February 22, 2016
WomenStrong International, a consortium of non-profit organizations in five nations supporting women-driven solutions to extreme urban poverty, announced today that its two-year-old savings program in Kenya will double in size this year, demonstrating how effective groups can be in helping lift women and families out of poverty.
WomenStrong’s Kenya program, run by the respected Alice Visionary Foundation Project (AVFP), will double in its third year of operations, growing from 120 women in eight groups to more than 240 in 16 groups in Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city.
Formal financial systems throughout the world fail to serve up to 70% of all small- and medium-sized, women-led businesses. Global investment firm Goldman Sachs estimates that closing this credit gap could raise per capita income an average of 12%. The savings groups, established and run by impoverished women themselves, have been long understood as an excellent mechanism for chipping away at global poverty.
WomenStrong and Alice Visionary have further refined a Village Group Savings and Loan model developed by the international aid organization CARE to amplify the monitoring, mentoring and training offered to support women on their journey from extreme poverty to reliable income. Women learn how to live healthier lives, manage family finances and run a business. Those further along on the journey mentor other women just beginning.
“Mentoring is the key to our program’s success,” said Dr. Susan M. Blaustein, Founder and Executive Director of WomenStrong International. “Women within groups mentor each other, and Alice Visionary mentors the groups, so that saving and borrowing is about more than loans: it’s about learning, empowerment, and building networks that strengthen entire communities.”
The results are measurable, with a 98% retention rate, organic growth through demand and total savings by the eight groups in 2015 of $56,483. WomenStrong pays trainers and mentors but does not incentivize the creation of groups. Success is not measured by numbers, but by the transformation of lives.
Rose Akoko, , 58, was supporting eight family members and, often, there was not enough to eat. The gardens she planted on the banks of Lake Victoria were destroyed time after time by wild animals. Caring for so many on so little began to take its toll on her health.
Then Rose joined a Savings & Loan Group, and in less than three years was able to securely feed her family, produce income, gain greater status in her community and see the possibility of a brighter future. The group helped her save and Alice Visionary trained her in urban agriculture, so that she soon not only could feed her family from the garden, but also had surplus to sell each week. Today, Rose supports 13 people and has encouraged her adult sons and daughters-in-law to join Alice Visionary savings groups, as well.
Rose’s experience illustrates statistics reported by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development that an increase to a woman’s income of $10 has the same impact in improving children’s nutrition and health as a $110 increase in a man’s income.
Savings groups, rooted in the work of Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank, now serve millions of impoverished people in nearly 60 countries and require nothing but individual participation and some training to get started. In Kisumu, groups of about 20 self-selected women meet weekly to save amounts based on each woman’s ability. The groups provide a secure place to save and 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, as do fees and or fines charged to encourage business-like behaviors, such as punctuality.
At the end of each “cycle” of 9 to 12 months, savings are shared out by members based on how much each person has put in, providing useful lump sums once a year. The groups have been so successful that they’ve now formed links with the Bank of Africa , where individual women can, for the first time, open accounts and access other banking services.
“When women and girls have the chance to improve their lives, everyone wins. When women can earn a living, their children are more likely to finish school, families eat better, communities are healthier and countries are better positioned to thrive,” Dr. Blaustein said. “We are proud of what Alice Visionary Foundation Project has been able to accomplish and excited about the prospects for even more women to benefit from our savings program, in the year ahead.”
ABOUT ALICE VISIONARY FOUNDATION PROJECT
Alice Visionary Foundation Project was founded in 2005 to help people directly affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in a village outside Kenya’s third largest city, Kisumu. AVFP provides help for orphans and vulnerable children, school feeding programs, education, group savings and loan programs and empowerment initiatives for women and girls. For more information, visit Alice Visionary Foundation Project .
ABOUT WOMENSTRONG INTERNATIONAL
WomenStrong International is a consortium of non-profit organizations in five nations supporting women-driven solutions to extreme urban poverty. WSI emerged from a decade of work at Columbia University’s Millennium Cities Initiative where we found the most successful programs were local and led by women. Through our Consortium members in Ghana, Kenya, Haiti, India, and Washington, D.C., we help thousands of women and girls meet their 6 Essential Needs for health, shelter, safety, education, economic empowerment and a functioning urban environment. These women, in turn, improve the lives of their children, families, communities and nations. WomenStrong believes the path out of poverty and toward a more just and prosperous world can be found by making women strong. For more information, visit www.womenstrong.org.