To better understand the lives of Saving for Change members, Freedom from Hunger conducted an ???impact stories??? study to look at the life events, opportunities, program perceptions, food security and poverty levels of 41 members of Savings Groups formed through the organization Le Tonus in Mali. Individual stories have been written for each respondent that describe their experience with the program in a holistic way, and the aggregate outcomes are described in this report. Sample stories are provided in the appendix.
Data gathered on weekly contributions, savings accumulation and distribution yielded some interesting, although not always surprising, outcomes. New groups tend to set their weekly contribution to 100 CFA (US$0.20) per week with about 40% contributing more than the minimum. Mature groups tend to contribute more per week, setting their minimums at about 250 CFA ($0.50) with 50% contributing more than the minimum. Almost all mature members received more money at each progressive distribution. A rough estimate for the average amount at distribution is $40 for the disbursement at the end of the first cycle, and $60 at the end of the second cycle, although there were wide ranges in amounts for both cycles.
Access to loans was mentioned as one of the most valuable aspects of being a member of a Savings Group, and loan sizes increased over time. The most common amounts borrowed for mature members was 15,000 CFA ($29) or 25,000 CFA ($48), and for new members was 5,000 CFA ($10). New and mature members take loans at a similar frequency, one loan about every four months (removing outliers). A fair number (25%) of groups choose to postpone distribution. One of the recurring problems discussed by the Saving for Change members is the inability to take large loans, and delaying distribution may be seen as one way to alleviate this problem by accumulating more money to loan out.
Members use loans for a wide variety of expenses and have changed loan or savings terms to meet the groups‘ needs. At least one-half of the Savings Group members take loans for business-related costs or to buy and re-sell food and other items. Others mentioned using loan money for farming or gardening, food, medicine and education costs. The use of loan money for health costs seems to increase with the length of time in the group, with 25% of new members and 76% of mature members reporting the use of loans for health care. Sixty-one percent of the members said their groups do not give emergency loans, and of those that do give them, only a small percentage of members have actually taken one. Both new and mature groups have made changes to loan terms or savings, with examples that include scheduled loan-size increases, random selection to disburse loans, loans specifically used for market day or weddings, contributing to a special fund to buy fabric, and buying and renting out cooking pots to make money for the group.
Health concerns emerged as a common theme throughout the stories. An alarming 70% of the women interviewed have endured the death of at least one child and/or husband, and malaria was stated as the most common cause of death. Almost all of the women who had received malaria education through the program remembered at least one thing from it, citing that malaria came from mosquitoes, they should take medication for it, and that they should sleep under a bednet. Although they could exhibit this new knowledge confidently, most mentioned that they still worry about it in terms of their families‘ health. When asked about perceptions of "the good life" having good health was also often mentioned as a main characteristic. They mentioned it in terms of being able to do work, to enjoy life and to be happy. Many also discussed having good food for good health, in regards to both enough food and food prepared in a sanitary manner. Concerns about food availability also became clear, as almost all respondents said their village has trouble getting enough food.
The concern over food availability was reiterated in the outcomes of the food-security scale. Over 93% of the 41 Saving for Change members were determined to be food-insecure. Results from the Progress Out of Poverty IndexTM show that 74% of the Saving for Change members interviewed are likely to be under the national poverty line, and 41% are likely to be under the USAID Extreme Poverty Line. We can clearly see that Tonus has been able to reach the very poor with this program.
Many women joined a Savings Group for similar reasons, including for ???their importance??? and benefits, to save money, to learn how to grow their money, to improve their lives and to lessen their problems. Nearly 60% of the women mentioned that they were not saving money before joining a Saving for Change group. When asked about savings goals, the most common items they saved for included children‘s expenses, commerce, food and raising animals. Many of them perceived the ability to take a loan during the group cycle as a form of savings in addition to money received at distribution.
When asked how being in a Savings Group has affected their lives, as well as general benefits of membership, having access to loans emerged as the most common answer. A few members felt there were no benefits, including one who had dropped out. She said she left her group out of shame because she could not pay her loan, and was trying to pay back the loan now and join again. When asked about challenges of membership, members mentioned that some members took too long to repay loans, as well as the group fund not having enough money (to take out more and larger loans).
Both mature and new members mentioned learning ideas from other members, including saving money and making payments, solidarity, business knowledge, making money with the group "Savings Groups are good" caring for children and better hygiene, and having fun. However, new members mentioned solidarity and knowing that "Savings Groups are good" more often than mature members. Perhaps while members are still new to the methodology, the newfound support and the revelation that the group can function together is in the forefront of their minds, but as members progress onto new cycles, the other benefits such as exchanging ideas on business, childcare, hygiene and making money (as seen at disbursement) become more salient.
Members speculated that Savings Groups may not work for those who have absolutely no money, have no way to make money, who are always sick, extremely old, or who do not like to follow rules. When asked further why some women do not join, they believe that women who do not join are scared they cannot afford the weekly payments. However, many women asserted that a lack of understanding is why women do not join rather than a lack of money. In general, most members seem to benefit financially and socially from group membership. Furthermore, 100% of the women interviewed plan on remaining in their Savings Group.