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Savings Groups Help Low-Income Families ‘Put Their Money to Work’

putting money to work photo
When a financial advisor says, "Put your money to work for you," stocks, index funds, high-yield CDs and other investments probably come to mind.

But what if you had no access to E-Trade, Charles Schwab, or even a neighborhood bank? What if the closest financial institution wouldn't even accept your deposit? Or what if the fees for setting up an account and making deposits outweighed the benefits of using such services?

How, then, would you "put your money to work"?

The answer for many women and men in rural, under-served communities across the developing world is "by participating in savings groups."

Last week, Julie Zollmann, an associate at Bankable Frontier Associates, gave a talk at CGAP headquarters in Washington D.C. about a financial diaries research project that she headed up in Kenya. Julie and her colleagues recorded detailed financial transactions and tracked the habits of 300 low-income families in both urban and rural communities in Kenya.

Their meticulous research showed that these individuals – many of whom are micro-entrepreneurs – are quite active money managers. They are always looking for ways to put their money to work, and savings groups are among their favorite tools.

"Most...saving was quite intentionally pushed into financial assets—like savings groups—where it could not be immediately withdrawn," Zollmann writes in a blog post for CGAP's website.

"These kinds of devices are playing an important role in the portfolio, helping money build up into useful, investible sums. And, most of the time, they are also playing an auxiliary function. This money, our respondents told us, is not just sitting there – it is working. While the respondents have a future claim on those funds, they serve another purpose in the immediate, such as enabling a loan or enabling a friend or neighbor to invest today. Money that just sits around idle under the mattress—even in a bank account—is seen as wasted."

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Sudan & South Sudan

  • World Concern
  • The Mothers’ Union
  • The Episcopal Church of Sudan, Diocese of Wau

Program Type and Services:

  • “Savings-Led”

The program offers microcredit through Savings and Loan Associations (SLAs). SLA groups determine the terms for the loans from their savings, rates of interest, length and any fees or penalties, making them extremely able to meet local demand and to react to local conditions quickly.

Training focus:

  • Adult literacy and education
  • Business development training: planning, marketing, pricing
  • Social capital development among entrepreneurs
  • Biblical values in the marketplace training
  • Household budgeting and saving

The Community

This under-served area along the border of South Sudan and Sudan contains a population of more than 500,000 people.  With the independence of South Sudan, there is an expectation of enormous economic growth because the region is endowed with great natural resources. There is also a great opportunity for the local population to engage in diverse business opportunities.

At the same time, the region still faces plenty of risks despite the formal separation of Sudan and South Sudan. Infrequent fighting continues in some disputed border areas. Inter-clan conflicts could also adversely affect the program. The area also experiences conflicts between host and pastoral communities due to competition for pasture land and water.

The Program

The innovative microfinance program in the village of Lietnhom is transitioning from the ravages of more than 20 years of war. Years after the peace agreement, hundreds of thousands were still internally displaced and others who had found a home were looking to rebuild their shattered lives.

Working with a consortium of partners including the Episcopal Church of Sudan, Five Talents is assisting a village banking project in Wau in the state of Western Bahr el Ghazal. This is one of the first projects of this type in South Sudan.

The target of this project is the Dinka community in Bahr el Ghazal. The project will empower mainly women by offering credit, literacy and numeracy skills to develop their small scale businesses and increase their competency. In the area, most households are headed by women, as men are engaged in the armed forces. Currently, women survive by doing petty merchandise, beer brewing, keeping cows, and living off what they grow.

Five Talents is also working with Mothers' Union in Khartoum, Sudan, to nurture a literacy and financial education program.

The Need

give10cFive Talents hopes this program will be a model that can be expanded and replicated into other parts of the Wau Diocese and across South Sudan.

We'd appreciate your continued prayers for this transformative program. Please help us expand our work in South Sudan and Sudan either by making a one-time donation or by signing up to "Walk with Us" as a recurring donor. A monthly gift of $10 will transform up to five lives.

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Updated January 2014

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'One of the Best' Non-Profits

cfp1314The Catalogue for Philanthropy - Greater Washington has named Five Talents "one of the best" non-profit organizations for 2013-2014.