Telling a good story – with the numbers to back it up

Editor’s Note:  See related story about reinventing the annual report to maximize impact.

By Bill Abrams

In my previous post, I explained the importance of finding new and constructive ways of engaging with increasingly inquisitive donors. The result of this for Trickle Up has been the creation of our Outcomes Report. While the report has been very helpful as a tool in conveying to our donors what impact Trickle Up has done in this past year, I find that outcome’s statistics, combined with a bit of storytelling, help make the point come across clearer.

For example, one component of our program is the formation of savings groups. Exclusion from social and economic life means that people living in ultrapoverty may not even be counted as individuals in their own community. Trickle Up savings groups enable participants to come together to save, share business strategies, help one another in times of need, access loans to grow businesses and provide for families. These groups help women build solidarity and social connections with one another.

Savings groups are key to our program’s sustainability, and the numbers speak for themselves. What is exciting is that not only are participants continuing to save in their groups even after the Trickle Up program has ended, but there is a high retention rate, and participants are actively using loans as capital infusions to build and expand their livelihoods.

Recently, I had the opportunity to witness such sustainability at work. Two years ago in Burkina Faso, West Africa, 25 Trickle Up participants formed the Rel Wendé savings group. Beyond saving over $3,000 since their group’s inception from weekly contributions of $1-$2, the women also developed a close bond, giving one another advice and offering encouragement and loans to those struggling or those who want to expand their businesses.

When I visited their village of Pinou in March 2013, I noticed a brick building with a sign above the door announcing that is was the “Multifunction Platform of Pinou.” When I inquired, the women of Rel Wendé   — poor women who had never been to school and had little status in their community — told us they were responsible for this building. 

With the help of Trickle Up’s local partner and their village, the women invested their savings to purchase a huge engine-powered mill facility, which is used by the entire community and saves countless hours of labor. Rel Wendé runs the mill as a business, with villagers paying a fee to mill their grains. The profits go back to their savings-and-loans fund, which the women have decided among other things, will be used to make loans to other members in their village.

On top of the economic benefits of the mill, it also boosted the social standing and prestige of this group of women-once among the poorest and least influential in their village. Other women in the village have been inspired to start their own savings group and have come to the Trickle Up women to ask for advice.  As Rel Wendé’s president remarked, “Now, women see us as a reference. They want to resemble us.”

See video: A Platform for Change

Stories like Rel Wendé, when combined with a robust and transparent monitoring and evaluation framework, can deliver the complete picture to curious donors and enable them to make an educated decision in supporting Trickle Up. It’s what we set out to do years ago, and with our new Outcomes Report, I believe we have come closer to this goal. Of course, we present these results knowing that there is always more to learn, both from our supporters and ourselves.

Bill Abrams has been president of Trickle Up since 2005.

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