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Helping people to save money in Lamu


I recently visited the coast of Tanzania with a few of my colleagues from Lamu to learn from experiences from the team in the WWF Tanzania Rufiji Mafia Kilwa (Rumaki) programme. The purpose of the visit was to gain insights on Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) so that we could strengthen the work we’re doing here in Lamu.

We’re working with communities who are living in poverty and only have very small amounts of money to save which, combined with their geographical remoteness, means that they don’t typically have access to financial services from regular banks. VSLAs, which are also known as Village Community Banks (VICOBAs), are a great way in which financial services can be provided and thereby help communities to save and have access to loans. They provide a much needed avenue for savings at the grassroots level, by supporting small businesses and incentivising individual entrepreneurial ventures which are core in enabling financial autonomy and enhancing well-being in some of the poorest communities. Importantly, VSLAs also provide a really great way for us to engage with the communities on wider environmental and conservation issues.

Counting money © Mike OlendoCounting money © Mike Olendo

Because of their location and heavy reliance on marine resources, communities living in Lamu seascape are especially vulnerable to the impacts of environmental degradation and climate shocks change and other threats to the region’s natural resources – like major infrastructure development. VSLAs are part of the suite of interventions that we’re implementing to help build the community’s resilience. Access to financial services can help people to diversify their livelihood options and rely less heavily on marine resources.

There are now seven groups across the Lamu seascape that have been set up in the last three to seven months – in Kiunga, Mkokoni, Kiwayuu and Kizingitini villages.

Tanzania and Kenya colleagues at a light moment during the visit. ©WWF/Mike OlendoTanzania and Kenya colleagues at a light moment during the visit. ©WWF/Mike Olendo

The WWF Rumaki programme in Tanzania has been implementing VICOBAs initiative since 2006 and have 17 years of experience including successes, failures, challenges and  distilled lessons. Currently, the programme has 250 groups spread over Temeke, Rufiji, Mafia, Kilwa, and Mtwara districts in Tanzania.

To leverage WWF Tanzania’s wealth of experience in implementing livelihoods diversification interventions, a few of us from the WWF Lamu marine team visited the Rumaki programme to learn from their experiences and insights on design, implementation, and monitoring for the VSLAs in Lamu.

During the visit, we had an opportunity to visit various groups and businesses run by VICOBA members in Kilwa Somamanga, Kilwa Masoko and on Songosongo Island. The team attended meetings to see how the groups are run and how shares, purchased at every weekly meeting, are bought and loans given. We visited individual businesses, listened to beneficiary testimonies and visited construction sites where groups are implementing a joint project to build a guest house as additional income generating activity.

Members of Jitegemee VICOBA with WWF TCO and WWF KCO staff. ©WWF/Mike OlendoMembers of Jitegemee VICOBA with WWF TCO and WWF KCO staff. ©WWF/Mike Olendo

Particularly memorable accounts came from members of Jitegemee VICOBA who were in their fourth cycle of saving and had built an office and bought land as a group where they had plans to plant food crops, harvest and share the profits. Members had testimonies of how saving through VICOBAs had enabled them to pay school fees for their children, build better houses and strengthen their businesses.

As from the testimonies and interactions with our Tanzania counterparts, it has not been an easy journey. The inception of the groups in Lamu was a big challenge in a community that has low income sources to contribute to the weekly meetings.

Grit, hard work and passion by the WWF Rumaki team, community members and a considerable amount of time, 17 years so far, have now meant that the VICOBAs are thriving in Tanzania. This is an eye opener for the Lamu team, whose VSLAs are developing and have faced challenges in formation, with community skepticism on potential benefits. Happily this perception is gradually changing.

By interacting with our colleagues in Tanzania, we learnt the dos and don’ts of monitoring and capacity building to ensure successful groups. This is the beginning of a partnership that will hopefully see the groups in Lamu seascape grow to mirror those in Tanzania.

We are grateful to players of People’s Postcode Lottery for supporting our conservation and community work in Lamu.

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