Mobile Application for Self Help Groups

Self Help Group mobile app empowers youth as compassionate entrepreneurs
who save, earn, and use money to improve their lives and communities.


Youth Economic Empowerment

Eighty-seven (87) percent of the world's youth live in developing nations, many of which are experiencing "youth bulge" a condition that occurs when the proportion of youth in the population reaches a peak and results in high levels of youth unemployment, exacerbating levels of poverty. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, young people comprise the greatest portion of the population and are now twice as likely to be unemployed, with current unemployment rates at 11.6%. Many of these youth are excluded from access to formal financial services due to legal restrictions, high transaction costs and negative youth stereotypes. Less than 5% of youth have a savings account and few financial institutions serve the youth market. Fortunately, recent studies from around the world have shown that poor youth do have access to money and engage in small-scale income-generating activities, such as agricultural work, fruit sales, or housekeeping. Research also shows that youth save in informal ways - hiding money in a box, burying it, or giving it to their parents, though they report that none of these methods are safe. These findings and many youth savings programs around the world have debunked the myth that poor youth cannot save. Savings and collective action can strengthen the ability of youth to face financial shocks and build assets early in life.


Self Help Groups: Low Cost, High Impact

Building on this evidence, One Hen Inc., a nonprofit devoted to youth entrepreneurship, is partnering with Tearfund, a development agency, to address youth poverty, economic capacity and resilience by implementing a Self Help Group (SHG) model in Africa. In the past 12 years, Tearfund has supported the formation of more than 200,000 SHGs in Ethiopia and, in the last five years, has extended its SHG program to over 10 countries in eastern and southern Africa. The SHG model in Ethiopia has been shown to deliver over $100 of benefit to beneficiaries for every $1 invested. Group feedback and data also show gains in member empowerment, gender equality, environmental awareness, resilience, confidence and skills. With an average self-replication rate of 20-30% per year, these SHGs have the potential to scale rapidly improving both economic and social stability for hundreds of communities. One Hen is seeking to replicate this impact with youth via Tearfund and other partners. In a single year, One Hen's SHG program with Tearfund has expanded by 1000% -- from 120 youth in Ethiopia to over 1,000 in Ethiopia and Tanzania.

Mobile App Delivery Advantages

Both the World Bank and African Development Bank report there are 650 million mobile users in Africa, surpassing the number in the U.S. and Europe. Mobile phone use in Africa is also increasing rapidly - rising from 1% in 2000 to 54% in 2012. In response to these rising mobile technology trends and the ability of the SHG model to rapidly scale, One Hen and Tearfund partnered with Code Innovation, an organization that designs and implements technology-supported education initiatives in developing countries, to offer the SHG curriculum through a mobile app. Guided by this app, SHG facilitators support their groups in establishing savings and loan systems, developing group bylaws, and leading members through discussions around risk reduction, resilience, and health. The mobile platform is a user-friendly solution for both urban and rural communities and allows for regular and accurate data collection.

Self Help Group: How it Works

In the SHG approach, 15-20 people, typically female, meet each week to save and lend money to each other. The approach is low cost, primarily requiring only facilitation resources in the first year or two. New SHGs establish bylaws to guide the group as it begins to save and then loan its microcapital to members. Each SHG sets its own interest rate on loans, which is often a small fraction of the interest rates charged by local moneylenders. Guided by the app, facilitators also lead SHG members in discussions around other critical topics such as members'  vulnerability to hazards and disasters. Discussions are combined with activities and games that encourage the members to explore risk reduction, problem solve, and build trust.

Building both Economic and Social Capital

Many SHGs also contribute savings into a social fund they use for emergency assistance. If a tragedy occurs, these funds are disbursed to the person or family in need, helping to build the capacity of their group and community to meet the challenges they face. The social fund can also be used for community development projects that the SHG decides to undertake. This social savings approach works especially well in rural areas, which are often not reached by formal financial service providers, and as a result, have no other reliable options for emergency or development assistance. The social capital that is built into SHGs allows members to diversify their incomes, pool resources to help those in need and initiate change in their communities. As a result, food intake is more frequent for SHG households (three or more meals per day) and diets are more nutritious. Many SHG members report they are now able to send their children to school and pay for healthcare. With a stronger asset base, many SHG members also have the resilience to cope with bad times without having to sell off assets at reduced prices.

The App-ified Self Help Group

The SHG app helps teachers, program implementers, and community leaders to led groups of youth through an SHG curriculum. The modules cover such topics as:

  • Group Formation: naming the group, establishing by-laws, nominating roles and responsibilities, etc.
  • Group Growth & Community Action: building relationships, addressing community issues, developing business skills
  • Loans and Small Business Development: understanding loans and interest, developing and presenting loan proposals


Key Features of the SHG App

  • Runs on Android
  • Currently in English, Amharic and Swahili
  • Supports democratic and open learning dialogues
  • Includes facilitator training modules and supplementary materials
  • Integrates monitoring and evaluation questions to allow for robust data collection on outcomes and impacts
  • Allows youth around the world to share their stories about business activities and community initiatives


Outcomes and Scale

  • Cost-effective. The SHG approach delivers over $100 of benefit to the communities for every $1 spent. These benefits arise from reduced spend on moneylenders, increased income through business activities, and improved school attendance.
  • Rapid growth. SHGs grow organically and the first groups develop and replicate themselves in new SHGs. In Ethiopia, SHGs create new groups at a growth rate of 20-30% per year.
  • Decreasing costs. Over time, the majority of SHGs become self-funded.
  • Empowering. SHGs disrupt the traditional international aid paradigm because they are built on the belief that poor people can be change agents, rather than simply recipients of aid.
  • Reduced religious and ethnic tensions. SHG members are selected from among the poorest in a community, regardless of religion or ethnicity. As communities work together through the SHGs, tensions between religious and ethnic groups ease, giving way to supportive relationships.
  • Gender equality. Focus group discussions consistently show that women involved in SHGs have increased confidence and decision-making power. Several SHGs have also been linked to reductions in female genital cutting and increased school attendance among girls, as well as stopping childhood marriage.
  • Social impact. SHG members talk consistently about increased confidence and skills, the ability to relate better to one another, the sense of support that they feel from one another, empowerment, dignity etc.
  • Environmental awareness is high, driving initiatives such as tree-planting, more widespread composting and sustainable agricultural practices, as well as sanitation projects.
  • Resilience. SHGs members cope better with all their priority needs and become more resilient, thanks not only to contingency funds for emergencies but to also livelihood diversification.

What's Next?

In 2015, the UK's Department for International Development (DFID) provided funding to One Hen to scale its SHG pilot by 1,000% by extending the program to over 1,000 young people in Ethiopia and Tanzania, seeding new SHG groups in disaster-prone regions. During this expansion phase, improvements to the app content and implementation strategy have continued to be user-driven, with SHG members and facilitators guiding the process. One Hen is also now expanding its program reach to partners across Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. Our vision is to translate the app into additional languages and tailor it for diverse cultural contexts so more youth around the world have access to financial education that empowers them as agents of change in their lives and communities.

For more information, please contact One Hen at: