Three Challenges from the SPTF Annual Meeting

At this year’s annual meeting of the Social Performance Task Force in Panama, participants broke into groups to discuss potential solutions for three critical challenges in implementing social performance management:

USSPM Wheel

  1. How can the SPTF Universal Standards be integrated into institutional strategic planning?
  2. How can social data inform management decisions?
  3. How can expectations for social and financial returns be balanced in order to establish “responsible” prices and profit expectations?

In this post we will be discussing the challenges above outlined by SPTF, as well as developments made in Panama. As Truelift’s work builds upon STPF’s USSPM framework, we will also be looking at linkages between the challenges above and Truelift’s Pro-Poor Principles:
1) Purposeful Outreach to People Living in Poverty 2) Services that Meet the Needs of People Living in Poverty and 3) Tracking Progress of People Living in Poverty.

Challenge #1 – As MFIs have begun to integrate the USSPM into their strategic plans, many have expressed how difficult the task can be. From where to start and what to prioritize, to gaining consensus from the Board, this task has proved quite challenging for MFIs. Results from the Beta Testing of 21 partner and affiliate MFIs of the Microfinance CEO Working Group indicate that USSPM Section One: Define and Monitor Social Goals has had the lowest level of compliance of all six of the sections.

USSPM compliance picture

Graph from “Insights from ‘beta testing’ the Universal Standards of Social Performance Management”,
Microfinance CEO Working Group, p. 9.

The results show that despite intent, mission statements may not always match goals, or goals may not be clearly defined. Some solutions suggested by the group in Panama working on Challenge #1 were identifying and prioritizing ‘quick wins’ at the start of the strategic planning process, as well as choosing practical indicators.

To that end, Truelift Assessment and the Pro-Poor Principles build on the USSPM and provide an overall strategic guide for MFIs with the specific social objective of poverty alleviation. Principle 1: Purposeful Outreach to People Living in Poverty, for example, provides indicators that can be measured and monitored that guide intent and strategy for the mission of poverty outreach.

Challenge #2 – Once social data are being collected, how should they be used? The group tasked with this challenge in Panama suggested several solutions: 1) link data collection to the mission to ensure they are accurately matched, 2) make data collection and review part of project management and operations procedures, and 3) apply a ‘client lens’ throughout the organization to guide decision-making. One participant was quoted to say “do not take the vacuum cleaner approach to data collection,” emphasizing the need to be deliberate in data collection choices.

Looking at this challenge through the lens of effective pro-poor microfinance, Pro-Poor Principle 2: Services that Meet the Needs of People Living in Poverty provides indicators for collecting quality poverty data, as well as evaluating how the data are being used to make adjustments to services that best meet the needs of poor clients. This process is integral to the Truelift theory of change: Measure. Learn. Change. Pro-Poor Principle 3: Tracking Progress of People Living in Poverty looks at client outcomes and change over time, a continual process at the core of Truelift Assessment.

Challenge #3 – As stated above, results from the USSPM beta testing showed that institutions reported the lowest levels of compliance against Section One: Define and Monitor Social Goals. However, results also showed that participants had the most challenges with the essential practices in Section Six: Balance Financial and Social Performance. Section Six is still a work in progress and presents a critical challenge to both SPTF and Truelift, as there is no easy solution here. We hope that by continuing to evaluate this topic in our methodology discussions and community of practice dialogue, we can be a contributing part of the solution moving forward.

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