5 Minute Inspiration: The Power of Savings Groups in West Africa

by 10th May 2018
Haoua from Kagadama village near Maradi, Niger, with a VSLA lockbox Haoua from Kagadama village near Maradi, Niger, with a VSLA lockbox

In Mali, the government is planning to give money to Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs). Why? Because the Malian government recognises that savings groups are a key step towards women’s empowerment. Ahead of the SG2018 Power of Savings Groups conference in Rwanda this month, here’s what we’ve learned about the power of savings groups from Women on the Move - CARE's strategy for economically empowering 8 million women in West Africa by 2020 that starts with, and builds from, savings groups.

What have we accomplished?

  • Helped women be leaders: Nearly every woman talks about how VSLA is more than savings. It’s about confidence, empowerment, and feeling like you have possibilities in life. In Niger alone, the number of women in VSLAs running for public office has gone up nearly 10 times since 2004.
  • Move towards equality: More than 63% of women in programmes have been able to participate equally in decisions at home.
  • Get women connected to governments: 47% of women in the projects that reported have been able to work with governments to influence decisions that will better meet their needs. In Cote d’Ivoire, Salimata Dagnoko not only met with the local mayor to get the water system fixed in her village, she also worked with the Minister of Women to find solutions to GBV.
  • Scaled our model across the region: 7% of women aged 15-64 in West Africa are in VSLAs. That’s 3 million women who have access to finance, savings, and empowerment. 1 million of those women are in CARE programmes, and the rest are in VSLAs that others have built on the CARE model.
  • Influenced policy: Niger, Ghana and Chad were all able to get involved in improving the laws in their country to better support women’s rights and needs.

How did we get there?

  • Work with others: CARE works with Village Agents at the community level — VSLA members who get training so that they can support others to create their own groups. At the regional level, we convene the Women on the Move Coalition, which brings together groups like CARE, Oxfam, World Vision, and others to advocate for women’s economic empowerment.
  • Connect women to each other: CARE helps VSLA groups federate so that they can increase their bargaining power, access, and ability to influence policy.
  • Think beyond cash: in addition to the savings methods, CARE focuses on women’s ability to influence decisions in home and with government. The focus on leadership and empowerment helps women think big and access opportunities they couldn’t get through finance alone.
  • Constantly innovate: Since we invented the basic methodology in 1991, CARE has continued to push the boundaries of what VSLA can do. The current pilot is creating a mobile app to help women transform their VSLA history into a credit score that helps them access formal finance.

Want to learn more?

Read the 2017 annual report for Women on the Move.

Stay in touch with CARE at the SG2018 conference.

Emily Janoch

Emily Janoch is Senior Technical Advisor on Knowledge Management for the CARE USA Food and Nutrition Security team focusing on ways to better learn from and share practical experience on eradicating poverty through empowering women and girls. She focuses on learning from programming and using that learning to improve impact.

With four years of on-the-ground experience in West Africa, 10 years of development experience, and academic publications on community engagement and the human element in food security in Africa, Emily is especially interested in community-led development. She has experience in food security, nutrition, health, governance, and gender programming, and has a BA in International Studies from the University of Chicago, and a Masters' in Public Policy in International and Global Affairs from the Harvard Kennedy School.

Email: ejanoch@care.org