After returning to Bamako, we continued to document Freedom From Hunger programs; this time visiting villages on the outskirts of Bamako city that have started to implement the Savings For Change program. Additionally we visited an AIM Youth (Advancing Integrated Microfinance for Youth) program in the city. While I’m blogging the trip from a photographer’s  perspective, Tyler Rattray is doing an excellent,l “behind the scenes” story for Freedom From Hunger’s Facebook page. Check it out by clicking here.

preparing a simple meal

Freedom from Hunger has partnered with Oxfam America to develop and implement in Mali a savings-led microfinance delivery model called Saving for Change, whereby groups of women mobilize their savings and make loans to each other. This approach enables outreach into rural areas where financial institutions have little or no penetration, and also lends itself to large-scale replication at relatively low cost. Equipped with tested materials and experience in Mali, Freedom from Hunger has begun training local organizations in Burkina Faso and Sénégal on the Saving for Change approach, in keeping with our commitment to expand microfinance services to the very poor throughout West Africa. The largest program is in Mali, under a consortium comprised of Oxfam America, Freedom from Hunger, and Stromme Foundation.

Mali cash and coins

Saving for Change is a methodology for self-managed saving and lending groups integrated with simple, relevant, high-impact training in health, business and money management. Saving for Change brings basic financial services to areas that are typically beyond the reach of microfinance institutions and, in doing so, creates sustainable, cohesive groups that tackle social issues facing their members and their communities.
Self-selecting groups of approximately 20 women come together and, over several weeks, make decisions about the management of their savings groups, with guidance from a trained field agent. The members elect a management committee and make decisions within a framework provided by the program, including their group name, social objective, savings amount, lending policies, cycle length, fines for infractions, etc.

group meeting

The field agent also trains the group on how to manage their meetings. Members save a set amount at every meeting, and periodically borrow from their pooled savings to meet their investment or consumption needs. Loans are repaid with interest, allowing the group fund to grow more quickly. Funds are only accessed during meetings in the presence of all members, and are kept in a locked cashbox between meetings. Savings meetings can last as little as 15 minutes, while saving and lending meetings can last up to an hour. Annually, members divide the group fund in proportion to their savings contribution, take stock of their achievements, and decide what changes to make as they begin a new cycle.
In order for groups to manage meetings autonomously, without field agent oversight, the group record keeping system for Saving for Change is adapted to the literacy and numeracy level of group members. In West Africa, an entirely memory-based system allows all members to transparently validate transactions.

Village Chief

It is customary to meet with the village chief prior to getting started.

Group meetings also allow for discussion of group and community issues, and for education sessions. The field agent facilitates a 30-minute learning session during some group meetings, using the same skills necessary for establishing the members’ self-management of their group. For this reason, the preparation of the field agent to provide education only requires additional training on the content of the sessions. The content for these learning sessions is available from Freedom from Hunger, which eliminates the need for institutions to invest in costly development of their own materials. The same field agent who monitors the group’s activities can deliver learning sessions, keeping marginal costs low, or a dedicated staff may do so, allowing for greater specialization but increasing delivery costs.

Girl in kitchen

In West Africa, program growth is accelerated by the initiative of replicators—group members who in turn form other savings groups in their communities. With special training and support provided by field agents, replicators greatly expand the number of Saving for Change groups at comparable quality. Saving for Change is being implemented by a wide range of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with experience in community development, health, literacy or agriculture can help the populations they serve access basic
saving and lending services, without needing the systems and processes of financial service institutions.

Doorway of a village home

AIM Youth (Advancing Integrated Microfinance for Youth)
Freedom from Hunger’s newest innovation, AIM Youth, is a three-year initiative, youth-focused microfinance and financial education program. In collaboration with carefully selected partners in Mali and Ecuador, Freedom from Hunger will develop appropriate and comprehensive youth-focused financial services and education innovations, research their impact on participants, and document best practices to be shared with the microfinance industry and youth focused organizations around the world.

youth group meeting

With this project, Freedom from Hunger and its partners propose to reach 37,000 young people (22,000 in Mali and 15,000 in Ecuador) with integrated services during the life of the project and many more in the years beyond. Today there are more young people than ever in the challenging transition from childhood to adulthood. For youth living in poverty, a complex developmental stage is further complicated with increasing levels of household financial responsibility in tension with limited access to resources and opportunities. This combination of factors can severely inhibit the ability of youth to break the vicious cycle of transgenerational poverty. But when youth are presented with knowledge, skills, encouragement and resources to make changes in their lives, their energy and enthusiasm can lead to major positive outcomes that can extend to their future lives and families.

Youth group members leaving the meeting

For this reason, Freedom from Hunger proposes to explore and test an innovative approach for microfinance institutions (MFIs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to provide value-added microfinance services to very poor youth. The approach will be based on the integration of financial services with youth learner-centered financial education. The combination of these services will guide and encourage youth in establishing and achieving financial goals, which will lead to increased options for the future. For this approach to be effective, services must be appropriate to the lifecycle stage of the target population and sensitive to local customs and practices regarding adult-youth dynamics.

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