Bill's Trip to Mali Part 3: Lasting Change


Trickle Up’s president, Bill Abrams, travels to Mali, West Africa. Here, he chronicles his experiences from meeting a local governor, to meeting with Trickle Up participants, and sharing his perspective on the future of the region.

In the village of Sampara, we met with several dozen women who began Trickle Up about three years ago.  Since donors often ask me, “What happens over the long haul?”, I was especially glad to meet the women of Sampara.

All of them reported sustained improvement in their income and living standards.  What fascinated me most was how well their savings and loans groups were doing.  Part of the Trickle Up program is to help women become effective savers by forming savings groups that meet weekly, regularly save small amounts (in West Africa, about $1 per week), and then make small loans to each other from their treasury.  It’s a way that “unbanked” women can get access to capital for their business, as well as having a buffer for a medical crisis or other emergencies.  We train participants in how to set up and manage a savings group, but they govern themselves, setting penalties for not attending or late repayment of a loan.  They save their money in a simple wooden or metal box, which usually has three locks, so that three different people have to be present to open the box.

We require participation in a savings group for every Trickle Up participant.  But what happens when people and savings groups “graduate” from Trickle Up?  I found out in Sampara.  They had agreed to stay in the savings group for three years and adhere to the procedures we had helped them establish at the outset.  Now, they were free to do as they wish, including disbanding.

The women proudly reported to us that they were continuing – or, more precisely, starting over.  They cashed out their treasury, so each of the 25 women in the group got a dividend of about $250, which most said they divided into investment in their businesses, improvements to their mud houses and family food supply, or saved for the hungry season.  And the next week, they began a new round of saving.

They agreed on some changes to the rules.  The weekly contribution was reduced to about $1 a week from about $1.40, which they felt was more manageable.  The payout of the central treasury would be done every year, instead of after three.   Based on the strong demand for loans, they decided to shorten the loan term (from six months to three) and increased the interest rate they charge themselves when borrowing from the fund.  They also doubled the fine for missing a meeting, to about 20 cents.

This was a powerful demonstration that savings groups work, and that savings group members can govern themselves effectively.

Another important difference over three years is in the solidarity of the group.  “We have learned to help each other,” one member explained. “If someone is sick, we will cook for them and help take care of their children.  Before Trickle Up, we didn’t help each other and visit if someone was sick. We feel like we are part of the same family.  Nobody wants to go back to the way it was before. We want to stay as a group.