Operational Evaluation of Saving for Change in Mali
This report is an operational evaluation of the Saving for Change (SfC) program in Mali being implemented by Oxfam America, Freedom from Hunger, Plan Mali and the Stromme Foundation with local partners. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded this evaluation, which was prepared by the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology (BARA), University of Arizona.
This report focuses on the current functioning of Oxfam’s existing Saving for Change programs in Mali, specifically to provide the context on the mechanisms of group establishment, replication, and functioning. The study addresses four key areas of SfC operations in local contexts in Mali: (a) the SfC administrative structure, (b) functioning of savings, savings and lending groups (S&L), (c) household livelihood systems, and (d) perceptions of the impact of credit on livelihood systems. This study investigates the ways in which community members modify or vary the SfC model to meet local conditions and needs. It also seeks to characterize how SfCs have operated within the context of other local credit arrangements, including state programs, informal moneylenders, informal tontines (traditional rotating credit associations) and other NGO-funded microfinance projects.
Oxfam’s Saving for Change (SfC) Model: Oxfam's SfC program enables women to organize themselves into simple savings and loan groups and address the needs of those who are unlikely to be reached by institutional lenders. SfC starts with savings. Twenty or so women voluntarily form a group that democratically elects officers, sets bylaws, regularly meets and collects money savings from each member for a communal pool. The funds are lent to members at interest and by consensus. Over time, the interest allows a group's funds to grow, giving each member greater access money and greater savings than they could feasibly save on their own. Among the principal advantages of the SfC program is that since the group is lending its own money to its members, collateral is not required. Since the savings are internally generated there is more incentive to manage this money well. Collection seems seldom to be a problem, and available figures indicate that less than 1 percent of participants are late on loan payments.
In 2004, Oxfam carried out a feasibility study in Mali after the Norwegian-based Stromme Foundation showed interest in underwriting the introduction of Oxfam's Saving for Change (SfC) program in Mali. Following this study Oxfam and Stromme put out an RFP, and visited the NGOs that put forth the strongest proposals. Two partners were selected: TONUS and CAEB. The partners trained their staff of technical agents in SfC, and by August 2005, 216 groups with 5000 members had been formed. While 13 percent of the original 5000 members were also members of credit unions and other micro-finance groups, and half were members of informal tontines (traditional rotating credit associations), SfC was also reaching a segment of the population that was not being served by either. One of the problems that SfC identified early on was that literacy rates in Mali were so low that written records were being keep by literate men or animators (staff replicating agents), so few groups were operating independently. In October 2005 a system of oral record keeping was developed and animators were trained in its use. Within a year, members had learned to keep their own records. By March of 2006, SfC had grown to 11,000 members. A new barrier stood in the way of expansion. The SfC training manual was written in French, but most of the animators spoke only Bambara, so training was uneven. A pictorial version was created and replicating agents were trained in its use. In 2007, SfC expanded into Kayes and Sikasso regions, and membership in SfCs rose to 55,000. Many animators were redeployed from saturated zones into new ones. By November 2007, SfCs had 64,000 members. New partners have been recruited to provide training: CARE and Stop-Sahel. The ultimate goal is to completely saturate four of the five Southern regions, namely Kayes, Koulikoro, Segou, and Sikasso, and to have SfC grow to 336,000 members by 2010.