPI has been introduced to a total of 7 MFIs. Of the four that are not currently a part of PUCA, three have expressed interest in piloting the tool and preparations are being made to work with these institutions in the coming months.

It feels like PUCA has been around for a long time, but as I sit here and count I realize it’s only been 11 months since our formal launch and a year since all members committed to its creation. Are we moving too slowly or is 11 months a long period of time? We had expected that our three original MFI collaborators would be in the process of completing their implementation strategies by now, but things have moved more slowly than anticipated, largely due to unforeseen personal tragedies and a few life-changing blessings affecting SPM project leads. As life events arise, we’re reminded that there is only so much planning that can be done. So, in those moments, we’ve taken deep breaths and provided emotional support to our colleagues.

As I think about the ecosystem we’re trying to build, I ask myself, “Have we gained enough traction and interest this year? Have we built out a sufficient support network for both MFI users and trainers?” I think the jury is still out. Using the PPI is a process and it is as much about managing change as it is about assessing poverty outreach and measuring improvement in clients’ lives. So perhaps the next year will be more telling for PUCA as we wrap up our initial implementations and begin work with a new batch of MFIs. We’ll see if the slow-and-steady approach does in fact win the race.


Sharlene Brown is a Program Officer with the Grameen Foundation Social Performance Management Center, handling trainings for MFIs in Sub-Saharan Africa and Middle-East/North Africa. Sharlene is based out of Washington, DC.