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Savings-and-loan groups encourage female leaders in Africa

Sharing community success spurs lasting change 

By Christelle Kalhoule, country director, Burkina Faso 

In Africa, it’s common to hear the phrase “poverty has a female face.” That’s a terrible, sad reality for women in Burkina Faso.  

In urban areas, women’s contribution to the economy is recognized, but there are no accurate data to assess it. Though women account for more than half of the population (52 percent), we represent only 33.3 percent of employees in the public service, according to State statistics.  

Yet, many women run small businesses in the informal sector in urban areas. They devote three-quarters of their time to agricultural activities and largely contribute to food production. They produce cereals, including rice, millet, corn, sorghum, beans, et cetera. Handicrafts and small business often occupy their time during dry season. 

There’s more. In the land of the country’s main Moaga ethnic group, a woman must have her own granary. Only after exhausting her crops can she use her husband's to cook for the family. This cultural reality shows the weight and burden on women for meeting the family’s basic needs.

Unfortunately, it’s still a major challenge for women to contribute to the economy. Their access to fertile land is limited, and they generally only have rights to small plots. Bank loans are also inaccessible, especially to women in rural areas and those in the informal sector in urban areas who do not have identification cards or collateral.

But, Christian Children’s Fund of Canada (CCFC) is bringing hope to women through Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA).

VSLA are women’s groups, comprised of 15 to 30 members, who meet weekly to save and eventually loan money to finance their economic development. The capital grows after four to eight weeks and then women request loans from the group’s accumulated savings. The loans vary according to the group and the borrower’s ability to reimburse funds (no later than three months).

I met women whose group of 14 saved enough for all to become active in small businesses. Some make doughnuts called Samsa, others sell vegetables, spices, condiments and more. But, aside from the obvious benefits of the group, women are enjoying supporting one another and learning new skills.

After almost four years of building organizational and leadership skills, we’ve registered 434 VSLA groups and helped 9,654 women in 127 communities in Burkina Faso accumulate more than $900,000 and loan more than $600,000. 

Now female entrepreneurs are emerging in these rural communities. They stand up for their children, advocate for their gender, speak in public and run for local office. In fact, two women in the community I recently visited have become municipal council members, raising the number of females represented to 25 out of more than 1,144 council members.

And, since women make up more than half of the national population, we need to take action to boost women’s participation in economic growth around the world. The CCFC Burkina team is prepared. Are you?

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About Christian Children’s Fund of Canada:

Christian Children’s Fund of Canada (CCFC) is a child-centred international development organization and a member of ChildFund Alliance. For nearly 60 years, CCFC has worked with children, communities, donors and other partners — changing lives through improved health, education and clean water. CCFC works in 12 countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas, to support more than 700,000 children, youth and community members.