In Côte d’Ivoire, as in many other low- and middle-income countries, low-income entrepreneurs often form small, informal groups to help members save money, access loans, and obtain emergency insurance. Since 2006, the international nonprofit organization CARE has been working in Côte d’Ivoire to help these groups—called Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs)—connect with formal financial institutions, digitize practices, and provide members with financial education and training.
According to CARE, more than 10,000 VSLAs have now been established, helping save its over 250,000 members an estimated 146 million Central African CFA francs (approximately $230,000 USD).
As part of a recent initiative, CARE partnered with the microfinance institution Advans to offer VSLAs and their members a chance to enroll in digital financial services. During her June 2022 visit to Côte d’Ivoire, the Special Advocate had the opportunity to meet with several members of one VSLA, a group of 25 women living in Abobo, a suburb north of Abidjan.
The VSLA, called Amour Main Dans la Main (Love Hand in Hand), meets weekly at the market and includes women from a variety of backgrounds, most of whom work as small retailers. In addition to their individual enterprises, they sell eggs together to generate income for their group, and host discussions about gender equality, community cohesion, and other issues.
Members put money into the group’s fund, which they can access if they need a loan or insurance. The VSLA has been connected with Advans since 2017 and received a loan of $900 for members to use to invest in their businesses. Individual members have also been using a digital app developed by MTN to help low-income individuals manage their finances, keep better records for their businesses and personal finances, and build a credit history.
N’Cho Raymone Epse Yapi, the group’s president, told the UNSGSA that before joining the VSLA, she had no access to financial services and was experiencing difficulties. She received a loan of CFAF 150,000 (about US$300) from the VSLA, as well as a portion of the group’s loan from Advans, allowing her to grow her business selling eggs and juice. She now has a weekly net profit of CFAF 70,000 (US$140).
Gbehi Zado Gladys, another group member, sells bottled water. She received a loan of CFAF 50,000 (US$100) from the VSLA, which provided most of the CFAF 70,000 (US $140) start-up capital for her business. Her monthly net profit is now CFAF 150,000 (US$300). Ms. Gladys also has a bank account from Advans.
The UNSGSA also met with Alle Moussan Jeannette Epse Mobio, the treasurer of Amour Main Dans la Main, who sells clothing, perfume, shoes, and linen, and is her family’s main breadwinner. She told the Special Advocate that after opening a bank account with Advans, she was able to get a loan of CFAF 50,000 (US $100) from them, as well as another CFAF 50,000 from the VSLA. She now has a monthly profit of CFAF 35,000 (US$70) and uses a bank account.
Mrs. Mobio, Mrs. Gladys, and Mrs. Yapi discussed the VSLA’s experience with digital transformation. The MTN platform has created considerable time savings in running the VSLA, as well as made transactions more secure by removing the need for cash. The women underscored the importance of digital connectivity and well-designed digital training.
Discussion also centered on the importance of adapted financial products to support effective linkages with the microfinance sector. VSLA members also spoke about the importance of loan maturities beyond six months to provide adequate time to facilitate repayment, as well as clearly explaining the terms and conditions of financial products.