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Thursday, May 19, 2016

Working together to create lasting change


When looking at problems in the developing world, solutions often seem simple. If a community needs water, a well is dug. If a natural disaster destroys a home, a replacement home is built.

While these solutions are clear, direct, and helpful, sometimes equally impactful initiatives, such as self help groups, are more nuanced.

For over 15-years HOPE International Development Agency has been involved in establishing self help groups in India, Cambodia, and most recently, Ethiopia.

At first glance, it may be difficult to see how self help groups could be on par with access to clean water or desperately needed shelter, but dig a little deeper and their magnificence comes to life.

The groups are essentially savings and loan support. While initially guided by a facilitator, in the end it is the women who participate that decide how the groups will be structured and what their purpose will be.

In each location, the groups take on a unique look and feel depending on the needs of the women involved. Saving as little as 15 cents a week, the women can soon start taking out small, low-interest loans to begin income-generating activities.

Aster Tsilo, a woman who recently joined a self help group in Ethiopia, explains how these small amounts can start to make a big difference.

“I joined the self help group 7-months ago. Like all other members of my group, I started saving 2 Birr (15 cents) a week. I received training and technical support on savings and establishing income-generating activities. I started by taking a loan of 200 Birr ($13) and began buying and reselling vegetables. As my experience grew, I started to sell butter as well,” says Aster.

“After paying back my initial loan, I took another loan of 400 Birr ($26) and began to expand my business to new markets nearby. As a result, I am currently saving 14 Birr (95 cents) a week. Before joining the group, my husband and I had been feeding our family two times a day. Now we can manage three times per day,” states Aster.

While the direct economic benefits of self help groups are clear from stories like Aster’s, the groups also lead to a shift in decision making within communities. Women have an outlet to develop their skills and contribute economically that may not have existed before.

As Aster explains, her husband was skeptical at first.

“He was not willing to allow me to join the self help group as women are usually not supposed to go out in public and participate in meetings and other events. However, after I raised the idea repeatedly, he allowed me to join. The situation has now changed completely. While decisions within our family used to be made only by my husband, now we make decisions after consulting with each other and he is supporting me in both my income generating activities and savings.”

From Aster’s story it is easy to see how these groups can become massive movements as they have in India and more recently, Ethiopia.

One of the most impressive aspects of self help groups is their return on investment. A recent analysis found that for every $1 invested, there is a return of $173, an incredible rate and one of the very best for any development endeavor.

Self help groups have already changed the lives of thousands of women around the world. Women have strengthened each other’s voices and have begun to make change happen in their families, communities, and relationships.

While self help groups may not be as tangible as water well or a replacement home, the impact is just as important. With support from HOPE International Development Agency, partners can continue to facilitate these life-changing groups that contribute to the holistic, inclusive, local-led development that HOPE strives to accomplish.