Jeffrey Ashe, Director of Community Finance, Oxfam America, USA
An amazing process of economic and social transformation is underway in Mali – one of the world’s poorest countries. Oxfam America, Freedom from Hunger and the Stromme Foundation working through ten local NGOs have trained some 14,000 women’s savings groups with 317,000 members in just five years. Members pool their savings in a common fund, lend to each other and share the interest and principal within the group. Funds are managed entirely by the members. Although Saving for Change operates in villages that are so remote that microfinance institutions scarcely touch them, costs are nonetheless low. One staff person reaches 2,000 women compared to 1 to 300 for most credit programs. The groups operate independently within a year and 60% are trained by women leaders in the villages who receive training to form and support groups. Using similar methodologies Oxfam, CARE, Catholic Relief Services, Plan, Aga Khan and World Vision are reaching 2.5 million villagers, mostly in Africa but also in Asia and Latin America. This paper discusses how savings groups work, how services are delivered cost effectively and the role that village trainers take in creating new groups. The impact of participating in these groups will also be discussed as well how these groups serve as platforms for additional development inputs leading to more sustainable and prosperous villages.
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