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Do disadvantaged communities have the social and financial resources to make lasting changes for themselves and their families? That is the question Project Concern International (PCI), a US based voluntary aid organization addressed when it held a three day workshop that stared on Wednesday September 19th, 2012 that bought together around 60 field practitioners and senior program managers from Ethiopia and other African countries.
The workshop with the motto “Don’t Just Borrow, Be the Bank” discussed how savings-led microfinance can make food and nutrition security programs more sustainable. Sometimes referred to as Village Savings and Loan (VSL) or Community Banking, savings-led microfinance models have been around for many years and are as different in their goals, approaches and strategies as the countries and people who rely on them. All the diverse approaches in the end have one basic goal- the borrowers who are mostly women don’t rely on external debt capital from conventional sources such as microfinance institutions or traditional money lenders. Instead they save, lend and re-invest their accumulated resources to meet their own financial and social needs.
“Whether we use the adjective Village Banking, savings-led microfinance or any other name, what we are attempting to describe in our own way is an incredibly powerful idea first popularized by CARE over 20 years ago in west Africa; the idea that marginalized and disempowered people can successfully marshal and employ their own limited financial resources in order to chart a brighter future,” said George Guimaraes, President and CEO of PCI.
PIC started its operation in Ethiopia in 2005 with a five year project that had the objective of increased number of orphans and vulnerable children accessing quality services through sustainable community based programs that effectively reduce their vulnerability.
The Self-Help Groups model was then introduced by PCI. The Self-Help Groups methodology was implemented in three regions of Ethiopia; Tigray, Amhara and SNNPR region.
Using the Self-Help Group approach PCI organized poor women into groups of 17 or 20, provided them with technical and organizational capacity building support and enabled them to explore their potential acquiring of knowledge and attitudinal change. Over all 7795 people have been organized into 373 Self-Help Groups with a total capital of over 1.4 million birr.
The many different presentations that were given at the workshop focused on educating and advocating community health, economic empowerment and violence prevention for women, Savings-led microfinance and mothers support groups and community managed savings and credit models.
The workshop was attended by NGO’s based in Ethiopia, representatives from Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs and USAID representatives.