We sat on very small wooden stools and faced a group of about Ugandan 25 women sitting on woven leaf mats. In between us sat a green metal box with three locks. I listened with growing excitement as Rehema Mutesi told me and the other Small Business Coordinators about the Kasozi Village Savings Group.
If the women kept the profit from their business endeavors in their houses, the money would be quickly spent, with none of it going to savings. So, about two years ago they started talking to the local Spirit in Action Small Business Fund Coordinator, Godfrey Matovu, who helped them form their own micro-savings group. The 30 members meet once a week and commit their savings to the secure green box, in increments as small as the equivalent of 5 cents.
Each transaction – how much each person has saved and how much they have borrowed – is recorded in a green ledger book. Then the money is placed in the green box, which is secured with three locks. Three different women have keys, and “the ones with the keys are not neighbors. They are all from a different place,” Rehema told us, assuring us of the safety of the saved funds. Then she added, above the loudly mooing cow, “and the person with the box also is not one with a key.” All these safety measures are important because at the end of last year’s saving cycle the box held over 3.8 million Ugandan Shillings (about $1,800)!
Each member can borrow a portion of their savings for a one-month period. They are charged a small interest rate, which is included back in the savings fund and disbursed to members at the end of the annual cycle. One of the group members took a loan this year to pay for a certification course in hair braiding. Now she is braiding hair in the village and in the nearby town, as well as mentoring and training some girls who have dropped out of school.
I was impressed to see how these women were working together to encourage each other to save for those bigger expenses. Things like re-thatching their homes, paying for school fees, and medical expenses. I saw that the women supported each other emotionally too. They did a skit for us, showing how to care for a child with fever. They clapped for each other and laughed together. One of the members is a district counselor, but within the group she is on equal footing with all the others.
Before we ended our visit, Canaan Gondwe, the SIA Small Business Fund Coordinator from Malawi who also leads a savings group, stood up to give the women a few words of encouragement. Speaking from his own experience, he assured them, “This is a journey towards economic empowerment. In five year’s time, you will never be the same.”