Monica impressed me as soon as I met her.
Dressed smartly, she was confident and looked like a leader. It was a big deal that our group of 20, mostly from Africa-based NGOs, had turned up at her Zambian village to observe the youth savings group she chaired. But Monica, who’s in her early 20s and was trained by a Plan International Zambia mentor from an adult savings group, was not fazed.
She remained business-like as we watched the group, called Chaba niche SG, at work. The 7 women and 4 men sat in a circle. Each added their savings to the group pot and raised their hand to request the amount they wanted to borrow. The total was more than the money they had so Monica and the group’s management committee led negotiations with each person.
Saving groups are key to tackling youth unemployment
“Could you accept 5,000 kwacha instead of 7,000?” they asked. “Would you be willing to wait until next time for more?”
It was all done in a very consultative fashion. Nobody raised their voice or got angry. Perhaps some people were disappointed, but the group came to a consensus.
A model in action
Plan International Zambia arranged the trip to Chaba niche SG for delegates at a conference organised by the Savings-Led Financial Services Working Group*. The field visit allowed delegates to see the application of some of the basic principles of youth savings groups, which aim to support young people to save money and gain financial knowledge.
We met one group member who had used her loan to buy flour to make scones, which she sold in the local market. Another group member invested their money in fertiliser for their family farm and someone else brought cooking oil in bulk and sold it in small quantities. Others used the profits from the saving group to pay for children in their family to go to school.
Tackling youth unemployment by 2030
The world’s Sustainable Development Goals envision an end to poverty in all its forms by 2030. This includes ensuring that the poor and the vulnerable, in particular, have access to basic services, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance. Savings groups are a key tool in our efforts to support realisation of this goal.
Plan International is a leader in the global savings group community. The Youth Saving Group Model shares our 7 years of experience working with 250,000 young people (from 15 to 24) through savings groups in different parts of the world.
An estimated 800 million young people live on less than US $2 a day and only about 4.2 million have access to financial services. Saving groups are key to changing this and tackling youth unemployment by helping young people create their own jobs, by investing in a small business or their education.
Two people who came to visit Monica’s Chaba niche SG are from a company selling solar lamps. They could see the potential of employing savings group members as sales agents for their products. Other companies are already doing this. In Uganda, for example, we’ve supported around 2,000 young people to work with companies to export chilli peppers to Europe.
Impact of technology
Visiting Makalenguzu SG, an adult savings group in another village in Zambia, my colleagues also witnessed how Plan International has been trialling technology to make savings groups more efficient.
A man in the group, which has 17 members, demonstrated a software application called e-recording. He showed us how the group uploaded rules from its by-laws and details of the financial transactions from every meeting to a smartphone, and for back-up, to cloud data storage.
Plan International is trialling other digital technology with youth savings groups, like short video messages which remind members about their savings group training. The November conference made it clear that this technology is the opening of a new chapter in how youth savings groups can interact with the world.
Sharing our experience of this work, and forming partnerships with other international development organisations, and the private sector, is key to leveraging the transformative power of savings groups. These groups will help deliver the Sustainable Development Goals’ 2030 vision of shared prosperity and decent work for all young people.
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