Saving to Make Change

Kanko (left) runs the savings group in her remote village.

Dry seasons were tough for Kanko. No work. No money. And her children were constantly sick.

Chronic drought is ever-present in Kanko’s village of Konéga in central Burkina Faso. The amount of rain her community receives determines how the land is used and how they earn a living—and most importantly, how well they eat. 

Like other countries in Africa’s Sahel region, Burkina Faso is parched by drought every three years, wreaking havoc on livestock and crops. Flooding during the rainy season causes just as much damage. These devastating pendulum shifts exacerbate hunger and sickness, especially  across the northern and central regions of the country. It also threatens the livelihood of farmers in these communities, especially women, who typically do not benefit greatly from government agricultural extension services.

In late 2014, Freedom from Hunger (now part of Grameen Foundation) began working with vulnerable communities in northern and central Burkina Faso to help them become more resilient to these challenges. Kanko joined the program when our local partner met with villagers to start an informal savings group.

Savings groups are central to village life in many countries. They allow members, usually women, to meet regularly to save small sums of money and lend it to each other. The groups are collectively self-managed.

Kanko and the other women were initially skeptical but she soon agreed to become the first Community Agent of Konéga. She quickly became a village leader. With our training, she gathered 24 other women to create a savings group. In the first year, they saved 33 cents weekly, amassing enough for each person to receive almost $17 by the end of the first year. Two years later, the group members began saving 83 cents each week.

The group routinely makes loans to members and Kanko herself has borrowed money several times to buy cow peas to sell at market.

“We are also satisfied because we have something for our own income generating activities,” she said. “I bought a bike myself and I have something to take care of me, my children’s education, clothes, medicine and food, and my husband.”

But the group also provides more than money. In such remote communities where villages need to rely on each other even more, Kanko and her group members have formed a strong, cohesive bond that will help them also tackle social and other issues facing their members and community.