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Saving for Change in Mali: a Study of Atypical Groups from Sikasso to Kayes Image

Promoting Inclusive Markets and Financial Systems

Saving for Change in Mali: a Study of Atypical Groups from Sikasso to Kayes

Saving for Change in Mali: a Study of Atypical Groups from Sikasso to Kayes


Saving for Change (SfC), Oxfam America and Freedom from Hunger's savings group program, began in Mali in 2005 and now reaches over 300,000 women in that country, as well as having expanded to Cambodia, Senegal, El Salvador and Guatemala. In partnership with Plan Mali, the Strømme Foundation and 12 local NGO implementing partners, SfC animators work in villages to organize women into savings groups of 20-25 members. These women meet weekly and regularly save an amount – the equivalent of 20 cents, for example – that is determined collectively. Once this money has formed a large enough pool, the women lend it to each other to expand or start businesses, or to pay for food, a medical emergency, schooling or other needs. The loans are repaid with interest, which increases the size of the fund. At the end of the year, the fund is divided and each woman gets her savings back with the accumulated interest. The savings amount, as well as membership and leadership, can be adjusted and the group begins a new cycle for another year. This program gives women access to small loans, which would be too small for an MFI to service, as well as a critical structure and methodology that encourages them to help each other commit to saving regularly. The group members also form tight bonds of solidarity and support.

Previous research for SfC in Mali as well as elsewhere has focused on typical villages and groups. These earlier studies have looked at a variety of groups, both successful and not successful. However, in order to understand the reach, impact and challenges of a program, it is often helpful to undertake an in-depth, qualitative examination of its extreme aspects, both positive and negative. The resulting advantages are twofold. First, in identifying extreme cases, the median is better defined. Secondly, in looking at these extreme cases, common lessons can be learned that apply to more typical groups or villages. Atypically successful groups can provide insight into what could be possible for typical groups with additional guidance. Similarly, the issues manifest in atypically failing groups may be more extreme versions of challenges that the typical groups also face. This examination of extremes adds to our understanding of Saving for Change as a whole.

Saving for Change in Mali: a Study of Atypical Groups from Sikasso to Kayes is a qualitative study of 30 Saving for Change (SfC) groups, either atypically successful or unsuccessful. The former are engaged in collective social projects that benefit their village, large-scale collective investments and entrepreneurial activities that, in certain cases, take the SfC model to a new level. This study also evaluates groups that have experienced unusual and sometimes extreme challenges, which have resulted in the loss of members, the failure of projects or the shutting down of their groups, temporarily or permanently. The final section focuses on completely uncharted territory: the newly discovered children’s groups and their possible role in the larger SfC context.

This study is based on visits in February - March 2010, to 27 villages in the districts of Bougouni, Kati, Barouéli, Dioila, Kayes, Nioro du Sahel and Diéma – and with groups varying from six months to four years old. The SfC Technical Unit and Regional Coordinators selected villages to visit according to the SfC research team’s request that the author visit a variety of atypical groups, both successful and unsuccessful, such as groups undertaking collective projects and groups that have shut down. The author conducted interviews lasting two to four hours with each group, with the assistance of a translator,as well as SfC Regional Coordinators, animators and other partner staff.

Key to the interview process was to inform SfC groups that the interviews would provide an opportunity for them to help the SfC team evaluate the program so that it could be strengthened – and meet their needs even better. In Mali, inviting criticism of a program that the women feel so fortunate to take part in was often, at least initially, met with silence. Thus, whenever group members seemed reluctant to answer certain questions, the author and the translator used stories gleaned from other group experiences to illustrate problems and challenges. The result: many groups realized they were not alone in their difficulties and, in identifying with the groups in the stories, opened up on a variety of issues.

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