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Sightsavers Reports

The savings and loan group that’s changing lives

December 2017
A group of people sitting on the grass. A man, with a money box, is leading a discussion.

The Masindi Savings and Loan group meets under a tree in the grounds of the local council buildings. But its unusual location isn’t the only unorthodox thing about it – the group has been set up to support people with disabilities to establish and grow businesses.

This might not seem like a big deal. But in Uganda, the stigma surrounding disability means that many of the group’s members have had little or no financial independence before joining – many of them have been seen as incapable of working or managing money.

The savings group grew from an innovative economic empowerment programme that was set up to give young people with disabilities access to training and apprenticeships. The programme, which started in 2012, has seen an incredible change in Masindi and its surrounding districts in western Uganda: it has expanded to teach financial literacy skills, and the savings and loan group plays a key role in giving students access to funds so they can expand their businesses.

A young woman smiled and holds a handful of small dried fish.

How the group works

After group member Florence graduated from the empowerment programme, she started her own tailoring business. She approached the other members of the savings group for a loan to expand into food retail, and now sells staple items such as fish outside her workshop, as well as making and mending clothes. She’s paid back her initial loan, and is saving up to build her own home.

The vast majority of the programme’s graduates now work with local employers or have set up their own businesses, and many also act as mentors for the new intake of students. Collectives like the savings and loan group enable young people to support each other while developing their businesses and gaining experience in how to manage money.

Joseph, who runs the group, says: “We collect the savings from people – from 1,000 to 5,000 [Ugandan] shillings. Those who can give 5,000 do; those who have less can pay less. When we’ve finished that, we ask for those people who want a loan [from the group’s savings] to bolster their businesses, and we give out the loan. After the month you return it with a profit of 10 per cent – so if you take 100,000 shillings, you bring 110,000 back.

A man, with an open money box next to him, passes money to another person (offscreen).

A new approach to financial services

There’s also money known as ‘welfare’, Joseph explains, that can be borrowed without interest. “We do that in case people have a challenge at home: sickness, for example,” he says. “It’s like supporting each other. At the end when we share out, it includes the welfare that’s been given so each member gets his or her own money back.”

The aim is for successful savings groups to reach a level where they can apply to government livelihood programmes for further funding. The economic empowerment programme is working to combat a lack of awareness among banking staff about the challenges faced by people with disabilities in accessing financial services; and encouraging banks to realise that people with disabilities are an important potential client group.

The Masindi savings and loan group has become a vital tool in promoting the rights of people with disabilities. It supports its members to run successful businesses, proving to their communities that they’re capable of working, earning and providing for their families. Not bad for a group of people sitting under a tree!

The European Commission has funded the economic empowerment programme since 2012, and additional funding was awarded in August 2017 by the National Lottery Community Fund. This generous support has helped to transform the lives of hundreds of young people with disabilities in Uganda.

Seven young women, one holding a baby, and one man sit on the grass smiling.

“It’s like supporting each other. At the end when we share it out, each member gets his or her own money back.”

Seven young women, one holding a baby, and one man sit on the grass smiling.

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