A Study of Atypical Groups in Mali

A Study of Atypical Groups in Mali

I wish everyone knew this study by Roanne Edwards, “Saving for Change in Mali: a Study of Atypical Groups from Sikasso to Kayes”. The 24 groups studied were atypical either because they succeeded beyond expectations, or because they failed, or because they took the methodology in unexpected directions. (Actually, there weren’t really 24 groups: the study, as it includes a couple of villages that refused the SfC methodology before the agents could even train one group).

My advice is to stop reading this blog post right now and go directly to the article – Roanne’s writing is journalistic, accessible and particularly lucid, and the 45 pages of the study turn quickly. Second best is to read the five-page executive summary.

There are many good lessons and queries in the paper concerning everything from the importance of gaining the support of the men and elders in the village, to the key difference that dynamic leaders can play, to the mystery of children’s groups (mystery is my word, not Roanne’s).

One thing that I take from the paper is that many of these outlier groups define their success by their ability to collaborate with other agencies.  They succeeded because the women, organized in a group, had the confidence and the resources necessary to take advantage of other opportunities that were already present in the village. Benkadi group in Kayes is systematically harvesting various government subsidies to run a mill, and buy a generator, plows and a pump. Whatever you think of subsidies, you can’t criticize the groups that take advantage of them. The striking element of this group is that it has drifted away from the SfC methodology: they have not distributed after three years, because they have so many other things they want to do with their funds. For that reason, some would consider the group suspect, while Roanne considers it a success.

Their experience contrasts strongly with that of Benkadi village group, which took on more than they bargained for when they accepted a mill from the World Food Programme. The mill arrived broken, and the group had substantial expenses for registration, repairs, and other charges that are not at all clear. They had apparently not been fully informed of their responsibilities and of the expected costs, and the group was nearly bankrupt by the mill. 

Since linkages like these are inevitable on a continent peppered with development projects, it is so important to have them succeed. Some of the keys to success and avoiding failure with linkages, will appear in the soon-to-be-published paper Beyond Financial Services:A Synthesis of Studies on the Integration of Savings Groups and Other Developmental Activities. We’ll talk about that a lot more in coming weeks.

I love Roanne’s study because it is one of the rare efforts to look at the groups that go off in their own direction, and that evolve in ways that the planners and trainers didn’t expect. It is full of inspiration for the next phase in the life of the groups (we don’t really think they are going to be satisfied doing the same weekly savings forever, do we?) As much as it is encouraging about possibilities for group evolution, it is also full of warnings of pitfalls. Highly recommended. 

 

Reader Comments (1) 

Very informative study. The study provides valuable ideas about how savings groups can be developed. Indeed, I do not think savings groups will be "happy to do same weekly savings forever". The groups I met in Colombia (trained by VSL, 1-1.5 year of running) were exactly the case. While they appreciated their savings experience enormously, many of them were looking for further development. Also, when it comes to animators (village replicators, often outstanding in leadership and commitment), I think connecting savings groups to other collective activities should be more widely studied, tried and disseminated. If these talented youngsters work with groups with long term vision, I believe the outcome will be quite meaningful. 

As to children's groups, I had privilege to witness two great groups in Colombia (Maria La Baja/ Vesuvio of Department of Bolívar) The Maria La Baja group was composed of children between 9-17 year old, and Vesuvio between 5-7 year old. The animator said that children between 9-14 are excellent in savings. Maria La Baja children save usually on their own (cutting down money for lunch, selling fruits, washing cars and motorbikes, etc.) and savings become their own. They buy school stuff (uniform, pencils, notebooks etc..) with social fund and reported that they study better than before, because their colorful pens, new uniform and the fact that they do not need to borrow things from others, help them concentrate better on study. Children also mentioned that they no longer spend money for game at all and concentrate increasing their weekly savings, which help them be quite creative and
motivate them get involved in petty business. All had clear goals about what to do with their savings after cycle. There were a few who will give their savings to pay parents' debt, but most children had freedom to spend money by themselves and all for productive purpose. I was startled how children's savings groups accomplish all purposes that conditional cash transfers program strive to achieve only with simple training. 

The Vesuvio children used to attend the savings groups with their mother and father and started their own groups with strong help and encouragement of adult group. It was amazing that those tiny kids perform roles like treasurer, president and box keeper. I am sure weekly savings will leave huge impact on the future of these amazing children.  
Overall, I became quite excited and hopeful with children's savings groups.

Thanks a lot Paul for introducing Roanne's study!

 

Note: This article was originally published in August of 2011, however the date was changed to move it up higher on our feed, because we really think it's worth a read. 

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