The work we supported buildt on the activities in a network of Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs). The VSLA groups, initially developed by CARE Norway in Niger, are small and informal, self-managed and self-capitalised banks. By having members mobilise and manage local pools of capital, the groups facilitate secure saving, and offers credit as well as social insurance to people without access to formal financial services.
The model has spread to more than 73 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, with over twelve million active participants worldwide, around half of whom are part of programmes supported by CARE. The VSLAs are among the most effective vehicles for promoting economic development. By design, groups are either fully composed by women or they make up the majority. As such, they contribute significantly to women’s general empowerment, including participation in local decision-making.
The country is largely characterized by the events during the genocide in 1994. Today, nearly 45% of the population in Rwanda lives in poverty, and the southern province where CARE works has the highest percentage of poor in the country.
Despite the fact that Rwanda has a strong political and legal framework for gender equality, there is a major challenge concerning gender-based violence. Many women have no access to public services or the opportunity to assert their rights in their household or local community.
Women have little control over resources such as land and income, and their low economic status prevents them from taking part in the economic market and increasing their revenues.
Although Rwanda has the highest percentage of female parliamentarians in the world, political and social participation at provincial and community levels are low. One of the reasons for this is that illiteracy among women in Rwanda is high.
Through CARE’s program women receive literacy and numeracy training in order to boost political, economic and social participation. The women get the opportunity to save and invest by participating in savings and loan groups (VSLA). The women also get access to expanded savings and loan services through financial institutions. In this way they can increase their investments as entrepreneurs and eventually employers. They are given training in entrepreneurship and enterprise development, and access to qualified mentors.
Through the teaching of rights and strengthening of civil society involvement, the program engages both women and men. The aim is to contribute to social change towards equality and prevent gender-based violence. The program has a gender-based approach focusing on that men and women together participate in the work to change attitudes and structures in society that prevent women’s opportunities.
CARE Rwanda has worked with VSLAs for over 15 years. More than 17,000 groups have been formed, benefiting more than 430,000 people, of whom 78 percent are women. Many of the groups have reached the maturity-stage of the VSLA life cycle, where they continue to operate with less direct support from CARE.
As groups mature, their success brings new challenges and opportunities, which can only be met through access to formal micro-finance institutions (MFIs). Security risks associated with holding larger amounts of cash in savings boxes make formal bank arrangements necessary. As members achieve better business management skills, their need for investment capital can no longer be met by local funds raised through pooled savings. To address security challenges and ensure business opportunities are not lost, CARE help facilitate access to appropriate formal financial services in partnership with the Microfinance Institutions Network and The Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MINECOFIN).
CARE takes a systematic and comprehensive approach to the promotion of women’s entrepreneurship and improved livelihoods through improving financial literacy, enhancing opportunities for market participation, reducing risks, challenging social norms when necessary and reducing structural and social barriers to women’s economic participation. The ultimate aim is to make it possible for women to lift themselves out of poverty.
The GEWEP programme is integrated with CARE Rwanda´s Hand in Hand job programme. Additionally, training and mentoring provided as part of our Hand-in-Hand job creation programme has helped VSLA members invest and expand their business activities. As a result, 115,000 jobs have been created by more than 90,000 women trained in entrepreneurship in the period January 2014 to December 2015.
The grant from Wilstar contributed to the continuation and expansion of these efforts. As part of the four-year project, CARE Rwanda tested a model wherein 650 women entrepreneurs were intensively trained in business management and risk mitigation. In addition, they participated in a mentorship programme, with coaching by successful women entrepreneurs’ members of the Chamber of Women Entrepreneurs in Rwanda (a member of the Rwanda Private Sector Federation).
Wilstar supports key parts of CARE Norway´s comprehensive Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Programme (GEWEP) in Rwanda, with an emphasis on providing opportunities for women’s entrepreneurship through training and financial inclusion. The project runs over a four-year period and started in 2015.