The Small Enterprise Foundation (SEF) is a nonprofit microfinance organisation (MFO) based in South Africa that works towards the elimination of poverty by fostering sustainable income generation, job creation and social empowerment.
SEF achieves this by creating a supportive environment for microenterprise, facilitating savings services and providing credit services. Ninety-eight per cent of SEF’s 17,242 clients are female, their typical enterprises being hawking of fruits and vegetables and new or used clothing, running small convenience shops, and dressmaking.
It is SEF’s commitment to pursue a “triple bottom line” in poverty alleviation. This implies achieving poverty outreach by serving the poor and the very poor, achieving impact on poverty by eliminating poverty and enabling the poor to realise their potential, and achieving financial self-sufficiency.
SEF has a firm commitment to reaching and serving the poorest, to improve their livelihoods. Challenges to achieving this aim exist in three main areas. Firstly, this involves targeting the very poor to ensure that a high number of the target group is reached. Secondly, SEF assists the very poor to develop their capacity to maintain sustainable businesses, providing support, savings and credit services. Thirdly, an impact-monitoring and assessment system of SEF’s work with the very poor highlights problems and provides a learning forum where issues can be addressed by both staff and clients. These monitoring and assessment systems are essential in demonstrating the success or failure of the programme to alleviate poverty amongst the poorest.
SEF manages impact using an integrated management system, comprising:
- Operational methods to target, encourage and support the poorest in their businesses;
- Facilitating support and learning within groups and centres;
- Performance management systems to ensure staff focus on supporting the poor, as well as on financial requirements;
- Integrating impact-monitoring with other activities to inform everyday decision-making by loan officers, groups and centres, as well as SEF operational staff;
- Integrating impact-monitoring with the management information system (MIS);
- An ethos of continuous improvement in systems, implementation and approaches.
Finally, SEF is actively pursuing financial self-sufficiency through three strategies: strict credit discipline; success of members who take larger loans, improving SEF’s profitability as they succeed; and through setting and meeting productivity targets and looking for ways of improving efficiency and products. SEF aims to achieve financial sustainability by the middle of 2004.
This article explores how SEF has developed a poverty-focused culture, using both impact and financial information to manage performance and achieve its triple-bottom-line objective. Section 2 reviews the poverty-focus and impact methodology of the organisation. Section 3 then examines how the information generated by this system is used for strategic management and problem solving.
This article comes from the IDS Bulletin 34.4 (2003) 7. Refining Performance Assessment Systems to Serve Sustainability, Poverty Outreach and Impact Goals: The Case of the Small Enterprise Foundation in South Africa