What 97 Weeks Looks Like

By Anais Angoulvant
Program Development Associate

Finding relief from the midday sun under the shade of a shea tree, members of Sougr Nooma[1] gather for their weekly savings group meeting in Monpelghin, a very rural community in Yatenga Province, Burkina Faso. It is the 97th time they’ve met. Since December 2014, the 15 members of the group have come together every week to save money, access credit and, in turn, build financial skills.

In Burkina Faso, members save through the purchase of shares in their savings group. The group determines the price of a share at the beginning of each year-long cycle and all members must purchase between 1 and 5 shares at every meeting, effectively increasing their savings by a small amount each week. The women of Sougr Nooma also contribute to a communal fund at savings group meetings that they use as a small insurance plan to help each other out in times of need. At the end of the cycle, the group’s accumulated savings and interest earnings are shared amongst all members, according to how many shares they each hold.

As I watched the women proceed with their meeting, what inspired me most was the kindness and strength that radiated from these women. They shared advice with each other when they brought up problems they faced and celebrated each other by clapping for every share a woman purchased. When I asked them what value the group brings to their lives, they expressed that the group helps them feel supported. As a group, they are more powerful and feel like they can take on any challenge.

“If one of us has a problem,” one woman told me, “we have each other’s support and a setting to express ourselves. We used to be isolated but this group has become a family. If we see each other outside of the group, we take time to talk to each other.”

The impact on the community is also powerful. When the savings group first started, the women were stigmatized, often overhearing their neighbors calling out, “Look, there are the poorest women meeting again.” Less than two years later, the perspective has reversed: the women are now seen as the richest women in the community.

In addition to gaining the tools to achieve economic independence, the weekly savings group meetings have helped the women build confidence, a key characteristic that tends to mark the difference between those that are somewhat better off and the extreme poor. Following the savings group meeting, I asked the Program Coordinator for ADEFAD, our implementing partner, about the changes he perceives in the women today compared to when they first started. What is most striking to him is not the women’s substantial increase in wealth, but the difference in how they carry themselves. When he first met them, the women avoided eye contact and refrained from sharing their opinions and thoughts.

Today, they are assertive, speak their minds, stand tall, and show self-confidence. Graduation has had a transformative effect on them and their children: “they have regained meaning in their lives”.

At the end of the meeting, Habi, the president of the savings group, invited me to visit her home and see her businesses. For Habi, participation in Trickle Up’s program has meant becoming a successful entrepreneur. With the seed capital she received from the program, she bought one sheep and invested in peanuts to sell. Today, she owns 7 sheep, 4 goats, and 15 hens, has harvested 7 bags of peanuts and started market gardening. By diversifying her livelihood activities, Habi is better prepared to face stresses and shocks, like a bad harvest or an expensive health setback, while caring for her husband and their five children. She contributes to household expenses like healthcare, food, education, clothing, and household equipment.

With a smile on her face, Habi tells me that she perceives herself differently; she no longer sees herself as extremely poor, and is looking forward to the future. She is eager to expand her economic opportunities and further ensure the success of her children and the well-being of her household and community.

[1] In Moré, also known as Mossi, a regional language of Burkina Faso, Sougr Nooma translates to “tolerance is important.”