Thanks to our generous supporters, in 1991, CARE launched a transformative program in Niger that would change the world. It harnessed the ancient practice of group savings in an innovative concept called Village Savings & Loan Associations or VSLAs. VSLAs offered people in communities without formal financial services, and women in particular, a safe way to save money and access loans.
Each week, the group members (usually women) got together to pool their savings. They then loaned out portions of the total to members who would like to invest in things such as starting or expanding businesses.
No money from CARE was given to the groups to begin with – just a safe box with three padlocks, three keys and some financial training. The group members did the rest.
Twenty-six years later, more than five million people have participated in these saving and loan groups in 35 countries. From Sierra Leone to Somalia, financial independence has transformed women’s lives all across Africa and around the world.
After evaluating the success in Africa, CARE has introduced VSLAs in South East Asia, where they are not just improving the financial independence of women, but are helping women empower themselves as members of society where they can sometimes be repressed:
“It is not usually allowed for women to go out of the home in this culture,” says a religious leader in the Maungdaw district of Myanmar. “It is allowed for VSLA members.”
One of the reasons VSLAs are so successful is that they require no infrastructure or construction. And the money that goes into them is entirely from within the community, so members feel a sense of ownership and responsibility. In fact, of the 200,000 VSLA groups that have been established around the globe so far, 99% of all loans have been repaid.
Vibol (pictured above) in Cambodia, took out a loan of $50 to start her grocery stall. Now, she earns enough money to contribute $12.50 every week back into the VSLA and has even been able to use her savings to build a bathroom for her home.
That kind of financial independence is helping women lift themselves, their families and their communities out of poverty.
“Previously I was nobody in the community. Nobody knew me,” said one female VSLA member in Koh Kong Province in Cambodia. “Now people call out to me and say hello – people know me and respect me. It makes me feel proud that I can help others in my community.”