A Field of Opportunity

 

Good Shepherd Microfinance is at an exciting time in its history in terms of research and evaluation. During 2013, we will be finding out, for the first time, the impact of our microfinance products and services and importantly, how we can move forward to better support more financially excluded people.

We will have results from our first national evaluation of the No Interest Loan Scheme (NILS) by the end of June. In partnership with the Centre for Social Impact, we will then know how our programs are benefiting people. We are gathering quantitative data from over 1500 NILS clients. We want to better understand the people who access NILS, their specific needs and the social and economic impact of NILS on their lives and families. While this is the first study, we will repeat it annually so that we can better track the long-term impact of these changes for people over time.

In conjunction with the NILS Evaluation, we are finding out about how our programs tick with our Good Practice Project. What are the key components of providers who are among our higher performers? The purpose of this research is to find out what works well among our service providers and community partners and how can we do more of that across our entire network. The results from this research will help us to better support all of our programs across the country, irrespective of their size and location.

We have also begun our first survey Valuing and Supporting our NILS Providers. This provides an opportunity for our network to tell us how well we are doing in terms of helping them to deliver in the best way possible. We will sharing these results and outlining our proposed actions in response to our network at the National NILS Conference in 14-15 June. We will publish the results and our response in July 2013.

We are conducting an extensive mapping project for the first time. Given that there is growing financial exclusion in Australia, it is vital for us to know where this need is located and how we can position ourselves as a national network to best meet it. We will be using state-of-the-art mapping software to plot the coverage and reach of our programs nationally. Then, we will overlay our foot print with current census data to find out where the greatest pockets of need exist. This will help us to be strategic with the location of our programs and where we need to position ourselves so that the most financially excluded people can benefit from microfinance.

In Canberra on April 17, we will be launching our StepUP evaluation in partnership with NAB and Centre for Social Impact. The findings are extremely encouraging. StepUP is reaching financially excluded people and is providing a pathway to financial inclusion. A copy of the final report will available after April 17 on the Publications page of our website.

We have begun work to plot a financial inclusion continuum. This project will help us know how many people, the type of households, employment status and demographics of low-to-high income people. For the first time, this work will allow us to understand in more-depth who and how many people are in financial crisis, hardship and/or transition. Importantly, we want to know what services and products are required to help people move along the continuum from crisis into financial stability and asset building. And we are able to estimate the benefit to the overall economy of having people move out of financial crisis and hardship. This framework supports our case for being very specific about the net benefits of targeted and appropriate microfinance services and products to individuals, families and their communities as well as the national economy.

Other highlights of our research program include the evaluation, in partnership with RMIT, of our three Good Money stores in Geelong, Collingwood and Dandenong. While the final report is not due until June 2014, we are learning as we go about how to refine this innovative service to better meet the needs of people who access them.

After June this year, we will be conducting our first national study on the impact of financial conversations. These conversations happen as part of our NILS and StepUP application processes. Here, the applicant is supported in preparing their budgets, managing their money and knowing about where they can get more help if they need it in terms of bill smoothing. We want to learn more about how well we are doing in this important area and how we can improve.

Together, these projects will provide us with an informed perspective on the impact of our efforts to date. Importantly, these findings will help steer us towards where our next bold steps need to be. This will help make the compelling case to present and future funders and supporters of the continued vital need for strategic and targeted microfinance products and services to the people in greatest need. 

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