‘You have to start somewhere’…advice on measuring social impact from Opportunity International

By Poppy Wise – SIMNA NSW Committee member.

On 16 June 2015, SIMNA NSW held a workshop ‘Data collection in the field (literally in the field)’.  The session was facilitated by Leigh Coleman (Founder and former CEO of Many Rivers Microfinance and previously of Opportunity International), with Tatiana Peralta (Project Manager at Opportunity International) presenting a case study from her recent work. Leigh opened the session by reflecting on the commitment it takes to measure social impacts, “Getting to the point of committing to measure is a journey, there’s no formula, you have to commit and believe in it,” and this theme of ‘having a go’ continued throughout Tatiana’s presentation.NSW June 16 2015 2

The Opportunity International journey towards measuring social impact

Opportunity International provides microfinance products and delivers community development and capacity building programs across the globe. In Australia, Opportunity International has a strong focus on Asia, with partner organisations across India, the Philippines, Indonesia and China, and over 2.8 million microfinance clients.

As an organisation, Opportunity International uses Social Performance NSW June 16 2015 1Management (SPM) as a means of translating its social mission, “By providing financial solutions and training, we empower people living in poverty to transform their lives, their children’s future and their communities,” into practice.  Its staff utilise a core set of metrics, adopt industry best-practice, build capacity within partners and staff, and roll-out this out globally.

The social impact measurement journey has been a significant investment of time and resources.  Commencing in 2010 with a process of defining the purpose of data collection, they moved towards a long list of potential indicators and by 2012 had developed a common set of indicators for global roll-out.  That roll-out, including a period of customising measures, testing, and a local review will conclude in 2016, with a review and revision of the indicators. NSW June 16 2015 3

Tatiana spoke of the significant challenges of moving towards social impact measurement using a common set of indicators for a global organisation with hundreds of partners internationally:  “You have to start somewhere, and it might not be perfect.  As you can see it takes time, and we have learned that implementation can be painful and discouraging, BUT the outcomes are critical for proving our work and communicating that change to our supporters.”

The Samhita story

Samhita, Opportunity International’s partner since 2008, is a microfinance institution based in Bhopal, India and was presented by Tatiana as a case study demonstrating the challenges of collecting data in the field, as well as the significant benefits to date.  Samhita operate in three impoverished states of India.  They provide microfinance loans to nearly 90,000 clients through 96 branches.  Loan customers are often women, who utilise the finance to make capital investments in things like sewing machines, cooking equipment and other materials to operate small businesses.

Samhita were introduced to SPM last year and were initially suspicious of the process and requirements.  Tatiana’s team have invested significant effort in engaging Board members and top management to build understanding and buy-in of the SPM process and in training staff in the field to use the system.  Critical to developing this buy-in is what Tatiana called ‘feedback loops’ – that is not just collecting data but also managing it, analysing it and reporting it back to the right people:  “The thing about feedback loops is they MUST be loops. If you collect a whole lot of data but don’t report it back to the people it impacts, what’s the point?” NSW June 16 2015 5

Samhita have also used tablets and cloud based technology to streamline data collection and reporting further supporting sound social and financial performance monitoring.  After 12 months using the system, the organisation is already seeing benefits including quicker loan processing, better information available to clients regarding their loans, less paperwork and an average time saving for field staff of 2.5 hours per day.

And the payoff…

After spending nearly four years working on the design and establishment of the Opportunity International SPM, Tatiana could barely contain her excitement at the prospect of finally being able to get her hands on the data!  The organisation has recently recruited a dedicated analyst as the data begins to pour in to prepare to manage, analyse and, at last, report the findings.. NSW June 16 2015 4

There was a general consensus that Tatiana’s presentation was one of SIMA’s best to date.. Her case study and advice provided an insightful and very real view of the commitment it takes to effectively measure social outcomes, and of the incredible power of her work in transforming lives of those living in poverty.  The audience left energised and inspired to have a go at measurement themselves.  Huge thanks to Tatiana and Leigh for their contribution and support of SIMNA.

SIMNA NSW are very grateful to Urbis for hosting the event.