Rural women can be key agents for achieving transformational economic and social change, but they face many challenges that include limited access to education, employment and credit facilities. Economically empowering these women goes a long way in improving the well-being of individuals, families and rural communities. In Gokwe South, the LFSP EXTRA project is assisting women to sustain themselves and their families in tough economic times, by venturing into different agricultural enterprises and growing and investing their money through ISAL groups.
Tapping the entrepreneurial potential through ISAL cooperative
The idea of an Internal Savings and Lending (ISAL) cooperative is a group of people contributing a certain amount of money regularly into a group fund, which grows by developing interest. Interest is grown by giving out loans to group members that allow them to invest into an income generating activity. This allows group members to not only develop and strengthen their entrepreneurial skills, but it also serves as a way of adding interest to the group fund thereby growing it. The impact of the ISAL programme on the livelihoods of rural women is evidenced by a visit to Vavariro ISAL group in Gokwe South.
Virginia Gomana belongs to the group which consist of 10 individuals, with 7 of these women. “We started by contributing small amounts of money- as little as $3 per person”, she narrates, “we used to keep the money with the treasurer hence it did not gain any interest, but the EXTRA project introduced us to the idea of lending the money out and acquiring interest”. On a regular basis, the group meets to keep track on loans as well as to encourage accountability on funds. Whilst loans are made to individuals, all group members hold the responsibility for ensuring the loan is used for a viable business enterprise and it is paid back. Group members can conduct either joint or independent income generating projects. The women have since ventured in different projects that include small livestock rearing in the form of goats and chickens and vegetable gardens. These enterprises have helped most women to accumulate assets like cattle and build houses.
Diversifying the use of ISAL funds for improved livelihood
Through funds from the Vavariro ISAL scheme, Vimbai Mpala started a poultry project; whilst another member; a widow, Veronica has become a general merchandise dealer selling vegetable produce. It’s not difficult to see how the women of Vavariro ISAL group have greatly benefited from this project. The well dressed women boast about how they have become the envy of their communities. An elderly member of the group Mai Valeni says she is building an 11 roomed house, something she would not have been able to achieve if she was not part of the ISAL group. Accumulation of assets by the women of Vavariro has also motivated other women from the community to join the internal savings and lending scheme. “I was attracted to the group after seeing the progress the other women were making. When I got married, I had nothing in my name ,now I have a 3 roomed house of my own, I have also bought 4 goats that have multiplied to 12, I am looking forward to buying a cow next year”, says Anna Colleta. ISALs function as safe, affordable and trustworthy means of watching one’s income multiply. This has been particularly useful for rural women who struggle with inconsistent incomes and at times lack necessary documentation to access loans from banks and other credit facilities; a situation most of the women in the Vavariro group have found themselves in. However due to the EXTRA initiated ISAL scheme, these challenges have been overcome. “The only real requirement needed for an ISAL to be successful is the active participation of members within the group!” Anna exclaims to the ululation of the rest of the group.
Venturing beyond financial empowerment
Beyond financial activities, systems such as the ISAL form good opportunities for women to gather and share ideas on a variety of issues including nutritional recipes, hygiene and home keeping as well as sharing skills and ideas for income generation activities. “We have also been also taught basic hygiene and good nutrition practices by EXTRA. The Extension and Training for Rural Agriculture (EXTRA) project is a three year programme under the Livelihoods and food security programme (LFSP) being implemented in three districts in the Midlands Province. Through the formation of ISAL groups among other initiatives, the EXTRA project is contributing to poverty reduction as it is creating access to funding amongst low-income women. In addition, these groups are primarily being motivated and driven by the women themselves, fostering sustainable economic development amongst women.