IDEAS’ technical capacity used for consulting

  • A variety of methods of training both women and youth or enterprise and employment.
  • Impact evaluation and monitoring, client satisfaction of microentrepreneurs. IDEAS helped create the AIMS-SEEP impact tools and performed the initial evaluations in Latin America, Africa and Asia. IDEAS spent a decade teaching the set of tools to MFIs and others throughout the world.
  • Creation of  for-profit and non-profit MFIs, including a credit union. See the section Impact Investment and Evaluation for details
  • Monitoring and evaluation of microfinance institutions to recommend changes in strategies.
  • Institutional evaluation of microfinance, microenterprise development, and non-profit and for-profit institutions.
  • Assistance in the transformation of microfinance institutions and programs.
  • Poverty assessment and assistance in reaching the poorer of the poor. This sometimes requires blended finance or catalytic finance.
  • Social Performance Measurement and Management. IDEAS was a pioneer in SPM and the initial trainer of Central Americans in the methodology.
  • Technical assistance to promote commercially viable business development services to address the sub-sector and business constraints.
  • Market research into what entrepreneurs need and want in terms of products and services, for use in refining an existing product or designing a new one. IDEAS was contracted by MicroSave to translate the 18 market research tools into Spanish and to train and oversee individual field work to certify persons in Latin America.
  • Product development from the initial concept through the development of a prototype and pilot testing, supporting institutions interested in innovation.
  • Due diligence, feasibility studies, and the development of socially responsible Impact Investment Funds oriented to microfinance institutions or those involved in fair trade.

IDEAS delivery mechanisms dovetail with providing guidance to practitioners

  1. Capacity building: training of trainers and supervision of fieldwork opportunities for younger consultants to develop their skills.
  2. Consultancy services, evaluations, and monitoring, evaluation & learning (MEL)
  3. Training and educational workshops for youth and professionals (from 3 hours to 4 months), using participatory learning for action approach.
  4. Curriculum design and development of microfinance management courses for graduate credit at universities.
  5. Market research, strategic planning, business consulting, and institutional development.
  6. Technical assistance on site or by email, telephone, and video conferences.
  7. Institutional evaluation, done for the institution itself or for donors.
  8. Impact measurement and management for investors, investment funds and social enterprises.
Arab woman participant speaks

Market Research

IDEAS provides training and technical assistance in the application of 18 market research tools designed by MicroSave. The IDEAS team also is teaching other toolkits by MicroSave. These tools are currently being used successfully by MFIs and banks in Africa, Asia, Europe and Latin America, and enjoy prestige and acceptance by international donors and other organizations.

These tools are used for :

  • Identifying the needs and opinions of clients of microfinance programs.
  • Learning how your institution is doing in relation to similar institutions.
  • Redesigning your products and services on the basis of the perceived needs of actual and potential clients.
  • Designing new product prototypes.

Our IDEAS Team is ready to teach you the 7 steps in the diagram above so that you can learn how to develop your own market research. The IDEAS team has conducted market research in Uganda, El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Columbia, Mexico, Peru, Mexico, Jamaica among others. After the field research and analysis, the inclusive finance institutions or other organizations changed their products and services based on the findings and recommendations. IDEAS has had a variety of contracts in market research, including those with MicroSave, Microfinance Opportunities, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision International, FINCA International, and national networks (like COPEME, ASOMIF, PRODESARROLLO) and national MFIs.  We mentored the process to certify trainers in English and Spanish.

Solar energy microfranchise

IDEAS is committed to combatting climate change with solar and other renewable energy sources. We created the first microfranchise in Nicaragua called TecAp. We trained 100 women sellers of solar powere products. We spent many years teaching and then supervising 76 youth to install solar systems on rooftops and to use solar energy to pump water. To see them in action and hear them tell their stories, see YouTube videos on TecAp.

High quality coffee is grown in the mountains, often far away from Nicaragua’s national electrical grid. Low-income women and their families who have bought solar systems found three major types of benefits.

  1. Benefits to the family: Family health improves by replacing kerosene lamps that produce toxic pollution and soot in their house. It allows the family to study at night and makes household tasks and care of the sick easier. New electric appliances, like blenders, save labor and time.
  2. It saves the family money each month on batteries, fuel & long trips to charge cell phones. These savings can be used for better nutrition.
  3. Solar helps women generate money in their microenterprises. Women who have home-based grocery stores say that neighbors are attracted to their stores at night. Some may come in to watch a show on the new solar-powered TV and end up buying their food there. Solar energy can pump water for the house, animals and to irrigate crops. This allows women to diversify their sources of income. For the poor, saving money and increasing income create a higher quality of life and provide more choices.

IDEAS newest economic program, TecAp, is a microfranchise providing solar energy. It helps create a better quality of life by creating a source of income for poor women microfranchisees while they sell solar-powered products. It helps vulnerable farm families’ access loans to buy solar rooftop systems to generate electricity. We also provide vital training for rural women and the youth to learn how to install and repair solar systems while earning needed income in places with no formal employment.

All this is being done in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the hemisphere.

  • With solar energy, families are able to move freely in their home at night or in the breakfast prep in the early morning without danger of fire from open lanterns.
  • Their children do their homework and study at night without ingesting toxic kerosene fumes.
  • People are able to charge their phones at home rather than spend up to a full day round trip to the nearest place with electricity.
  • Having light means that they have the freedom to run their home-based business at any hour.

IDEAS is proud to have created a innovative technology program, called TecAp, which assists women in rural Nicaragua to become microfranchisees. These rural women sell solar-powered products and promote larger systems of solar energy and labor saving technologies to their neighbors. This has succeeded in improving their incomes and their neighbors quality of life in their fair trade coffee cooperatives. The first group of rural women began receiving training from IDEAS in 2011 on how to be a part of the microfranchise that TecAp is developing in order to be able to sell small solar powered articles, like flashlights and lanterns. In the first pilot project, the women were selected by their cooperative on the northern border of Nicaragua.

Microfranchising is a system of support to women microentrepreneurs

Women microentrepeneurs
This business model allows for quick start up and on-going support to nascent businesses. In this case, IDEAS is the microfranchisor and TecAp is the microfranchise, which is providing rural women a whole new system of business opportunity that includes the training, products and technical assistance to jump start them into a new technology business. Microfranchising began in Asia, spread to Africa but is little known in Latin America. IDEAS has created the first one in Nicaragua. IDEAS is currently recruiting and training women promoters, who educate their neighbors about the benefits of solar energy. Women who become microfranchisees earn a commission by selling small innovative, solar-powered items (flashlights; a lantern for the kitchen; lamps for student; light for the house or barn; cell phone chargers). As the neighbors realize the usefulness of smaller solar items they bought in cash, the promoters encourage their neighbors to consider larger, long term investments in roof-top solar panels or other labor-saving technologies. The program design is based upon women first learning to sell small solar items and then moving on to large roof-top systems to power homes or farm activities. Based upon the initial success, IDEAS is seeking donations to support a greatly expanded regional pilot phase in 2012-3 and test a business model it hopes will be sustainable. Emboldened by the initial success of the model, IDEAS has borrowed $100,000 to buy and import five shipments of these small items that are to be sold to these women microfranchisees and coop stores. Starting in April 2012, the sale of the 9,025 products will provide significant income to low-income women microfranchisees that live in rural areas without electricity.

IDEAS solves a financial problem so the poor can purchase roof-top systems

One of the biggest obstacles for a low income coffee producer to buy a roof-top solar system is obviously thecost. IDEAS partnership with the coffee cooperatives and fair trade coffee companies has allowed the farmers to obtain longer term financing with payments that are compatible with the coffee growing season. For example, Root Capital agreed to consider the coffee coops request for 3 year loans so the coops can drop the payment amount for roof-top solar systems. The first success of this system was 50 systems that were installed in July 2010. Root Capital lent for 3 years to the coop, which in turn has lent for 3 years to its members. TecAp has worked to repeat this with other fair trade coffee coops. IDEAS repeated its success with another international lender by assisting Oikocredit to make its first $100,000 loan to solar energy for farmers in the Cooperativa 20 de Abril in Nicaragua. IDEAS has also worked with municipal governments to help identify the technical specifications of what low income citizens need in terms of roof-top systems. In October 2011, 19 poor residents of El Jicarao received solar roof top systems after several months of organizing by TecAp. El Jicarao is the headquarters of two different coffee cooperatives, Prococer and Santiago. Also, IDEAS has worked hard to establish the technical need and assist with the process of 119 producers who have requested loans for solar systems through a network of coffee coops called PRODECOOP. IDEAS has received funds to train a set of micro-technicians, who are other women and youth to be trained formally in how to diagnose the size, install & repair the solar roof-top systems, thus providing them new employment. The cooperatives are excited about youth being able to sell their services in a high tech field without leaving the coffee communities.

TecAp is working with some coops on the feasibility of using solar energy to light the patios and offices of their dry processing plants. TecAp also brokered a study of a hydroelectric system for a dry processing plant that will provide enough power to run some of the machinery. Initial supporters of the TecAp program include: Bancker-Williams Foundation (3 grants),Full Circle Living, The Jim and Patty Rouse Charitable Foundation, Fund for Southern Communities, IEEE Foundation, Equal Exchange, Green Mountain Coffee, individual donors, and numerous volunteers in the US and in Nicaragua.

Solar energy has been proven to greatly assist rural women and their families

High quality coffee is grown in the mountains, often far away from the national electrical grid. Low income women and their families who have bought solar systems found three major types of benefits. 1) Benefits to the family: Family health improves by replacing kerosene lamps that produce toxic pollution and soot in their house. It allows the family to study at night and makes household tasks and care of the sick easier. New electric appliances, like blenders, save labor and time. 2) It saves the family money each month on batteries, fuel & long trips to charge cell phones. These savings can be used for better nutrition. 3) Solar helps women generate money in their microenterprises. Women who have home-based grocery stores say that neighbors are attracted to their stores at night. Some may come in to watch a show on the new solar-powered TV and end up buying their food there. Solar energy can pump water for the house, animals and to irrigate crops. This allows women to diversify their sources of income. For the poor, saving money and increasing income create a higher quality of life and provide more choices.

To see women and the youth in action and hear their stories about the benefits to their families and communities, watch these YouTube videos.

Visit our women microfranchisees page for more information.

Visit our youth solar technicians page for more information.

Microfranchising Consulting

Microfranchising ConsultingThe Institute for Development, Evaluation, Assistance & Solutions (IDEAS), which has three and a half decades of work in community economic development on four continents, is a leader in social entrepreneurship. Now IDEAS is offering microfranchise consultancy services. Our experiences and successes in microfinance and microenterprise development have fostered a strong interest in helping to introduce microfranchising in Latin America. For more than 20 years, as IDEAS has evaluated the impact of microfinance, performed market research and participated in social performance evaluations, we have grown increasingly concerned about the lethargic growth of microentrepreneurs and the relatively small percentage of microenterprises that graduate into successful small businesses. We believe that microfranchising offers a more effective method of enterprise development that can overcome barriers in start-up and, in combination with proven strategies, can offer a more comprehensive solution to help microentrepreneurs rapidly grow their own businesses.

Activities by IDEAS in promoting microfranchising include:

  • A course at the American University in Nicaragua (UAM) as a part of the Masters in Microfinance
  • A presentation at the Regional Conference on MFIs in Central America (REDCAMIF Network)
  • Extensive research terminating in a 100-page study on the Potential for Microfranchising in Nicaragua. Done for UAM and the Chamber of Commerce, paid for by Inter-American Development Bank FOMIN
  • Conference and a workshop for the National Commission for Micro and Small Enterprises (CONAMYPE) in El Salvador. Ongoing advice leading to a program.
  • Research in Guatemala with members of REDIMIF
  • A seminar at Pfeiffer University in North Carolina in the US
  • A graduate level course at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA in the US for 6 years

Business Development Services

Business Development South AmericaMany microfinance professionals and donors have come to understand that access to credit and savings alone is often not enough to move poor entrepreneurs out of poverty. Certain non-financial services can also be useful in helping entrepreneurs improve their individual businesses. Called “business development services” ( BDS), they include training clients in finding buyers who will pay more for their goods; teaching them to do bookkeeping and pricing; developing appropriate technology to improve production, and specific technical assistance. Providing BDS can include encouraging collective action by entrepreneurs, such as joining together to buy in bulk at wholesale prices, and helping clients to negotiate less expensive prices with suppliers.

More recently, organizations that work with entrepreneurs have come to see that the challenge is much greater than just improving an individual’s business. They need to improve the way the market works, not only for that specific business but for all similar businesses in the country. These initiatives, called Market Development Services ( MDS), are designed to intervene in the market to improve distribution channels for business inputs, for example, or to assist entrepreneurs in eliminating a middle person.

IDEAS works with BDS or MDS organizations in developing countries to help microenterprise practitioners improve their productivity and profitability, thus bringing home more money for their households. IDEAS uses a tool called the “value chain analysis” to identify the missing links in the “chain” that begins when an entrepreneur conceives the idea for a product made from local raw materials and goes up to the time when that product is consumed in a European country. As the different processes are studied, entrepreneur are encouraged to “add value” to a specific “link” in the “value chain” so that more of the financial benefit comes back to the poor community. An intense investigation of how a particular product, like goat meat, passes through the value chain from the local rural producer to the final consumer far away is called “subsector analysis.”

IDEAS works with professionals in a country to use these tools of subsector analysis and market development to help micro and small entrepreneurs become better paid players in the markets for their goods and services. That contributes to IDEAS’ mission of assisting organizations that are helping poor and moderate people move more quickly out of poverty by getting a fair price for their labor.

Columbian women business developmentFor example, Puneetha Palakurthi of IDEAS flew to the Philippines in August of 2006 to do several weeks of field work with the staff of CARD (Centre for Agricultural and Rural Development) to analyze the subsectors of CARD borrowers. The challenge was to figure out how to provide better business development services to CARD’s 100,000 borrowers. At the same time, the staff were encouraged to think about how they might approach Market Development in ways that would benefit more current and future clients.

For the last 15 years, IDEAS has helped channel impact investments to lenders in Latin America, which are lending to efforts like Fair Trade coffee, shade grown (or “bird friendly”) coffee, and organic coffee. These are efforts in which not so “micro” credit helps a market intervention on behalf of thousands of poor producers who are organized in democratically run marketing cooperatives. For example, IDEAS was contracted by the Calvert Foundation to help them figure out how to lend an initial US$1 million dollars to five fair trade coffee producing cooperatives. Within a couple of years, Calvert Foundation’s portfolio in the coffee sector had grown to $3 million dollars. This is an example of how credit can support the market development services of fair trade coffee cooperatives that cut out the middle people in their national market and return more of the selling price to the producers.

The IDEAS team, made up of economists, credit specialists, sociologists and agronomists, has been privileged to be a part of the growth of such lending by Calvert and other large lenders. In the mid-1990s we helped Oikocredit to enter Nicaragua and make its first loan in Nicaragua to a fair trade coffee network of 40 cooperatives, called PRODECOOP. Ten years later, Oikocredit has made several loans to PRODECOOP, which has become a leader in fair trade coffee in Latin America, and Nicaragua has become the country with largest dollar amount of loans of Oikocredit of any country in the entire Central American region from Mexico to Panama. Of course, IDEAS cannot claim credit for this 10 years growth but we have the satisfaction of being “pioneers” in helping an international lender overcome internal barriers to bring tens of millions of dollars to a country like Nicaragua, where 75% of the people are poor.

Rural Finance

Rural Finance in AfricaOver the last 30 years, IDEAS has been actively involved in Rural Finance. IDEAS consultants developed the first MFI in Nicaragua with a commitment to lend the majority of its portfolio in rural areas (PRESTANIC). The IDEAS Executive Director, Dr. Garber, managed this MFI during its early years while training a Nicaraguan team to take over. He founded the lending arm of WCCN, which is a Microfinance Investment Vehicle (MIV) to direct capital to MFIs and cooperatives, largely in rural areas. Dr. Garber also helped develop MicroVest, another MIV that also lends in multiple countries. The team has decades of experience in working in rural finance on three continents as consultants, trainers and evaluators. Recently, IDEAS developed, with other organizations, an innovative pilot of linking rural finance, its microfranchise and entrepreneurial education (

While the fundamentals of development finance and approaches in microfinance apply to rural finance, there are particular issues and characteristics that must be understood and taken into account in order to address rural, and in particular agricultural, finance. The training of IDEAS provides the participants with a broad understanding of the key issues in rural finance. It analyzes the key operational constraints and then discusses strategies and approaches for addressing these in a sustainable way. It includes policy issues, risk mitigation strategies, and service provision approaches of primarily financial institutions and also some of non-financial business service providers. It helps the participant see how to intervene along the value chain.

Approximately 80% of the world’s poor live in rural areas and many of the least developed countries rely on rural and agricultural commodities for their livelihoods and income generation. Rural finance can be an effective catalyst in supporting rural development. Much progress has been made in microfinance, banking services, and technologies but rural and agrarian populations largely have not gotten the same attention as their urban counterparts despite efforts by some governments and NGOs. An analysis of the good and bad lessons from case studies is the foundation for developing sound, innovative strategies and institutions that facilitate financial flows to help people and communities build their assets. To achieve the goal of improving the range of financial services that are available to rural populations, there is an imperative need for the type of training.

IDEAS has worked with the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and University of Bergamo in Italy to develop a ten module, introductory course in rural finance, providing an understanding of problems of rural people accessing the financial services and examining the innovative methodologies and systems that have worked in development of services like helping people build their financial assets, facilitate transactions, solve cash flow problems, and manage risk. The sustainable provision of credit and general financial services to farmers and rural inhabitants in developing countries has proved to be a difficult task. There is a demand for such services. In this course, the participants learn to analyze the products and delivery mechanisms to serve the rural inhabitants. See Rural Finance Course.

IDEAS and FAO jointly offered the first training program for practitioners in Rural Finance in Microfinance Development Institute at Southern New Hampshire University in 2004. Then the course was repeated at the Boulder Institute in 2005. IDEAS also offered the course in January-February 2006 at the University of Limpopo in South Africa. In coordination with FAO, the University of Bergamo has taken responsibility for developing five modules, while IDEAS has developed the other five modules. IDEAS developed a prototype of a web based course.

Strategic Planning

SEEP RankingIn its capacity as management consultant over the last 3 decades, IDEAS has done strategic planning with a variety of organizations including microfinance institutions (MFIs). The planning process starts with a diagnostic and often uses a number of the evaluation techniques that are listed in other parts of this web site. For example, if IDEAS has done an impact evaluation on an MFI it would use the information gathered and the analysis to help the MFI create a strategic plan to improve their level of impact. When IDEAS uses market research as prelude to strategic planning, it then uses the results to help the organization plan how to take advantage of niche markets that were discovered during that research. Another technique that IDEAS uses for gathering information prior to strategic planning is the balanced scorecard. Data is gathered during initial workshops with the organization.

IDEAS does strategic planning for networks containing multiple organizations as well as for individual organizations. For example, FINCA International hired IDEAS to do strategic planning for a 5-year period with its affiliates throughout Latin America from Mexico to Ecuador. IDEAS worked with each management team to identify key lessons learned during the previous 5 years and elements they wanted to focus on during the next 5 years. A series of workshops was held with field staff, the leaders of branch offices and central office staff. Using a format negotiated with the network, IDEAS analyzed all of the data plus secondary data about the country and industry competitors. They then drafted a plan that was presented to management for its input and suggested changes. Finally, IDEAS worked to harmonize the first year’s operational plan with the overall strategic plan format and framework.

Strategic planning must be defined individually with each organization, as each has different requirements. As with evaluation, IDEAS prefers a highly participatory strategic planning process that involves the organization’s staff and board. That ensures that they “own” the final plan and feel good about implementing it over the next 3 to 5 years.