Trickle Up: Guatemala


Location: Guatemala
Trickle Up Trickle Up - Guatemala
Author: Marin O’Brien Belhoussein, Search for Common Ground, and Adriana Smith, Independent Consultant

This report describes the graduation approach employed by Trickle Up—an international NGO headquartered in New York, with projects in Africa, Asia, and the Americas—to create independent village savings and loan associations (VSLAs). The case study will highlight how Trickle Up has adapted aspects of the VSLA model to the Guatemalan context in order to establish and then “graduate” individual savings groups. The graduation approach involves working intensively with a group during an initial phase, then gradually and purposefully providing space for the group to function independently.

The VSLA model and graduation approach are not unique to Trickle Up. VSLAs originated in Africa, and organizations worldwide have developed the model to address extreme poverty in a variety of contexts, seeking to elevate households above a “graduation” poverty threshold. Savings groups are common in Guatemala, with other INGOs interviewed over the course of the case study research also describing their experiences establishing and supporting such groups. However, the savings groups established by Trickle Up have unique characteristics, which have contributed to the groups growing and scaling up over time. This case study highlights the importance of capacity building, collective leadership, and local decision-making in enabling the phase out of external support to local savings groups, many of which continue to thrive for years afterwards.

Research for this case study consisted of a document review, key informant interviews, and focus group discussions. In total, 14 in-person key informant interviews were conducted with Trickle Up staff; VSLA leadership and members; leadership of organizations working on international development throughout the department of Alta Verapaz; and representatives from the municipal government. Focus group discussions were also conducted with members of the La Sabiduría savings group in Chimolón, within the municipality of Tamahú, as well as one other savings group from the area. Staff from Trickle Up’s Americas regional office worked closely with the case study writers to coordinate key informant interviews and focus group discussions. Trickle Up staff members kindly translated key informant interviews and focus group discussions from Poqomchí—the predominant Mayan language spoken in Tamahú—into Spanish. It should be noted, however, that their participation in key informant interviews and focus group discussions may have affected some respondents’ answers.


This case study is an example of a transition in which an INGO phased over ownership of a program to an informal entity. Trickle Up supported the creation of La Sabiduría savings group, working intensively with the group during an initial phase then gradually and purposefully providing space for the group to function independently.

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