Going through our 30+ years of knick-knacks and handicrafts the Trickle Up team has collected from the field, I happened across some fabric whose print was the Trickle Up logo. Naturally being in communications and brand management, I was curious. So, I asked Marieme Daff, Trickle Up’s Africa Program Director, why? I found out that it was a symbol of the pride our Malian participants have in their savings groups.
What many people don’t know is that Africa has had savings groups long before international development agencies introduced them as a “community-driven poverty alleviation tool,” as we say in development-speak. Known as tontines, these groups are either all-male or all-female, and the members contribute a set amount to a common “pot,” which is distributed monthly to a different member in order to take care of some large expense, such as a special ceremony or for medical care. Being in such a group can be considered a step up in one’s social standing in one’s community. However, you need to have financial means to contribute regularly to a tontine, which for the extreme poor is simply not possible. Their incomes are too irregular and savings for them are almost nonexistent. So, when our participants join the program and start their savings groups, some already begin to see signs of change; they feel pride because they can finally join a tontine of their very own. A big deal.
But it doesn’t stop there. Participants build solidarity amongst each another. For example, it isn’t uncommon to hear women in these groups taking collective action to help one of their own in times of need. For example, Marieme told me that women in a savings groups on the outskirts of the town of Mopti decided to go to the house of one of their members to dissuade the husband from taking a second wife. Feeling the pressure from the group, he caved and did not marry. While in the village of Barbé’s savings group, one woman has made herself responsible for encouraging other members to send their children to school. She goes house to house to ensure no kids are home during school-time; if the mothers don’t have a compelling reason for keeping their children at home, she reports them to the principal. The video above showcases some of these interviews.
So, how does the Trickle Up fabric come in to play? When they can finally afford it, the women in the savings groups actually pool their money to get matching outfits. Called “boubous” in Mali, the women go all-out to find the right fabric. They especially like having fabrics that are branded or have a famous person or cause (like International Women’s Day) on them. Which is why a few years ago a group of women commissioned Trickle Up to develop its own fabric so that savings groups can use it to make their matching boubous. Even Trickle Up’s President, Bill Abrams wears it on occasion, such as this shot from our annual holiday party. Recently, the trend has been President Barack Obama’s face on the boubous.
They also give inspirational names to their groups, adding to the aura of solidarity and pride these women share for their group:
- Amakené : Que Dieu nous aide à avancer dans nos entreprises / God help us move forward with our businesses
- Namoudiguè : Chassons la pauvreté / Let’s chase poverty away
- Guiressagou : Le bonheur / Happiness
- Monobèmou : Soyons ensemble / Let’s be together
- Kamonon : Parlons le même langage / Let’s speak the same language
- Moroyama : Allons ensemble / Let’s go together
- Ogopèma : Longue vie à notre pouvoir / Long live our power
All this to say that savings groups are, in a sense, the sustainability factor in continuing these womens’ journeys out of extreme poverty. Savings groups have an ability to instill pride and a sense of empowerment, whether it be through greater social standing, access to financial assets needed to grow their businesses, or just the opportunity to build relationships with each other. The women stick around even after Trickle Up and its partner agencies end the program. In fact, Marieme revisited some of these groups last year, a year and a half after the program officially ended and found that all of the savings groups were still functioning. Not just that, the women brought in new members to their group to grow their pool of money. Now other members of the community, some whom would have never even talked to these women before the program, are borrowers from the savings groups. Microcredit institutions are beginning to lend money to some of these groups for even greater investment in their members’ businesses. Overall, these are very positive signs for the future of these women, their families and their communities.
In the same drawer I also found a tie made out of the Trickle Up fabric. I think I’ll start wearing it. Not only does it make my job easier to walk around New York with a walking billboard around my neck, more importantly it will show that even though I’m 6000 miles away, I am in solidarity with the amazing work our participants are doing in their savings groups.