In 2018, the government of Burundi formally adopted the VSLA model for the economic, social and political empowerment of women
“Other young people discouraged me from joining the savings group, because this was not our culture. My peers laughed at me. But I was strong and I knew what I wanted, so I joined anyway.” These are the words of Emelenziana, a young woman in Tanzania. Since CARE launched the Ishaka programme in Burundi in 2009, we’ve been working specifically with young people through our Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) approach to support women – starting with savings – to transform their world. Here’s a sample of some of the impacts we’ve seen with VSLAs for young people.
What have we accomplished?
- Youth made a difference in politics: In Yemen’s Foundations for Peace project, 78% of decision-makers in the programme area said that the 4,050 youth who participated in district dialogues (many who came from the project’s youth VSLAs) actually influenced their decisions. 89% of youth felt that they were able to better influence decisions in their communities.
- More young people have jobs: 22% of youth in Foundations for Peace now have jobs and 10 have started their own businesses. 98% say their vocational skills have improved 91% are marketing themselves differently in the labor market to be more successful.
- Girls have more income: In Burundi’s POWER project, the most common change girls cited was having more income through their businesses and the ability to get loans. As a result, girls feel more self-reliant, and can pay their own school fees.
- Young girls are more empowered: Girls felt that speaking up for themselves was one of the greatest gains in the project. They feel they have more respect from communities, can say no to unwanted sex more easily, and that their parents have become less sceptical about what girls can do.
- Built resilience to emergencies: 70% of the groups shared out the VSLA money early in 2015 to give members a way to deal with political crisis in Burundi – including buying taxi rides to safer spaces and making sure their families had food and somewhere safe to be during the violence.
- Kept girls in school: Before Burundi’s crisis in 2015, 93% of VSLA members of school age and 91% of non-members were in school. When so many people were displaced in 2015, the numbers went to 40% for VSLA members, and only 20% for non-members. So, while many girls had to leave school, participating in the VSLA helped many more stay in school compared to girls who did not have the resources. Girls are using 11% of revenue from their businesses to pay school fees.
- Girls have higher return on savings: In POWER Africa in Cote d’Ivoire and Rwanda, girls saw a 24-28% return on savings as part of VSLA groups. They also had an average savings of up to $21.74 per member.
- Cut poverty in half: For youth in Uganda’s Banking on Change Initiative (2013-2015) in partnership with Barclays and Plan, the number of participants living below the poverty line was cut in half, from 14% to 7%. The project worked with more than 48,000 youth in 1,472 Youth Savings and Loan Associations.
- Increased women’s leadership: In Uganda, women were seven times more likely to have leadership positions, and were four times more likely to aspire to run for office. Families were also 50% more likely to make decisions jointly between men and women.
How did we get there?
- Listen to what girls, and all youth, need: POWER made several changes to the standard VSLA programme based on what adolescent girls asked for. That included changing the schedule so girls didn’t miss school, linking girls to banks quickly so their money is safer, and teaching time management so girls could balance school and businesses.
- Convince parents and teachers: Many parents and teachers are initially sceptical of the programme. They don’t think youth have the skills needed to save, they aren’t sure what the programme is doing, and they are afraid the VSLA may take girls’ attention away from school or chores. In Burundi, the project did a small pilot to show people that girls could participate in VSLA without hurting their grades.
- Combine VSLA with other skills: Yemen worked on vocational training so young people could start businesses. Ethiopia helps youth savings group members to connect to markets for better economic opportunities. Ethiopia also connects savings groups to community groups aimed at transforming social norms, so girls can participate in youth groups without being pressured into child marriage.
What have we learned?
- Community buy-in is critical: Especially when we work with young people, it’s vital that parents, teachers, and other leaders know what the project is doing, how youth are involved, and what the goals are. They need to know that their children are safe, and that participating doesn’t put youth at risk.
- Plan a longer timeline: It can be hard for the younger groups to agree on bye-laws and get used to working as a group, because they are not so experienced in negotiating.
- Think differently about timing: While adults usually want money to be available during the planting season, youth really want to take money out during school holidays, and are less patient than adults. This means the VSLA shareout happens in shorter cycles and at different times of the year than with adults.
- Consider family dynamics: They may be expected to give money to their parents, which doesn’t help earn money for youth in the long run. Girls are also under tremendous pressure to marry young, which is an obstacle to participating in VSLA groups.
- Prepare for mobility: Youth are much more mobile than adult populations, so participation in individual meetings is low, and youth are attracted to mobile money methods so they can participate even if they have to move.
- Stress solidarity: The social fund is a key motivating factor for many youth.
- Adjust expectations about savings rates: Young people have less money, so initial savings rates and loan capacity is much lower than for adults groups.
What are we working on now?
- Abdiboru in Ethiopia works with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation to reach 26,405 girls in youth VSLAs.
- POWER Africa worked with 600,000 people directly and 1,643,000 people indirectly with support from Master Card Foundation.
- Cameroon’s HIMO project with support from France and the EU works with nearly 5,000 people directly and 15,000 indirectly.
- The SPIR project, which CARE operates with World Vision and support from USAID, has more than 1,622 youth VSLA members.