FinEquity Blog

Today a Village Savings Group, Tomorrow a Women’s Bank

How 49 Amazons Are Transforming the Lives of Women Throughout Côte d’Ivoire
Women at Village Savings Group meeting.

The mother of three, Kouassi Akissi Rodiasse says she was “inactive” before joining her local Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) in the Southwest of Côte d’Ivoire. 

But as she started to save and borrow through the group, she was able to purchase a cocoa farm and build a new home in the city with her husband. The VSLA has given her the ability to secure financing for supplies needed on the farm, such as fertilizer. She has also developed her own small business selling natural juice.

“Now, people respect me more,” she says.

Beyond providing financing for individuals, Kouassi’s VSLA has contributed to community resources. For example, they purchased a local residence for a nurse so women in the village would not have to travel long distances to access medical care during childbirth. 

Kouassi’s story is one of many women whose livelihoods have been transformed by the power of VSLAs. With an agricultural sector that represents 25 to 30 percent of its GDP, Côte d’Ivoire confronts deep-rooted gender inequalities. Men own most small farms, and prevailing social norms limit the influence of women and their access to resources, even though women contribute to the industry.  

These inequities lead to marginalization and discrimination of women. Approximately 60 percent of the women who live in rural areas of Côte d’Ivoire report experiencing gender-based violence (GBV) at some point in their lifetime. VSLAs are helping change that. 

The scaling power of VSLAs 

In 2006, CARE began setting up VSLAs in rural areas in Côte d’Ivoire. Today, we work with approximately 15,000 savings groups in the region, and this model has been replicated by other global non-profits and state institutions, including the Ministry of Solidarity and Poverty Eradication. Amazons are women members of VSLAs who are leaders in their communities, supporting women like Kouassi to join groups and transform their lives. The Amazons initiative reinforces CARE’s core belief in locally-led solutions

Equipping women with the financial tools and resources to make decisions and sustain their households with other income sources has led to significant gains for them as individuals, while also improving the welfare of their children, households and communities. Women play an essential role in not only generating income, but also building collective action and joint advocacy on issues that matter for women and other community members such as access to market, GBV and more. They are also a space for solidarity between members.

A small group of Amazon women is driving much of the effort to expand VSLAs. Before joining forces, they actively recruited other women at community events or even at weddings. Since March 2022, 49 Amazons have created nearly 2,000 groups with over 45,000 members across the country. Their goal is to create 2,000 more groups by 2026.

Gladys Zado Gbehi from Abidjan has helped to establish more than 80 groups, creating a chain of solidarity and mutual support around women.  

“Through our savings groups, I regularly see women changing their lives. I see women who now have regular income from selling cakes and baked goods, fresh juices, or sandwiches. Women who can now send their child to school,” Gladys said. “When I joined the savings group I was selling fish, then I added other items, and eventually I opened a small restaurant. I now have three employees, and with the money I make, I pay for school for my seven children.” 

Backed with government support

CARE organized training sessions on VSLA methodology, along with advocacy, leadership, entrepreneurship, and financial inclusion education to support the Amazons. We introduced them to the Regional Directors from the Ministry so their work could be formally recognized.

“The Ministry of Solidarity has identified savings groups as an innovative poverty reduction strategy and is committed to promoting groups in all regions of Côte d’Ivoire to strengthen the resilience of poor and vulnerable households,” said Myss Belmonde Dogo, Minister for Solidarity and the Fight Against Poverty, Côte d’Ivoire. “With CARE’s technical support, the Ministry plans to develop 25,965 savings groups [over 600,000 people] by 2025.”

Through their actions, the Amazons contribute to the national effort to combat poverty and reverse cultural norms that negatively impact women. Working directly with the Ministry’s Regional Directors, they have developed a system of establishing, supervising, and mentoring savings groups. This encourages women and girls to invest in themselves and their futures.

Women Amazons of Côte d’Ivoire recognition ceremony. Photo credit: CARE

For the Ministry, the Amazons are a community outreach channel to support implementation of the poverty reduction strategy. They are well-trusted sources of support and advice for local women. Beyond establishing VSLAs, they actively work to reduce harmful practices such as forced marriage and gender-based violence. 

The Amazons have clear operating methods to gain support in the local community and show the value of VSLAs. They identify potential leaders and train them on how to successfully implement and operate the savings group.

“The Amazons are an ideal partner for the Ministry because they completely understand their communities,” said Kouakou Olivier Michel Houango, the Ministry’s Regional Director for Abidjan. “They also have concrete solutions to reduce the vulnerability of women and young people living in poverty.”

Building the next generation of women change agents 

With great ambitions for the future, the Amazons hope to continue strengthening the capabilities and leadership of women through VSLAs. They plan to expand their network by recruiting younger women to succeed them as well as enlisting men as allies to help scale their groups.

Their ultimate goal is to create a nationwide network of Amazons, connecting women from different regions and enhancing their capacity to trade from Abidjan to Korhogo and other regions of the country.

The Amazons have the bold vision for creating a women's bank, designed to offer customized products and services that address the unique needs and realities of women.

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