From the remote foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains to the sparse plains of the Eastern Cape, communities are discovering the power of SaveAct savings and credit groups…
Founded in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, in 2005 with funding from the Ford Foundation, SaveAct is a young, but growing organisation with expanding scope.
In just over four years, SaveAct’s specialist interventions have seen over 4 000 people – mainly women -- become members of over 200 savings & credit groups (SCGs) in 46 rural and peri-urban communities in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces.
Good returns on savings -- between 50 to 100% -- and ready access to saved money and relatively low-interest loans mean that demand for participation in the groups continues to be high, to the extent that groups are multiplying spontaneously.
With membership, people have assumed greater control over their lives, moving from a dependent, hand-to-mouth existence, to being able to actively manage their household finances, and even plan ahead.
Groups are formally trained in the SCG methodology and are also exposed to financial services and life-skills training.
Experience has shown that once the group is established, its members often express an interest in enterprise development training. In response to this need, SaveAct has facilitated the training of several hundred people who hope to start or expand their own businesses motivated by their access to savings and loans through SaveAct groups.
SaveAct’s work has confirmed that the savings groups are effective vehicles for collective mobilisation, not only around income generation activities, but also around health and social issues such as HIV/Aids.
To this end, SaveAct has partnered with several organisations working in the areas of food security and agriculture, gender-based violence prevention, HIV/Aids support, rights-based work and youth-targeted interventions.
SaveAct has invested considerable time and resources in developing an effective system to measure the impact of its interventions through conventional monitoring and evaluation (M&E) research methods and through newer methods such as PhotoVoice. Many heart-rending and inspiring stories have come to light as a result and there is often an irrepressible desire among SCG members to have their voices heard and to share their experiences.
It is these personal testimonies that speak directly to the positive impact of SaveAct’s work. Read some of them here [PDF 540KB].
The dawning of democracy in South Africa in 1994 brought with it a complete and timely overhaul of the procedural democratic system, giving all South Africans the right to vote and to participate in the governance of their country.
While much progress has been made in the past 16 years in setting up and consolidating a national democratic framework, the substantive empowerment of the majority of South Africa’s population has proved to be more elusive.
Despite the introduction of a social grant system, poverty is endemic, unemployment rates high, and the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. The poor remain socially and economically marginalised, operating at the fringes of the formal economy without secure livelihoods.
Levels of financial literacy are especially low in South Africa, relative to other Southern African countries, and many people fall victim to exorbitant lending rates offered by micro-finance institutions and loan sharks (mashonisas)
Gender inequalities and gender-based violence are pronounced. As noted by German aid organisation Brot fur die Welt, (Bread for the World), men are usually in control of the family income and women are usually in economically dependent positions that imply lower status and unequal power relations that limit women’s influence on decisions regarding themselves and the family.
The rapid spread of diseases such as HIV/Aids and Tuberculosis result in high levels of mortality and debilitating burdens for poor families. Government patronage is emphasised at the expense of real investments in self-reliance and sustainable livelihoods.
It was in response to these challenges that SaveAct was established.
In the absence of national strategies which give people the chance to move out of exclusion and dependency, SaveAct offers a chance for individuals and communities to achieve greater financial security and self-reliance and to become active participants, not only in the fate of their families, but in the fate of their communities as well.
What others say about SaveAct
"When it comes to economic development, members of SaveAct trained savings groups stand out from the rest in two ways. They have the self reliance and confidence to explore options that others feel are out of reach. Their savings and capacity to borrow gives them the means to put these ideas into practice." - South African community economic development consultant, Gerry Delany.
“ … a brilliant concept offering so much by way of community strength and development … It must be really heartening to be involved in something that is so palpably successful. – Andrew Layman, Pietermaritzburg Chamber of Business CEO, 2010.
“ … A most beneficial union … SaveAct brings a spirit of hope and future to our HIV support groups. What can be more healing? The scheme is ingenious. Eyes light up when support group members speak about SaveAct.” – Renate Cochrane, Lutheran Church minister, supporter of the Masangane Treatment Programme, 2009.
... about savings groups:
“... these associations are where people are showing their creativity and ingenuity and experience. These things have evolved over centuries and are probably the most resilient thing the continent has got.” -- Gerry Salole, former Director of the Southern African Office of the Ford Foundation, 2005
... about economic development:
“Economic growth is an important component of a strategy to tackle poverty, but it cannot be the only element. We must also give attention to other components: those that empower people living in poverty to claim their human rights so that they can be in control, rather than victims, of their destiny.” – Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International in "The Unheard Truth: Poverty and Human Rights".