- Scale2Save provides a look at one project designed to empower women in Africa.
>> Learn more about Scale2Save
>> Learn more about Scale2Save in Côte d'Ivoire
ABIDJAN, Côte D'Ivoire, 8 March 2020 – Financial inclusion of women remains a major issue in places like Côte d'Ivoire. That's especially true when it comes to women's autonomy and their ability to “open up" within local communities.
In Côte d'Ivoire, for example, people have limited and unsuitable access to conventional financial services. Data show 37% are banked in a financial institution, just 2% were able to borrow money from a formal institution, and 36% who have used loans from informal sources (source Findex).
Vulnerable women face an even starker reality. Financially excluded, living in extreme poverty in rural areas, they remain ill-informed about financial basics. That's why it's so important for women to be allowed to gain access to adequate banking services in a world where they oftentimes live in remote areas. Tackling this challenge requires long-term support where savings and the mobile service are nearby, especially among rural populations.
ADVANS sees a way. A leading international microfinance group with operations in nine countries, including Côte d'Ivoire, they look to strengthen the capacity of rural women to save, mobilise and manage their own resources, and to redistribute them by offering formal financial services.
Field agents deployed to boost inclusion
Field agents have a big task to boost inclusion and play a crucial role in the progressive empowerment of women living in rural areas excluded from formal banking systems.
ADVANS gets this. They deploy field agents in the West-African country. Present in Côte d'Ivoire since 2012 and working with cocoa communities, the microfinance institution has set up partnerships with international NGOs, which aim to promote banking access to women organised in village savings and credit associations (VSLA).
ADVANS strategy: A two-step process
ADVANS uses a two-stage process to widen access for women in the financial market:
• Step 1 – NGOs come in and help create and formalise VSLAs, - village savings and loan associations – made up of 15 to 30 members. Known for being well organised, these VSLAs meet weekly and save regularly. Savings amassed are kept in a physical fund and then redistributed in credit form to finance income-generating activities (IGAs) or to deal with emergencies. ADVANS sees it as an improved form of tontine. The NGO's mission is to follow these groups to maturity: a one-year period during which the group forms and follows along the “VSLA" methodology.
• Step 2 – This is where ADVANS steps in. Once groups have been assessed as “fairly mature" by the non-governmental organisations, they are put in contact with ADVANS who then deploy trained field agents. Those agents ensure properly functioning financial inclusion by taking charge of financial education and products for VSLAs. More specifically training them on the use of their accounts and a digital mobile service. ADVANS has proved that their specific products and services offer are adapted to VSLAs.
ADVANS implements an innovative system that guarantees easy account access. This completely digital service allows people to make free deposits or withdrawals from their various savings accounts and in any zone.
Innovation working for women
ADVANS' innovative project that helps women works for three reasons. First, because ADVANS' efforts, built on partnerships with key players such as NGOs, form strong roots in rural communities. Second, their project capitalises on the links formed between people in the community and traditional savings practices, all while allowing the savings and group credit processes to be formalised and digitalised. Finally, ADVANS allows VSLAs members to secure and increase their savings, to enter the formal banking system and to be introduced to the use of digital financial services, by offering remunerated bank accounts. Members benefit from credit products preferable to informal credits, due to their lower interest rate and the access to a higher amount for a longer duration.
Results: Thousands enabled
Since the launch of the agricultural banking project in 2015, ADVANS enabled 14,400 members with VSLA to save more than € 183,200. Some 1,770 members obtained loans for a total of € 190,800. Between 80 to 85% of the VSLAs comprise women.
Lessons learned: Loans nudge savings, groups comprising mostly women out-save men-only groups
Loans encourage savings. VSLAs become more motivated to save via the mobile service when they know they will have access to credit. In addition, once the credit has been obtained, VSLAs tend to make more transactions on their savings account.
Groups comprised of mostly women save more than other mixed groups or those made up of men only. The empowerment of women who manage VSLAs also allows them to gain autonomy and leadership, and therefore allows them to fully participate in their family and community life.
When women are empowered to save, borrow and lead in groups, their world opens up and their lives become richer.