Saving for Change (SfC) was created in 2005 by Oxfam and key collaborators, Freedom from Hunger and the Stromme Foundation, to provide basic financial services to women around the world – innovating on the traditional microfinance model by starting with savings instead of credit and by delivering financial services through small savings groups rather than financial institutions. Today, over 700,000 members routinely participate in SfC groups: 500,000 women in Mali, 70,000 in Senegal, 100,000 in Cambodia, and 30,000 in El Salvador and Guatemala.
In 2015, SfC celebrated ten years of service in the communities that we serve. In the ten years since its inception, the program expanded its work across multiple countries and participants have collectively saved $55 million USD. For an overview of the work throughout the ten years and for more information, peruse the Saving for Change Turns Ten: 10 Years of Women's Economic Empowerment document.
Working in rural villages, SfC trains groups of women to save regularly, borrow from their group's fund, and repay loans with interest. At the end of a saving cycle—generally a year—the fund is divided and each woman receives her savings plus a share of the profit. Groups schedule distribution for a critical time, such as the onset of the lean season, when money and resources are scarce.
Goals and priorities
Today, there are over 700,000 Saving for Change members across five different countries. In Mali alone – where the initiative first launched – there is at least one SfC group per village in over 6,400 villages. As the program grows, so does women's confidence, enabling them to request more training, services, and products adapted to their needs.
SfC is not a static program; it’s dynamic and constantly evolving to better respond to the needs of women – and most recently children, youth, and men – in rural communities. For Phase II of SfC, Oxfam has begun harnessing the power of savings groups to serve as a platform for delivering additional capacity building activities. At the request of empowered women members, Oxfam developed a suite of trainings designed to further increase members’ economic participation. These “SfC +” activities are building local expertise in business, agriculture, citizenship, and mobile banking.
Modules such as SfC + Business focuses on members' ability to improve their skills managing income generating activities; SfC + Agriculture improves yields and increases food security; SfC + Citizenship provides members with a better understanding of their role in society, and SfC + Mobile enables women to save and pay back loans directly through their cell phones. As program activities continue to build upon the SfC + model, members receive training on basic advocacy skills through associations of SfC groups. Saving for Change is as much about strengthening member’s voices as it is about increasing their financial inclusion.
Accomplishments so far
In 2013, Oxfam released the results of an innovative study combining the statistical rigor of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) with an in-depth anthropological study. The study found that SfC provides benefits not only to its members, but also to the whole village where groups may be found. Overall, it shows that SfC reaches the most vulnerable (82% of members live with less than $1.25/day), members tend to save and borrow more than non-members, they invest more in livestock, and overall we see the food security gap closing in those villages. All these factors contribute to building resilience, especially when we add the social capital built among members. Although we have not seen significant impacts on income, health, and education expenditures yet, we believe SfC to be one of the simplest, yet most powerful economic innovations introduced by Oxfam.