CARE Australia’s Katherine Falconer learns how families in Uganda are gaining financial security through community savings groups.
I love my job because I get to see the power of people and their desire to create change, how CARE contributes to empowering those people whose children are going to inherit the world and how gifts like bequests transform not just a single community, but an entire country.
In July I visited Uganda, where I saw the Banking on Change program in action. It’s an initiative that trains community members in financial management and helps them set up Savings and Loan Groups, where communities pool their funds together, helping them take out loans to start businesses, invest in livestock or seedlings, and send their children to school.
The first group I visited was in a village about three hours east of the capital city Kampala where I joined one of their weekly meetings. Everyone was excited to tell me about the businesses they had been able to start. Alisat used the money he has borrowed to invest in selling dried fish. Ruth uses her loan to buy fabric that she sews into school uniforms to sell to families in the surrounding communities.
Emmanuel, one of the younger group members, explained that before the Savings and Loan Group, “it was very challenging having access to money as an individual. But now, I can borrow from the group and pay them back over time.”
CARE has been setting up and training savings groups like these for 25 years, empowering thousands of people to take control of their lives and build better futures. In the ten years this project has been running in Uganda, more than 1,000 savings groups have been formed, impacting the lives of more than 30,000 families.
What is particularly revolutionary about the Banking on Change program, however, is that it goes beyond just savings groups. Banking on Change helps savings groups open bank accounts at Barclays branches around Uganda, giving security to their hard earned money and the opportunity to take advantage of high interest rates on savings accounts, and lines of credit.
The second group I met illustrated the profound impact such a group can have on people’s lives. As group member Margaret Igulu explained, “Before the group it was challenging to access credit from financial institutions and rates were high. I am a farmer and sell produce, but couldn’t easily borrow money to grow my business. Now, interest rates are shared. Business has greatly improved and I have been able to improve my house and expand my business.”
They were inspiring not only because of their existing achievements, but their adaptability and ambition. “As a group, we want to take on group enterprises,” said Joy. “We want to mobilise our resources to increase our produce and get ox plows to open land. We also want to get a machine for processing timber.”
I want the world to know about these projects. I want people to know that even the smallest donation – one per cent of an estate or $500 left in a Will after families and friends are cared for – can train an entire community of savings groups, reaching hundreds of parents, thousands of children, and generations into the future.