Ensuring Continued Success - Saving for Change in Older Areas of Mali
Oxfam America's Saving for Change (SfC) program brings savings and lending services to poor, remote rural communities around the world. Over the past few decades, traditional microfinance has expanded to provide credit services to over 150 million people. However this approach, in which formal institutions screen borrowers and make loans, has not been able to reach into very poor or rural areas because of the high costs of providing loans, especially the smaller loans under $50 which many poorer households desire. Savings groups can provide these smaller loans and most importantly, a chance for ouseholds to save, thereby creating a buffer to deal with risks and shocks, and a mechanism to invest for the future.
Saving for Change works with local partners whose field agents train villagers, mostly women, to create small savings groups. Each member saves a small amount each week (or in some areas once or twice a month). As this group fund grows, members make loans to each other from the fund, at terms decided by the group. Loans are repaid with interest and at the end of a year (or another period determined by the group), the fund is broken up and each member receives her savings back with interest. Saving for Change started in Mali and Cambodia in 2005 and now operates as well in Senegal, El Salvador and Guatemala, with over 409,000 total members in over 19,000 groups.
Oxfam America's work in Mali began with a feasibility study in 2004. In 2005, the Stromme Foundation, Oxfam America and Freedom from Hunger trained two local partners who began work in the Koulikoro region. By August 2005, there were 5,000 women members. In October 2005, in response to the difficulties encountered because of very low levels of literacy, innovations by group members and animators were developed into a system of oral accounting. In 2006, a pictoral training manual was developed. By 2007, the program had 55,000 members and began to expand into the Kayes and Sikasso regions. Some zones became saturated with groups and animators were deployed to newer areas. A grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation allowed for additional expansion beginning in Sept 2008 with the goal of saturating most of four out of the five non-desert regions of Mali (Kayes, Koulikoro, Segou and Sikasso). Currently there are 305,000 women members in Mali and this is projected to grow to 346,000 members by 2011.
The Gates Foundation grant also provided funds for a randomized control trial in the Segou region and for other research, to be determined by Oxfam. This present research study grew out of needs identified by staff at Oxfam America's West Africa Regional Office (WARO) and the Technical Unit based in Mali, as well as previous research by anthropologists at the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology (BARA, University of Arizona). The goal is to study the older SfC groups in greater depth, with an emphasis on several areas including: impacts of the program, descriptions of non-members, the degree of saturation of the program, group survival over time, collective projects that members engage in, any linkages to other MFI's or other NGO's, and SfC associations that form from the smaller groups.
The study was designed to look at these core issues in depth, across as many situations as possible. Out of the four oldest partner zones which started with the oral recordkeeping system, three zones were selected to be studied, Sikasso, Bougouni and Yanfolia. (Older SfC zones exist, but these use the written methodology, which SfC has moved away from.) A team of one Oxfam researcher and six local Malian researchers plus an interpreter visited 19 villages, each with a different animator, and which had at least one 2-3 year-old group in that village. The researchers spent one full day in each village. For smaller villages the team split in half for the day, allowing the field work to be completed in two weeks. Semi-structured interviews and focus group discussions were conducted with SfC group members, non-members, replicating agents, animators and partner staff. The open-ended nature of the questions allowed for unexpected themes to emerge and be explored. Data entry occurred in Mali and in Boston. The information was analyzed by the Oxfam researcher and an Oxfam consultant using several iterations of qualitative analysis.