Savings groups are a key economic strengthening service available to referral clients within the Kitwe District Referral Network (KDRN) in Copperbelt Province, Zambia. Savings groups are member-owned, community-based groups of 15-20 members who choose to save money together and are overseen by a field supervisor who manages and mentors the group. The pooled member savings operate as an interest-bearing loan fund, or social fund, that members can borrow from for investment in small businesses, paying for school fees or responding to emergencies within the household or community. At the end of a savings cycle, typically lasting 4 to 12 months, the group divides the remaining money in their social fund equally among members in what is known as a ‘share-out’ before beginning a new savings cycle.
Following a training for a new referral counselling job aid, LIFT II spoke with Eness, an active KDRN member, to learn more about her experience within the KDRN. Eness joined the KDRN and was trained as a field supervisor in January 2016. As a field supervisor, her responsibilities include forming new savings groups, receiving and introducing new members, mentoring members about savings group operations and documentation requirements as well as ensuring that all members understand the guidelines and expectations of savings group membership. At the time of speaking with Eness, she had just celebrated her one year anniversary as a member of the KDRN — within the first year Eness established four active savings groups in her community with 97 members total, including a large proportion of referral clients living with HIV. She proudly shared that one of her savings groups recently had its first share-out, marking a major milestone for the savings group members and for Eness who fostered the group to reach the point of share-out. She believes so strongly in the savings group model that one of her sons, who is on ART, is now an active member of one of her savings groups.
For the savings group members, Eness shared that providing access to financial services and financial literacy within their community has provided the members with ownership over their finances that they did not have previously. Her group members are now able to save money and afford needed items such as electricity vouchers, charcoal for cooking and paying for their children’s school fees. For people living with HIV, savings group membership can help to address the most common barriers to accessing care and treatment by accumulating savings and accessing loans for transportation costs, consuming nutritious foods and mitigating income loss associated with time off for care and treatment.
One of Eness’s groups is composed of many couples who are living with HIV and choose to participate in the savings group together. These couples reside in a farming community and have expressed their gratitude to Eness for helping them save money and access loans to purchase fertilizer, which they could not afford before. By enhancing their crop yield with fertilizer, the couples can produce more food to meet their own nutritional needs and sell excess crops to generate income.
Field supervisors, such as Eness, play a critical role in LIFT II-supported referral networks by providing mentorship to savings group members so that they can fully realize the benefits of membership and gain ownership over their financial well-being. Eness said that working with LIFT II and her savings groups she has realized that by joining forces in the community and working as a group, you can achieve something together that you could not achieve alone.