A new study shows that savings groups that use a digital record keeping app experience greater transparency, fewer group conflicts and an increase in financial capability among individual members. The study also found evidence that highlights the need to include gender considerations in the design of savings group apps.

These findings and more are presented in three research briefs highlighting key insights from the study conducted in rural Tanzania from August 2019 through February 2020:

The research was conducted by the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) working with savings groups supported by PCI, a Global Communities Partner, and their Women Empowered (WE) program. The study followed two sets of WE savings groups that used the DreamSave app from DreamStart Labs. The first set of groups were mature savings groups that had been recording transactions on paper for multiple years, then switched to DreamSave (“Paper-to-Digital”). The second set of groups learned the savings group model using the app from the beginning (“Born Digital”). This study was conducted in the Mara region of Tanzania, an extremely rural area with high poverty, low literacy, and limited experience with mobile technology.

In May, the project partners presented findings from their pilot study as part of the first-ever Global Digital Development Forum. More than 2,600 people from 127 countries participated in the virtual event, which included over 100 sessions focused on best practices and emerging innovations in Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D).

Photo by Tony TsengPCI, alongside partners ICRW and DreamStart Labs, discussed the opportunities and challenges of introducing mobile technology to rural savings groups at the Global Digital Development Forum in May. To watch the session, register for free through the Forum’s event page and then select “Can Digital Savings Groups Change the Game?” here. The link includes a live recording of the session, presentation slides and answers to questions from participants.

In the Q&A document, we discuss how we approached the challenges of connectivity in rural communities, low digital literacy and barriers to purchasing smart phones—all key considerations that impacted the pilot but did not discourage members from using the DreamSave app.

We also discuss the positive impact of goal setting and other positive behavioral nudges that are possible through the app.

Informal community-based savings groups, like PCI’s Women Empowered (WE) groups, are used by millions of women around the world as a reliable and trusted way to access financial services, such as a place to save their money and to take a loan when needed. PCI alone has introduced savings groups to more than 1.4 million women in 13 countries over the past 10 years.

For decades, savings groups have relied on complex paper records to track hundreds of weekly transactions – a time consuming and error-prone process. Keeping paper records requires huge investment on the part of the implementor to train and retrain bookkeepers as well as audit the books each year at the end of their savings cycle.

WE paper ledger vs digital_TZ savings group

A paper vs. digital ledger used to track attendance and financial transactions for a Women Empowered (WE) group in Tanzania. Photo by PCI Staff.

Digital technology provides an opportunity for savings groups to transform this standard, cumbersome process. Digital record keeping apps like DreamSave, which enable each group member to create a profile and track their group financial transactions on a single smart phone, automate record keeping, increase transparency and financial literacy, all while reducing record keeping errors and speeding up lengthy group meetings.

To better understand what it looks like for a savings group to go digital, watch this video of PCI’s WE groups in Tanzania as they talk about their experience with DreamSave.

Over the past nine months, PCI, ICRW and DreamStart Labs piloted the DreamSave mobile app with 16 groups in rural Tanzania. The pilot included testing the app with established as well as newly created groups to assess the impact of technology on group dynamics, a critical element of savings groups. Our evaluation launched in August 2019 following years of design and pilot testing of the DreamSave mobile app. Endline data was collected in early February 2020.

The study looked for the impact of the mobile app on six key domains:

  • Digital Literacy
  • Financial Capability
  • Gender norms and roles within the group
  • Time savings
  • Accuracy of group financial records
  • Transparency and group conflicts

Both the pilot and study were made possible with the generous support of the Vodafone Americas Foundation and the FAHU Foundation.