5 Minutes of Inspiration: Solidarity and Savings Graduate Families Out of Poverty

5 Minutes of Inspiration: Solidarity and Savings Graduate Families Out of Poverty


What do Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) members do with refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo? Get them homes, jobs, and a plan to rebuild. By Emily Janoch

Kavira was a member of an established VSLA, a local savings group in which members save together and take small loans. In October 2016, inter-ethnic conflict between the Hutu militia and the Nande displaced Kavira twice – first from her village of Miriki to Luofu, and then from Luofu to Kayna. She was forced to flee with seven small children and just $6 to her name. The villagers of Kayna welcomed Kavira, and several others like her, through Resilient VSLA.

The first thing she received was housing. The villagers of Kayna had rented 15 houses for three months. Refugees were provided with one meal a day, 300 displaced patients were cared for, and Kavira was matched with a daily wage job that paid $0.50 a day. After three months in the shelter, the members of the host families helped her with a reconstruction plan, which included rebuilding her burned down home out of sheet metal.

This story started well before Kavira — it starts with the Tuungane project, the first time CARE used VSLAs in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Tuungane was a $114 million DFID-funded project that CARE ran from 2007-2014 in collaboration with the International Rescue Committee. It reached 1.8 million people and added the VSLA component in 2012. Working with women in those VSLAs created the foundation that CARE is using to build conflict-resilient VSLAs.


What did we accomplish?

  • Family incomes tripled, graduating them out of poverty: Families went from having $5 a week to $17. That’s the difference between being below the poverty line of $1.25 per day, to being nearly double it.
  • Families are saving more: In the 2014 evaluation, there was a 43 percent increase in the number of women who were saving. By 2016, people in VSLAs had saved a cumulative $1.2 million and accessed more than $655,000 in credit. They spend that money on improving their diets, sending kids to school, investing in businesses, and buying home basics — like a mattress and sheets.
  • Women feel more powerful: Many women said that they “woke up.” One woman said, “Before, I prepared food, I ate, I rested. That was all. Before everything came from my husband. Now I think.” In fact, women are 84 percent more likely to feel confident to express their opinions, and 80 percent more likely to be involved in decisions.
  • Violence went down: 56 percent of women say there is less domestic violence. They are also 67 percent more likely to be aware of conflict resolution tools that might help them when there is a problem.
  • Men are more involved: Men are four times more likely to help out with housework and chores like sweeping and washing dishes.
Family of refugees in Democratic Republic of Congo

How did we get there?

  • Create VSLAs: The project started with 275 groups that had 7,981 members. After the project ended in 2014, CARE continued to expand the model, and reached 3,730 groups with 31,866 members by 2016.
  • Learn from failure: The 2012 mid-term evaluation showed that Tuungane didn’t have much social or economic impact, so CARE added the VSLA component in 2012 to increase the impacts of the project.
  • Explicitly include gender: The project included gender classes as part of the VSLA trainings.


Where are we going next?

  • Cash transfer in VSLABuild in resilience: DRC is building the resilient VSLA model to help families cope with frequent cycles of violence and displacement. They’re looking for funding to build a toolkit that helps others use the new resilience focused approach.
  • Think about displacement: Families in DRC often get displaced because of conflict, so the DRC is experimenting with shorter loan cycles, a resettlement emergency fund, and connecting displaced women to the VSLA in the community where they end up. This gives the women a safer place to go, and host families some incentives for helping the refugees.

Want to learn more?  Read the 2014 evaluation, or the SxD pitch for where they’re headed next.


How can you help in the U.S?

The Women’s Entrepreneurship and Empowerment Act of 2018 has been introduced in the U.S. Senate and is awaiting bipartisan cosponsorship and support before being passed into law. The legislation would prioritize women’s entrepreneurship and access to resources, while helping to eliminate the barriers that limit’s women’s opportunities worldwide. CARE Action advocates have already passed the bill in the House of Representatives, and now our work continues in the Senate.

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