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MaFI (The Market Facilitation Initiative)

Practitioner Learning Groups: Expert Voices

SEEP BEAM Exchange


To provide some outside perspectives on the group challenges, and to connect the groups to a leading thinker on their respective topics, experts were invited to join in a group call. Below are the Expert Voices who participated in a Practitioner Learning Group call, as well as some of the key ideas that they conveyed to their group, along with some relevant resources that they have written on the topic.

Mike Warmington Tim Sparkman Mike Field Erin Markel


Group 1: Scaling Up Financial Products in Market Systems: Beyond the Usual Suspects

Mike Warmington

Mike Warmington, One Acre Fund

  • One Acre Fund works in 4 countries in East Africa, and serves 400,000 farmers directly. They provide a bundle of services (inputs, distribution, credit and training), and see a significant impact in terms of both yields and income increases.
  • Realized through their core work that only a small fraction of the portfolios of banks and MFIs in the countries they work on are actually targeted at small, rural farmers.
  • Mike leads the Microfinance Partnerships Team, which aims to deliver impact to farmers outside of the core direct service model, by crowding in Financial Service Providers (FSPs) to design products for, and work with, farmers.
  • Mike shared an example of an early-stage experiment in Tanzania, where OAF is partnering with a local MFI to extend OAF’s core services directly to existing clients of the MFI as a way to reach many farmers quickly. The model involves:
    • MFI develops an input loan (combination of cash and vouchers)
    • Local agro dealer accepts vouchers and is paid by the MFI
    • OAF provides the brokerage service, and also a train-the-trainers service for MFI staff who will then deliver agriculture best practices to the farmers who they lend to.
  • The group discussed with Mike the operational challenges of cash vs. vouchers, regulatory barriers to this kind of model in different countries, and the response of MFI loan officers to the extra ‘load’ of becoming part-time agricultural extension agents.

Group 2: Engaging Partners to Extend Business Models to Reach the Last Mile

Tim Sparkman

Tim Sparkman, MarketShare Associates

  • It is extremely challenging to get people to functionally invest in service provision into rural areas - there are often extremely high transaction costs and low ceilings for expansion. It is very difficult to build a business across a large geographic client base.
  • In Northern Uganda, recognized that successful entrepreneurs had a constellation of many different businesses - a risk-management strategy - but this also meant they were unable to grow, as asking them to expand one of their business lines was a fundamental change to their operating mode.
  • Tim’s experience in starting a logistics brokerage company was of great interest to participants:
    • Business sought to network reliable truckers, who were local, independent owner-operators. Tried to provide a tighter link for supply and demand by piggy backing multiple shipments in one truck and using the excess capacity.
    • In the testing phase, Tim and operations manager were manually matching supply and demand, taking orders, negotiating rates w/ drivers. Operations manager would go supervise loading, and ship things away. Demand quickly outstripped their ability to do that, and realized would need a platform to match supply and demand automatically, shifting the role of staff to troubleshooters and doing quality control.
    • Customers who jumped to it very quickly were other social enterprises, who came into the context of Uganda with standards of service provision (which were not met by anyone in Uganda… even DHL… who didn’t take the domestic market seriously). Cook stove firm, solar firm, inventory at health clinics, etc }very hungry. Early adopters/clients. Going after some big ones (Indian motorcycles that that boda drivers use… massive parts resupply challenges.
  • Generalized this experience to the need for market systems programs to become more active in actually setting up these types of innovative businesses - it’s not likely to come from within the current system, who is satisfied with mediocre returns and poor coordination.

Group 3: Influencing Other Development Actors to Adopt a Market Systems Approach

Mike Field

Mike Field, DAI

  • It is important to recognize the political realities of donors: there is a strong institutional bias that forces donors to structure contracts and M&E systems in a certain way to be able to aggregate a certain type of result data so they can feed it back to their political masters (ultimately congress or parliament).
  • Therefore it’s important to distinguish the public relations task (of selling my project) from the intellectual objective (and moral imperative) of doing good development.
  • It’s useful to frame evidence as a public relations process too: Donors need to accumulate beneficiaries and incomes that can be used as ‘evidence’ to prove their success.
  • A pragmatic approach is to find specific interests of actors (government, donor, otherwise) that align with what’s better for the market system. You can help them apply their interest more effectively, and at the same time nudge them to think and act differently.
  • Why it’s important: This pragmatic approach is in contrast with directly confronting people. When you pose things in conflict to how someone understands their world, the openness to conversation disappears. Any change process needs to start with self-interest.

Group 4: Bringing Gender Norms to the Forefront of Systemic Interventions

Erin Markel

Erin Markel, MarketShare Associates

  • There is a ‘definitions gap’ in how market systems programs understand social norms: norm vs. individual behaviour vs. belief vs. traditional values. 
    • Norms are the hardest thing to change in terms of behaviour change - knowledge isn’t enough, a whole suite of tactics are needed. 
    • Beliefs can be easier to change (linked to knowledge).
  • Insight from social norm theory - 2 aspects of social norms:
    • Sanctions: actions that other individuals take to make sure the status quo is maintained.
    • Supports: help people, who do adopt behaviours that go against the social norm, from within the network.
  • Different ways that projects are trying to address/influence social norms around gender:
    • Direct: Community training around 'what are social norms'… market systems programs need to be aware of the RISKS: Sanctions around changing social norms can be dangerous for women if you're not aware of what will happen when they go against the norm that's set out for them. Also in tension with a facilitation approach… What do the tactics look like?
    • Indirect: addressing market constraints for women that programs believe will eventually affect social norms. This involves HUGE ASSUMPTIONS (logic jumps in the ToC that aren't being tracked).
  • Measuring social norms:
    • Perception surveys around social norms… are a little bit dangerous. People don't tend to be fully aware of the social norms that constrain them.
    • 'Current situation bias' -> people don't understand that if their situation were to change, there would be different social norms that would affect them.  (regardless of how their economic situations change). As people move into different economic roles… some social norms are deleted, others are added.
  • Changing social norms:
    • Rather than asking "hey, what social norms understand you?"… talk to different reference groups - have a vision for upgrading… talk to role model women to see what NEW social norms when they start a new business or start aggregating things, etc.
    • Look at Flexibility and Inflexibility in gender roles - what they perceive as being flexible. Led to much better information around social roles and constraints than to simply ask directly.

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