Two years ago, Rose Akoko was trying to provide for eight family members who couldn’t find work, including adult sons and their wives, grandsons, single daughters and their children. Food was scarce. She tried planting gardens on the banks of Lake Victoria, only to see her work destroyed time after time by hippopotamuses and other wild animals.
The struggle of caring for so many people with so few resources took its toll on Rose’s health, and neighbors worried that the stress was too much for a woman in her 50s.
> Then Rose joined a savings and loan group, one of eight such groups run by the Alice Visionary Foundation Project, a member of WomenStrong International, and everything started to change. In less than three years, she has found a way to securely feed her family, produce income, gain greater status in her community and, above all, see the possibility of a brighter future.
Such savings groups, based on a model developed by the international aid agency CARE, are among some of the most promising ideas in development aid in recent decades, serving millions of people in nearly 60 countries who lack access to traditional credit or other financial services. Groups Savings & Loans require nothing but the participation of the women themselves and some training to get started.
Small savings groups of self-selected women meet weekly to save amounts based on each woman’s ability. The groups provide a secure place to save, the opportunity to borrow small amounts on flexible and mutually agreed-upon terms. Interest charged on the loans becomes part of the pool of savings. Savings and loans for each member are recorded in passbooks or a central ledger, and some groups use memory-based systems that require no ability to read or write at all. At year’s end, savings are shared out by members, providing useful lump sums once a year.
While not everyone is successful, the groups are self-sustaining and have already transformed lives. Alice Visionary has developed a system that offers mentoring and training to women when they need it, resulting in a 98% year-to-year retention rate among members as the women gain confidence and become more successful entrepreneurs.
WomenStrong International views the economic empowerment of women as one of the 6 Essential Needs required for poor women to lift themselves, their families and communities out of extreme urban poverty. Rose is one such remarkable woman who sets an example for others.
Now 58, Rose meets with her group weekly to make deposits. In the first year she took a loan of $100 (KES 10,000) to buy a cow and pay a delinquent dowry for her daughter-in-law, restoring the reputation of her family within the community, where failure to pay a dowry causes shame.
In 2015, she received training from Alice Visionary Foundation Project in urban agriculture and soon planted a vegetable garden to grow food so that she could reduce her food costs and save more. Very soon, the garden grew into a business.
Each week, Rose harvested enough to feed her family and retained half a sack of vegetables to sell. Her garden has been yielding surplus that generates between $10-20 every week (KES 1,000 to 2,000) ever since.
In her second year, Rose borrowed $300 (KES 30,000) from the Group Savings & Loan to build two housing units for her sons. She began encouraging her sons and daughters-in-laws to switch from other microfinance systems to Group Savings & Loans, where the members run their own programs. Her family was inspired by her own success, the profit she’s earned and the training she has received in entrepreneurship, financial literacy and how to organize and run a group.
By the end of 2015, the eight Group Savings & Loans served by Alice Visionary Foundation Project and WomenStrong had saved a total of $56,483 (KES 5,648,307)
Rose’s portion of her group’s “share-out” last year came to $300 (KES 30,000), which she used to pay her children’s school fees and buy two goats. She also borrowed $60 (KES 6,000) to buy a TV, so her grandchildren would stay home to watch and avoid bad influences. The TV also reflects a significant change in Rose’s status within her community — and she’s happy to be able to keep up with the news from Kenya, Africa and the world.
2016 began happily, with Rose taking her 5-year-old grandson Junior to school for the first time, while making plans to enroll and pay secondary (high school) school fees for an orphan she has taken in.
> When she joined the Group Savings & Loans two years ago, Rose was supporting eight family members and struggling; today, she is supporting 13 and offering all enough to eat. From being sick with worry, she is now filled with hope and bubbling with plans.
“I want to connect my home to piped water, so I can irrigate my garden in the dry season,” she said. “I also want to learn how to harvest the rainwater from my roof. The Group Savings & Loans have made such a difference. We are grateful.”
Beldina Opiyo-Omolo, Founder and Director of Alice Visionary Foundation Project, said the savings groups provide women with more than money, they offer dignity and a supportive social network.
[[callout “The change you see in the individual women is phenomenal…”]]
“The change you see in the individual women is phenomenal,” she said. “You can see it in the way they talk, dress, how they carry themselves. They have a sense of accomplishment they never had before, a sense that they’ve achieved something they never thought was possible. When you have money, you have a voice, and that is what this is all about.”