Change Font Size:   A A A

Jun 09, 2014 | Faith Rowold

Savings Groups Empower Women for Flourishing Future


Episcopal Relief and Development has Global Reach


Elisa walks with her two companions along the train tracks in Luanda, the capital of Angola. Janet and Kikala work for the Mothers’ Union, Episcopal Relief & Development’s partner in Angola, and are touring the barrio with Elisa to visit the savings groups she helped found over the past year.


Savings groups, a new approach to micro-finance, have become popular in areas where traditional banking is limited. Members commit to saving a set amount of money each week, and then pooled funds are loaned out to group members to support small businesses. “Being invested in one another creates group solidarity and encourages everyone to do their part for the success of the whole,” said Tammi Mott, ERD’s program officer. “The process allows business owners to access small-scale loans at affordable interest rates that they could not get through normal banks,” she explained.


Elisa has been active in the Mothers’ Union for years, but recently took a leading role by training as a community agent for the Child Survival Program. This program grew from Angola’s successful NetsforLife® program, offering learning groups that further empower mothers to keep their children healthy. NetsforLife® is Episcopal Relief & Development’s award-winning, flagship malaria prevention program that works through trained local volunteers to educate and strengthen communities against this deadly disease.


But knowledge is only half the battle for women with children in their care: the other half is providing resources. A frequent topic of discussion in the learning groups—including those that Elisa organized—was that women bear the largest responsibility for nourishing and ensuring the health of their children, but have little control over household resources and decision-making. Many of the women have small businesses, but not the skill or financing to make those businesses grow into significant sources of income. 


To address this, the Mothers’ Union organized a meeting with Mothers’ Union leaders from Burundi who had successfully started a savings group program of their own. Then Episcopal Relief & Development connected them with a local partner in Angola to pilot the program with a small number of groups. By 2013 there were 12 learning groups that had integrated the savings component into their activities, with more than 230 participants and more than $33,000 in savings and dividends. With weekly savings amounts ranging from $2-5 per person, this means an average payout of $143--a significant amount in a country where 40 percent of people live below the poverty line.


In Elisa’s groups, most of the members have already taken out and repaid loans to grow their small businesses. In the Amor (“love”) group, a woman named Mariana borrowed $100 to start a business selling children’s shoes, purchasing them wholesale and selling them at a profit of about $3-4 per pair. With the income from her business plus the payout at the end of the savings cycle, Mariana was able to purchase clothes, sheets, cloth diapers and other items for her new baby.


Empowering women to invest in their own future and that of their children is one of the overarching themes of Episcopal Relief & Development’s work globally. Savings groups have sprung up in Africa—in fact, the Angola Mothers’ Union received visitors from Namibia who wanted to learn more about their program, just as they had done from the Mothers’ Union in Burundi—and are popular in Latin America and parts of South Asia where Episcopal Relief & Development has strong partnerships.


As a compassionate response of The Episcopal Church to human suffering worldwide, Episcopal Relief & Development works on behalf of all Episcopalians to fight poverty, hunger and disease by strengthening local partners and supporting long-term solutions. The organization engages individuals, congregations, dioceses, schools and seminaries to build a community that strives toward wholeness and justice for those most vulnerable.


Working with partners in nearly 40 countries around the world, Episcopal Relief & Development supports women like Elisa in creating sustainable programs that benefit entire communities. Elisa is already busy expanding group activities, meeting the Amor group early each morning to teach literacy classes. Combined with business skills and access to funding, increased literacy will further enable women to make informed decisions and help their families flourish.


Rowold is communication officer for Episcopal Relief and Development.