Five minute inspiration: CARE savings groups in the post COVID world

We’ve been saying for decades that savings groups are an incredible way for women to build resilience.

It’s not just that they save money women can use in a crisis—although they do. Women also invest in businesses that help them raise their income, which is always helpful when disaster hits. But that’s not really the magic either. The magic of savings groups is that women get together to solve problems. They find ways to overcome all kinds of obstacles, and work together to build the future they want to see.

COVID-19 is no exception. Movement restrictions, economic crisis, plummeting incomes, the inability to get together in groups. These are all challenges that could make a savings group fail. They could make it impossible to move forward. That’s not what’s happening. Women in savings groups continue to astound. They find ways to keep going, no matter how challenging the circumstances. Haiti, Nigeria, and Malawi have all been talking to women and men in savings groups to see how they are coping, and here’s what they have to say.

What are women accomplishing?

  • They’re still saving. 83% of groups in Malawi are still saving, and so are 70% of groups in Nigeria. 81% of group members in Haiti are still saving through their groups.
  • They’re still giving out loans. 85% of group members in Haiti are still able to take out loans. 46% of groups in Nigeria and 50% of the groups in Malawi are still offering loans.
  • They’re supporting each other. In Nigeria, 42% of groups are using their social funds to support members who need help right now. In Malawi, it’s 26%.
  • They’re fighting COVID. In Malawi, 40% of groups are using their social funds--a special part of their savings they set aside for emergencies in the group--to buy hygiene materials. In Nigeria, it’s 15%.
  • They’re teaching others. In Haiti, 70% of groups are actively hosting awareness sessions to teach others about how to protect themselves against COVID-19.
Savings group Kyauta Mata in Niger. They were able to obtain funding to set up a small business for making masks. Ollivier Girard/CARE

How are they doing it?

  • Adapting their meetings: In Nigeria, 39% of groups have adapted meetings, and in Malawi, 52% of groups have. In Haiti, 96% of groups have found ways to adapt. That might mean meeting in smaller groups, setting up handwashing stations, or having socially distanced meetings.
  • Using mobile money. In Nigeria, 45% of people have started using mobile money to save so they don’t have to risk in-person contact. In Malawi, it’s 39%.
  • Connecting to community efforts. In Malawi, 75% of people in savings groups are volunteering to help others or participating in groups that are organizing to protect against COVID-19.  In Nigeria, that’s 69%.
Malawi collected data from 629 people (307 women) , Nigeria talked to 239 people (168 women), and Haiti worked with 876 people (545 women).

Women’s economic empowerment describes how we help women unleash their potential to earn and save. CARE works with women to help them access the resources, tools, skills and power to change their own lives.