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Can self-help groups really be self-help?

  • Brian Greaney
  • Joseph P. Kaboski
  • Eva Van Leemput

This paper examines a cost-reducing innovation to the delivery of "Self-Help Group" microfinance services. These groups typically rely on outside agents to found and administer the groups although funds are raised by the group members. The innovation is to have the agents earn their payment by charging membership fees rather than following the status quo in which the agents are paid by an outside organization and instead offer free services to clients. The theory we develop shows that such member- ship fees could actually improve performance without sacrificing membership, simply by mitigating an adverse selection problem. Empirically, we evaluate this innovation in East Africa using a randomized control trial. We find that privatized entrepreneurs providing the self-help group services indeed outperform their NGO-compensated coun- terparts along several dimensions. Over time, they cost the NGO less and lead more profitable groups; also, households with access to privately-delivered groups borrow and save more, invest more in businesses, and may have higher consumption. Consistent with the theory, these privatized groups attract wealthier, more business-oriented members, although they attract no fewer members.

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Paper provided by Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis in its series Working Papers with number 2013-014.

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Date of creation: 2013
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Handle: RePEc:fip:fedlwp:2013-014
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  1. Joseph P. Kaboski & Robert M. Townsend, 2005. "Policies and Impact: An Analysis of Village-Level Microfinance Institutions," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 3(1), pages 1-50, 03.
  2. Jessica Cohen & Pascaline Dupas, 2010. "Free Distribution or Cost-Sharing? Evidence from a Randomized Malaria Prevention Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 125(1), pages 1-45, February.
  3. Orazio Attanasio & Britta Augsburg & Ralph De Haas & Emla Fitzsimons & Heike Harmgart, 2011. "Group lending or individual lending? Evidence from a randomised field experiment in Mongolia," Working Papers 136, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Office of the Chief Economist.
  4. de Meza, David & Webb, David C, 1987. "Too Much Investment: A Problem of Asymmetric Information," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 102(2), pages 281-92, May.
  5. Paolo Casini & Lore Vandewalle & Zaki Wahhaj, 2015. "Public Good Provision in Indian Rural Areas: the Returns to Collective Action by Microfinance Groups," Studies in Economics 1503, School of Economics, University of Kent.
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