TA Evaluation

ASA successfully met TA demands for 13 MFIs in 7 countries who have experienced high-growth after receiving assistance from ASA. ASA also assisted another 40 MFIs in 16 countries through exposure visits and strategic advice. UNDP selected ASA as the International Technical Service Provider (ITSP) under the MicroStart Project through an international bidding for Philippines in 1998 and for Nigeria in 1999. ASA’s past TA projects prove its success in maximizing MFIs’ potential for efficiency and scale. ASA continue to work with developing MFIs in scaling to capacity and reaching the poor who currently have no access to financial capital.

Evaluators’ view/appraisal on ASA TA

Dr. Jaime Atistotle B. Alip, 2007

Learning ASA

ASA Technology, or the Association for Social Advancement method, is similar to the Grameen method as a microfinance model, although it differs in very specific areas. By 2000, CARD was still using a customised version of the Grameen approach. Since 1998, CARD had experienced problems with the Grameen approach. The group liability aspect of the method turned away clients. Repayment and retention rates began to dip.

Basically, to articulate the problem, some clients began asking: “Why do I have to suffer if one of my group members doesn’t pay on time? I am not the non-performer.” It was this predicament that made prospective clients doubtful of the system. In 1999, I came upon a different method that employed a group approach to lending but had an individual liability scheme. This was the ASA Method. This system was the brainchild of Md. Shafiqual Haque Choudhury, who at that time had 600,000 individuals on board the ASA system. Impressed, I sent a team comprised of CARD Management and Board members to Bangladesh to visit and learn the ASA technology and see if it could work in CARD. After their 10 day visit, the team reported that there is not much to learn from ASA, and that the CARD-modified Grameen Bank method was still the best approach to employ. By the time I met Shafiq in 2000, his membership had doubled in number! I was perplexed that the team I sent had nothing to report. I went to Bangladesh myself and realized that the team that went before me failed to see that ASA was a system as it was a way of life! I knew there would be wave of resistance to the adoption of this technology. However, this resistance was more foreseeable as this was a change in paradigm, not a mere transformation of an institution. I made it clear that CARD would follow the way that works.

The team brought back the technology from Bangladesh. They were keen on employing it immediately to see if it would reverse the downward trend CARD was going through.

In 2001, CARD pilot-tested the ASA technology in Sipocot town, in the Bicol region, under the supervision of Rolly Punzalan. The system that was tested was not purely ASA. It was a hybrid of the new technology and Grameen. The name was also a hybrid: GRASA. The pilot-test failed. GRASA proved to be problematic as a result of combining two seemingly similar but intricately unique methodologies. Field officers had procedural problems. Educating the members on the GRASA also proved to be daunting. Since ASA employed individual liability, this became appealing to the members. It was not as appealing to CARD’s field staff. This meant their duties would be more demanding.

It was then that Aris decided to scrap the GRASA method temporarily and concentrate on engineering a “Philippinized ASA system”. Still, this redirection would take time before it even got off the drawing table and so the conversion to ASA was deferred.

I am very thankful to Shafiq, and my other ASA friends, who have helped CARD in teaching ASA’s methods to CARD and who have helped us grew exponentially as a microfinance institution

Paromita Shastri, New Delhi

Bandhan: linking destitute to funds

Chandra Shekhar Ghosh, managing director of Bandhan, hopes to make the Kolkata-based microfinance institution a bank for the poor by 2020.

US business magazine Forbes announced its inaugural listing of the world’s top 50 MFIs. ASA, from Bangladesh, long considered the birthplace of microfinance, came in at No.1. Bandhan was No.2. And Bangladeshi Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus’ Grameen Bank was No.17.

Ghosh has a Bangladesh connection, too. He was born in Agartala, Tripura, in 1960 to an immigrant family of sweet-makers from Bangladesh. He went back in 1971, helping out at the family sweet shop, studying at Dhaka’s university, and working with BRAC, Bangladesh’s premier and oldest social service organization. But he was more impressed by ASA, one of Bangladesh’s most well-known MFIs founded in 1978.

So, when he launched Bandhan in 2002 after returning to India and working with several MFIs in Tripura and West Bengal, he adopted ASA’s model of “individual lending”.

SUPPORT TO THE DEVELOPMENT OF SUSTAINABLE MICROFINANCE SECTOR IN NIGERIA

Mid – Term Evaluation Report

Félix Mawuko Agbobli, KEKAR, Togo; Adamu Garba, Diamond Development Initiatives, Nigeria

September 2007

ASA, the International Technical Services Provider has provided extensive TA including extensive training and monitoring assistance to 3 Break Through Institution (BTI) namely LAPO, DEC and JDPC. The beneficiaries found the technical assistance provided by ASA to be very useful. The ASA methodology has proved very effective in scaling up of outreach and improving sustainability and cost effectiveness.

All MFIs use the same bookkeeping and loan tracking system provided by ASA to manage their portfolio information, which has many advantages. The system is integrated with accounting in that it generates simplified monthly balance sheets and income statements. Internal controls are built into the system to reduce risk exposure. Systems are simple and user friendly; hence all MFIs have achieved a reasonable level of competence in using them. Information generated by the MIS is used in short term decision-making explicitly for: cash management, cash flow analysis, plans for disbursement, loan officer evaluation, portfolio management, future planning, projections and risk analysis.

The support for the development of ASA methodology in the country has helped the BTIs and other institutions to scale up outreach. Based on the ASA approach, LAPO has strengthened its position as the foremost microfinance institution in the country.

Currently, other 6 MFIs and at least 1 MFB are exposed to the methodology. Prosperity Microfinance Bank is piloting the methodology in two branches in Benin, Edo State.

The simplicity of the ASA model allows for highly decentralized management. This improves communication among the MFI staff, considerably reduces overhead costs and facilitates faster decision making – essential factors for increasing outreach and building savings for the MFIs.

Kim Alter, Microfinance Consultant, Virtue Ventures
Odinanka Okeke, Consultant, Growing Business Foundation
Steve Onyeagocha, Consultant and Lecturer

May 2002

Summary

ASA, the Technical Service Provider (TSP) for MicroStart Nigeria began its contract with UNDP Country Office in January 2000. Eight organizations in eight states were selected to participate in the three year MicroStart Program.

In midterm evaluation, results reveal that MicroStart Nigeria Program has been effective at reaching the poor and made advancements in developing sustainable institutions and that the program has met its overall performance goals. Additionally, MFIs felt that their organizational focus improved and that MicroStart helped toward achieving their mission.

Among MicroStart’s many achievements in Nigeria, the most significant is that it has fostered three possible “breakthrough” organizations –those that have the potential to become major service providers in their geographic area. With continued investment in a second phase of MicroStart, these organizations have potential to achieve national, multiregional and regional coverage respectively.

Based on previous MicroStart Program experience three breakthrough microfinance organizations for $500,000 is a solid return on investment.

ASA’s methodology has proven successful in the Nigeria context thus far and has been cost-effective with respect to results. Standard, easy-to-use systems coupled with technical assistance have been integrated into MFIs—to build an operational base for delivering micro-financial services. The methodology has been so well accepted that all MicroStart MFIs are in the process of transforming existing credit programs to the ASA methodology or have already done so.

The MicroStart Programme prospects for expansion are currently excellent. All MFIs have exceeded growth targets and continue to expand. It is not realistic to expect that the LTSP would be able to fully replace the knowledge and expertise that the international TSP has built up in its 10-20 years of operations in its home country. However, ASA, the TSP for MicroStart Nigeria, has made gains in transferring skills and know-how to local TSP team member, Mr. Alex Nnandi as well as supporting LAPO in building their consulting department, both of whom can play a role in ensuring MFI sustainability and availability of local technical service for the MicroStart MFIs.

MicroStart has realized a number of impressive achievements in Nigeria:

Improved performance of eight Nigerian MFIs –achievements in operational capacity are reflected in the MFIs ability to improve their operating efficiency and productivity

Significantly strengthened MFI sustainability evidenced by progressive increased of operational self-sufficiency and financial sustainability.

Increased profile and credibility of MFIs – Two of the MicroStart MFIs have received borrowed funds from Growing Business Foundation and LAPO is also being considered by USAID for a major grant, in large part, as a result of their participation in MicroStart.

Provided a service valued by MFIs over other funding relationships- the MicroStart Capital Grant for loan capital and assets coupled with technical support offers considerable added value over their other funding relationships that offer only financial resources. Technical assistance rendered by MicroStart TSP helped MFIs build capacity of their institutions.

Expanded area of coverage.

Increased commitment to microfinance as an effective poverty alleviation tool – several of the MFI Executive Directors renewed their commitment to microfinance based on the experience of MicroStart, and plan to focus on microfinance as a priority poverty alleviation program area. For example JDPC Deputy Executive Director considered eliminating the credit program due to low performance before MicroStart; since, he is seeking additional investments in microfinance and has plans to make it a cornerstone of JDPC’s future programming.

Proved effective at reaching the poor.

Provided MFIs with a solid, proven and replicable methodology- ASA’s standard, easy-to-use systems coupled with technical assistance have been successfully integrated into MFIs. The methodology has been so popular among MFIs that all have elected to replicate it throughout their credit programs. MFIs are either in the process of transforming existing credit programs to the ASA method or have already done so.

Built operational capacity – All MFIs have strengthened their ability to deliver microfinancial services. Increased capacity is demonstrated in overall performance indicators.

Customer satisfaction

MFIs articulated receiving significant benefit from MicroStart; partner MFIs identified the following benefits:

ASA methodology, tools and systems – complete set of record keeping, loan tracking systems, accounting and lending methodology.

Technical assistance to build capacity – regular and on-going support from experts.

Micro Capital Grants – resources for on-lending and capitalization.

Practitioner colleagues and networks – the opportunity to learn and share from other MicroStart MFIs; as well as participating in the Community Development and Microfinance Roundtable.

Monitoring and quality control – spot checking procedures and field operations during regular visits by ASA.

Strengthened programmatic focus on microfinance – program quality and outreach as seen in MFI performance indicators.

Formal training – credit methodology, record keeping and systems training for branch managers and leadership.

Breakthroughs

Among MicroStart’s many achievements, the most significant is that it has fostered three possible “breakthrough” organizations –those that have the potential to become major service providers in their geographic area.

ASA Methodology

Overall the ASA methodology receives high marks in contributing to the success of the project. ASA uses a franchise approach, which is standard, simple, easy to replicate and supports large-scale rapid growth using a sustainable branch model—important factors in the Nigerian context.

The savings component is another aspect of the ASA methodology that helps drive sustainability and reduces capital constraints faced by MFIs in countries where savings has a lower social value or is not permitted by law. The system enables an MFI to collect small amounts of savings from its members, pool it to on-lend for productive purposes, while covering the institutions costs.

The job creation component is also valuable in Nigeria where a large number of well educated people are unable to find jobs.

Finally, the standardized methodology enables ASA to provide technical assistance and regular monitoring in a cost-efficient manner to a substantial number of MFIs (eight) which other TSPs have found challenging.

The results of the ASA methodology are evidenced in the performance of MicroStart MFIs as-

Since the inception of the program, all MFIs have improved their repayment rates, strengthened their portfolio quality, improved their targeting and increased their outreach.

ASA methodology has demonstrated success in achieving large-scale rapid growth. The ASA methodology is premised on its ability to build sustainable microfinance institutions quickly—branches are designed to break even in nine months—and has been proven successful overall by achieving operational self-sufficiency and financial sustainability in 2001.

Ease of use and application of ASA’s simple and transparent record keeping systems has improved program accountability and accuracy of records, and for some MFIs reduced paperwork.

MicroStart has also helped MFIs focus and strengthen their mission. Furthermore, the MicroStart Programme has created several new jobs within the MFIs. The results of ASA methodology and its positive impact on the success of the project, has led MFIs to transform their other credit operations to the ASA methodology.

ASA has planned a four step approach to support the development of MicroStart. The first phase emphasizes building the operational base. During this period ASA focuses MFIs on basic operations, implementing the branch structure, teaching MFIs to collect information and keep accurate records. The second phase emphasizes institutional capacity building, during which ASA focuses its technical assistance on building middle management; strengthening leadership; growth, strategic and business planning; and financial management—identified as key problems faced by MFIs at the time of the evaluation. Thus the ASA methodology systematically strengthens institutional capacity as required to grow sustainable MFIs.

Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest (CGAP), the consortium of micro finance donors to assessed the quality of UNDP micro-finance program worldwide. The UNDP Philippine Micro starts program was rated highest of all 66 projects under taken by UNDP globally. Bangladeshi MFI, ASA has provided technical services since 1999 to the 16 MFIs in Philippine. The assessment reports clearly stated that since ASA with a strong track record of delivering good technical services provided the inputs, Philippine scored highest.

Richard Rosenberg
Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP), Revised 5 April 2005

UNDP success story #2

Focused assistance can yield big impact-The case of UNDP Philippines

UNDP Philippines’ “Microfinance Sector Strengthening Project” was designed as a follow up project to the MicroStart programme, through which 16 institutions had received technical assistance from ASA, a leading microfinance institution from Bangladesh. Based on the recommendations of the Global MicroStart mid-term evaluation which included the Philippines as a case study, for the second phase (December 2002 – May 2004) UNDP reduced the number of participating MFIs to 3, selecting CARD (NGO), CCT (NGO/cooperative) and LifeBank (rural bank). All three institutions received technical assistance and mentoring from a team of ASA experts, and visited ASA’s operations in Bangladesh.

From a baseline of 59,000 clients in December 2002, combined outreach grew to more than 137,000 clients by June 2004. All three institutions experienced significant growth while maintaining strong portfolio quality (with less than 5 percent of the loans late by more than 30 days), and achieving positive returns on assets even after adjusting for subsidies received.

With a total budget of just over US$340,000, half of which came from Ausaid, this project showed that a lot can be achieved with little money, if the design and timing are right.

Beyond the ASA methodology itself, which prioritizes outreach and sustainability over diversity of products, the success of the program relied on 4 key factors:

The quality of the technical assistance provider. UNDP, with the advisory services of UNCDF’s Microfinance Unit, selected a qualified technical service provider with a strong track record in delivering its own microfinance services as well as assistance to other organizations.

The consistency of the technical assistance. The ASA team leader has been present since the beginning of phase I, and the project did not experience significant turnover, allowing for the creation of solid professional relationships and producing greater consistency in the assistance provided. Instead of having consultants coming in and out on an irregular basis with limited accountability, ASA’s consultants were on the ground full time. This presence gave them a better understanding of each institution’s needs, potential bottlenecks, and required solutions. It also ensured more adequate follow-up in the assistance provided and greater internalization by the institutions.

The design shift. The decision to shift from limited assistance for 16 institutions to focused assistance for three promising institutions concentrated resources where they were likely to produce the most impact.

Regular reporting and monitoring. The three MFIs produce meaningful reports on core performance indicators. Both UNDP and the government partner NAPC have monitored the project actively and faithfully. This arrangement focuses everyone’s attention on the objectives that really matter. The Country Office understands where its role begins and where it ends—it has avoided the extremes of excessive intervention or neglect.

Jill Elisabeth Rhyne, 1 November 1999

MicroStart Philippines-Performance of ASA as TSP: ASA brings some important qualities to this project:

Relevance of ASA’s experience to Philippines is high. ASA’s emphasis on simplicity, standardization and financial viability is a much needed message among NGOs here.

Level of commitment of ASA to this project is high.

Intensity of technical assistance is high – cost effective. Number of in-country personnel well above any other MicroStart program.

Quality of personnel is high. All MFI staff gave ASA’s team very high marks. There were no complaints, but instead, a great deal of appreciation and enthusiasm.

The strategy of working with pilot branches is excellent. It is likely to produce more results than the standard advice-giving mode of technical assistance because it is very practical, action-oriented, and because it engages the organization deeply

Comment: ASA’s high level of on-site technical assistance, its very practical messages, and its action-oriented style of working are likely to be major success factors in this project. These factors would be hard to match among other TSPs.