Growing through savings groups

By Andrew Newmarch, World Vision Australia Portfolio Manager for Zimbabwe

We all want to make money, right? Sure we do. But when you’re trying to think of ways in which poor, rural folk can make money it’s not that straight forward. Should they work harder? Will it work better if we give them a big start? If only they could change their mindset and think entrepreneurially? Get a loan – but there are no banks or facilities nearby.

Well, there is a way in which some poor rural folk have been able to make money simply and also take out loans. They’re called savings groups.

During a visit to Buhera Area Development Program (ADP) in Zimbabwe in 2015, representatives of over 20 groups (there are about 42 in all) met to talk about their experiences in savings groups. First up was Mrs Majombo. Mrs Majombo was emphatic about the value of savings groups. She told everyone in no uncertain terms that as women they could own their own money and not need to rely on the husband.

She was now paying for her own maize and other food; she was now paying all the costs of her children attending school. She was now a businesswoman – she had bought two heifers, costing about $200 each, since joining savings groups, and was buying and selling crops. She could use her oxen for ploughing or transport. 

Not only that but her example had enthused others to participate in the savings groups. Activities were expanding to the point where the women were not only growing food for the family but were growing to sell. And, as Mrs Majombo pointed out, even buying nice clothes and sunglasses! When she started she couldn’t even pay for a pen!

Mrs-Majombo

What is important about these savings groups is that they are not limited in their impact to income only. The group meetings are used as a vehicle to provide other kinds of messages. One of those messages is the opportunity to support orphans and vulnerable children, of whom there are many.

Secondly, the meetings are used to promote and teach health and hygiene culture. This could range from ensuring that all children are immunised to learning about sanitation and toilets. 

Thirdly, given the emphasis that World Vision puts on child welfare, the groups are also given messages about child protection and child abuse, and members are encouraged to report cases of abuse. Domestic violence in the community has also reduced, as a major factor is often limited finances. The savings groups have enabled women to assist their husbands with income generation.

Some people have resisted joining savings groups. Why? Many poor people have seen funds misappropriated by officials or scammers and have deep suspicions that as soon as their funds go into that box, that is the last they will see of it.

Mrs Majombo expressly addressed this by saying that she had spoken to the village chief and to the local councillor. She had gone door to door to invite participants, but only 14 people showed interest the first time. When the time came to share out the proceeds, she invited the whole village to witness the experience.

That was back in June 2014. Many of the villagers over time have realised it is a good scheme and last year (2016) there were a total of 257 savings groups and 2,844 members. 

Another important feature of these groups is that they are predominantly women. Savings groups have become a way in which they can achieve a form of independence. The spectacular rise of women like Mrs Majombo reveals that savings groups can be the basis of forming business enterprises. 

Savings groups are an important vehicle to improve people’s lives but they are not a panacea. They need to form part of a range of tools to improve the lot of the poor. There are other major issues which can still impinge on their ability to progress: land rights, drought relief, provision of services by government, rule of law and corruption.

However, the savings groups have become a start for many and offer hope for something better. For this, the communities are grateful to World Vision for their intervention.

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