Saving For Change (SFC), the innovative microfinance program Oxfam America launched in April 2005, has surpassed the 100,000-member mark in the West African countries of Mali, Senegal, and Burkina Faso. Total members of Saving for Change groups in West Africa now number over 110,000.
SFC was founded on the idea that poor people in rural areas with no banks or other financial services can save their own money. In West Africa, the Saving for Change program helps women in villages organize groups of 20 to 25 people, who save small amounts of money and disburse loans that are paid back with interest. The interest paid on these small loans, many just five dollars or more, increases the group funds that are shared by the members.
In March 2008, the total savings accumulated in the three West African countries was about 700 million CFA ($US 1.6 million).
These small loans make a big difference in people's lives. The group members use the money to start or expand small businesses, buy seeds for farming or medicine for sick family members, or pay their children's school fees.
The SFC savings group members also use their regular meetings to learn about health, the environment, or other topics of interest to them and their community. In Mali and Senegal, the members learn how to prevent and treat malaria, one of the leading killers of young children in sub-Saharan Africa.
All SFC members in West Africa are women. Not only do they use the savings and loans to improve the situation for their family, but they learn how to manage money and run their savings groups. These women often see an improvement in their standing in the community, as well as in the home, because of their capacity to lead, as well as to earn and manage their own money.
"This milestone proves that we are doing something important that really responds to the needs of the communities," said Paul Ahouissoussi, Oxfam America's program officer in West Africa. "It shows that we are providing financial services adapted to the needs of rural communities, particularly women who do not have access to other financial services."