I have recently noticed that in most of the places I work, regardless of where they are in their post-conflict/post-disaster recovery process, some form of saving group seems appropriate to meet financial needs. Am I just blinded by my own enthusiasm? Or are savings groups, around for millennium in so many cultures including my own, really a globally good idea?
While the evidence is still growing from various places – IRC included – and the data collection efforts lead by Hugh Allen and VSLA Associates will add a great deal, I am “cautiously optimistic” we may have a model that really reaches across so many of our perceived programming boundaries (urban/rural, stable/unstable, age, gender and vulnerability). We are also starting to develop a body of evidence that VSLAs, coupled with activities that encourage other critical changes at the household level can make a significant difference.
My last post told the story about women savings group members in Ivory Coast during and after the horrific conflict in 2011. Now, I turn to those add-ons or so called “Other Activities”.
IRC recently did a series of academic research projects, in collaboration with some of the premier research bodies, on the impacts of Savings Groups in Burundi. For those of you not familiar with Burundi it is a nation still recovering from decades of conflict that claimed 300,000 lives and forced over a million people to flee their homes. Since 2003, over 500,000 refugees have returned to the country and the potential for political instability remains high. It is also one of the poorest countries in the world.
IRC and it academic partners conducted two randomized controlled trails (RCTs) focused on two main questions:
- Do Village Savings and Loan Associations improve economic outcomes of poor households?
- Can “Other Activities” have successful, measureable and attributable impacts?
Each RCT addressed the impact of its “add-on” or OA (other activity).
- · One intervention had a “Healing Families and Communities” discussion series designed to improve child well being in the home.
- · The other focused safer and more equitable gender and power dynamics in the household with the discussion series “Talking
One of the most interesting things about these two studies (as if the answers to the first question would not be interesting enough!) is that they were designed to show attribution. They were designed to show if the discussion series (the OA) was contributing to positive results outside of those that could be due to just having more money in the house (again, who can deny that more money in the house is not excellent in itself? I know I strive towards it daily).
I am not going to go over all the results – but suffice it to say, they all worked. Now, I have to say I was shocked. Really. Results showing savings groups have an impact on household expenditures and poverty reduction were not surprising to me personally, however much they are gratifying. However, I have long thought that these OAs were of questionable attributable impact. I always thought “when you have more income, of course your power and well-being will improve”. This assumption of mine was also proven to be questionable, so perhaps I am not so reliable. But the fact that these discussion groups, designed to have a light enough touch to not over-burden the key function of the VSLAs, showed measurable and attributable impact was quite a revelation.
The “Talking about Talking” series showed the incidences of intimate partner violence (IPV) and the acceptance of violence decreased. Women reported increased decision making and use of negation skills. The “Healing Families and Communities” series showed instances of harsh discipline decreased and child well-being and mental health improved. These studies are here on the savings revolution website in the resource section, and so if you are curious as to what was measured and how it was measured I would encourage you to check them out.
I am not yet ready to say “Savings groups are good for everyone and everything”, but I am getting closer. I am proud we are challenging our assumptions, and that we are allowing ourselves to see what else can be accomplished with this powerful tool.