In Mali and Burkina Faso, two of the world’s least-developed nations, rural women are typically illiterate and rarely own property. Most women lack an interest-earning place to save their money and keep it beyond the reach of other family members. With few formal employment opportunities, many...

Women’s Savings Groups Improve Quality of Life

In Mali and Burkina Faso, two of the world’s least-developed nations, rural women are typically illiterate and rarely own property. Most women lack an interest-earning place to save their money and keep it beyond the reach of other family members. With few formal employment opportunities, many women and girls, some as young as 12, turn to prostitution for survival income.

In 2007, Strømme Foundation West Africa (SFWA) partnered with the Legatum Foundation to create and fund the three-year West Africa Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative, with the goal of expanding self-help women’s savings groups (SHWSGs) to communities in Mali and neighbouring Burkina Faso. This Initiative’s approach to addressing poverty is to help women become financially self-sufficient by forming groups and pooling their savings, which are used to lend money to individual members.


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Strategic Initiative

SECTOR

Economic Empowerment

TOTAL INVESTMENT

US$ 2,200,072

LOCATION

Burkina Faso & Mali

LIVES CHANGED

140,012

SOCIAL IMPACT INDEX

83.6 (out of 100)

AVERAGE COST PER LIFE

US$ 15.71

Expand All

SI Breakdown:

Key Achievements

 

  • Women mobilised through savings groups – By the end of 2009, 140,012 women became members of 6,284 women’s savings groups in Mali and Burkina Faso, benefitting an estimated 700,060 family members. US $2,536,158 was mobilised in savings by the women’s groups.
  • Women obtained access to microfinance loans – Savings funds were used as equity for microfinance loans. As a result of saving, taking a loan, and repaying it, many women gained the confidence to approach the local microfinance institutions for bigger loans to expand their income-generating activities.
  • Women sensitised on malaria prevention – Women were trained on the need to use mosquito nets. Despite poor performance regarding this target in 2009, over the three years of the Initiative, more than 20,000 women started using malaria nets. In addition to promoting better health, this translates to long-term savings in treatment costs that would have been used to see doctors or buy medicine. It also means healthier children and reduces the chances of young ones dying of malaria infections.

 

The Problem

Most Malians and Burkinabes survive amid grinding poverty, dependent on subsistence agriculture and plagued by recurring drought. Easily preventable diseases such as malaria are common. Except during harvest season, few people have regular income. The high poverty rates are a key reason that children in these countries are excluded from education. In Mali and Burkina Faso, two of the world’s least-developed nations, rural women are typically illiterate and rarely own property. Most women lack an interest-earning place to save their money and keep it beyond the reach of other family members. With few formal employment opportunities, many women and girls, some as young as 12, turn to prostitution for survival income. Resulting pregnancies only tighten poverty’s grip on families.

Solution

In 2007, Strømme Foundation West Africa (SFWA) partnered with the Legatum Foundation to create and fund the three-year West Africa Women’s Economic Empowerment Initiative, with the goal of expanding self-help women’s savings groups (SHWSGs) to communities in Mali and neighbouring Burkina Faso. This Initiative’s approach to addressing poverty is to help women become financially self-sufficient by forming groups and pooling their savings, which are used to lend money to individual members. In rural communities where women have no assets to call their own or to use as security against a loan at a bank or microcredit institution, SHWSGs serve as their only affordable source of financial services. Thousands of women can use loans to improve living conditions for themselves and their family members; in addition, women can learn how to counter community problems such as malaria and illiteracy. This savings group programme was designed by SFWA to run alongside Speed Schools as a complementary programme offering economic empowerment for women and education for their children. Most SHWSGs and Speed Schools were run by the same SFWA partners, a synergistic approach that leads to better results. The Initiative was expected to enrol 106,875 women into 4,275 women’s groups, and through them, mobilise US $527,710 in savings to lend to group members.

Critical Analysis

Over the past three years, this programme has succeeded in mobilising thousands of women to join self-help savings groups, starting in Mali, and expanding into neighbouring Burkina Faso. The portfolio grew annually, and by the end of three years, it had surpassed its original targets by over 400 percent, making it a tremendous success. Part of this was brought about by the formation of informal groups that were replicated from the formal groups under the direct training of SFWA partners. Informal groups represented close to 20 percent of the total groups formed, but also contributed to the overall portfolio performance. The high performance can also be credited to the amount of interest (5-10 percent), fines, membership fees and profits from group income-generating activities, especially during the rainy season. All together, these contributed 30 percent of the funds in the portfolio.

Data collection has been sporadic among some of the partner organisations. Despite that, proxy indicators show that about 60 percent of the loans are used for income-generating activities, 12 percent for health care needs, 11 percent for education, 7 percent for clothing, 6 percent for obtaining birth certificates (a very important document for the members and their children), and the remaining 4 percent for addressing other personal needs.

Despite its impressive performance, the Initiative lacked clarity on how research and capacity building could impact its programmes, even though a baseline study was conducted prior to implementation. It is disappointing that SFWA did not conduct an impact study to scientifically measure the social and economic changes that have resulted over the past three years in areas where SFWA and its partners are running the SHWSGs and Speed Schools. There is no doubt that there has been a positive economic impact on the various communities, but the programme missed the opportunity to articulate this tremendous contribution.

Lessons Learned

Successes:

High performance – The SHWSGs have performed extremely well. They have mobilised thousands of women across the two countries to join the savings groups. Through these groups, the women have saved over US $2 million, a colossal amount by any standard.

Replicable model – The SHWSGs are highly replicable, as has been demonstrated by the formation of informal groups that have followed the formal ones. This means that the concept is not only easy, but is also very attractive, particularly among the rural poor who have limited or no access to formal financial services.

Synergy with Speed Schools – Some members use the savings group loans to pay for their children’s education. This has had a direct impact on the Speed School programme, which SFWA is also running in the same region. This contributes directly to the successful transfer of students into formal schools, where parents are now in a better position to afford the expenses.

Challenges:

Low literacy levels – Literacy levels among group members remain very low, and the programme seems unable to effectively offer adult literacy classes. SFWA is in the process of evaluating current teaching methods to improve delivery of this critical component of the programme.

Poor facilitator performance – Some group facilitators (also known as animators) in Burkina Faso failed to grasp the group replication technique that was used in the formation of informal groups led by voluntary members of the formal groups. This impacted portfolio performance and the amount of funds available to lend to group members.

Security – Scheduling meetings was complicated by poor security (which discouraged members from attending evening meetings) and the rainy season (which affected the frequency of meetings). To address these complications, SFWA partners are now required to ensure that group meetings are conducted before the rainy seasons and early enough during the day when members and facilitators can travel safely.

West Africa Women’s Economic Empowerment: Featured Projects

SII ScoreProject NameGrantLives ChangedCost Per LifeSector
83.60 West Africa Women's Econ. Empower. - Stromme$2,200,072140,012$15.71
Note: The Social Impact Index Score reflects the relative social impact of a given development project. The lowest possible score is 20; the highest possible score is 100.

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