Ivorian lady sitting next to cocoa

5 Min Inspiration: Saving $7.4 million by working together

CARE’s Women for Change model is founded on the Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) approach and works with women and their families in cocoa-growing communities to improve livelihoods so that communities can thrive. The program started in Côte d’Ivoire in 2016 and aims to increase gender equity in households and communities, while supporting increased savings, improved skills, income growth and diversification, improved school enrollment rates and increased nutrition.

The (VSLA) training showed us how to properly manage our money. We discovered we were wasting money and not working together to find the right solution. This is when I decided that my wife would be the best person to look after the money and organize the family expenses.
– Kouakou Koffi Michel

Encouraged by this powerful model and its proven results, in 2020, Mars Wrigley committed to scaling up the partnership with CARE with an investment of $10 million to reach more than 60,000 members in cocoa communities in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana by 2025. We have now exceeded that target and have already reached more the 77,000 VSLA members (58,000 women) between 2016 and September 2022.

Hand holding cocoa beans

What did we accomplish?

  • Financial access to savings substantially increased for members. VSLA members in the Women for Change program have collectively saved over $7.4 million with over $3.7 million of loans disbursed. On average, VSLA members in this program have saved $63 annually compared to $0 annually at baseline.
  • The loans disbursed by VSLAs strengthened not only financial inclusion, but also access to education and health. Of the loans distributed, 64% of the funds were used to bolster individual income generating activities for members. However, members also used the funding from loans to finance educational pursuits (13%) and access to health and nutrition services (6%).
  • Male champions fight for gender equity in the community. Over 160 male champions have been trained to lead and direct gender-related interventions within their communities and are not limited only to VSLAs.
Ivorian lady next to money

How did we get there?

  • Improve literacy and numeracy skills and connections to formal finance. The literacy and numeracy program for VSLA participants has been identified as one of the most significant activities for addressing some challenges faced by participants in Women for Change. As women build their financial literacy and entrepreneurship skills through VSLAs, their finance needs grow. CARE is building partnerships with financial institutions for favorable women-friendly credit opportunities.
  • Support income growth and diversification for members. As members of savings groups start to collect capital, demand for basic entrepreneurship training quickly emerges. The Women for Change model integrates microenterprise training, which supports members to select income-generating opportunities, plan how these businesses will run, and manage the enterprises once started.
  • Promote joint decision making in households. Household dialogue sessions are focused on increasing women’s role in decision-making and increasing women’s voices at home and in the community. Additionally, a network of more than 160 gender committees has been established. These committees, usually made up of at least two men and two women identified by community members, become champions of gender equity within cocoa-growing communities.
  • Promote nutrition, sexual & reproductive health and child protection. As part of the nutrition and health curriculum, members are taught about the different food groups and shown how to access local foods and provide a balanced diet for their families combined with information on family planning and contraceptive measures. Additionally, the child protection element of the training focuses on the prevention of child labor and the promotion of child rights.
Lady writing in finance book

Where do we go next? 

CARE is currently building a business case for the Women for Change model, including identifying the overlap between Women for Change programming and the supply chain. This will help to develop the future direction and expansion of the program, ensuring it aligns with both CARE and Mars strategic priorities and creates sustainable impact on cocoa-growing communities in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.

CARE’s long-term vision is to scale Women for Change across the cocoa supply chain and into other commodities, such as rice and tea. Women for Change and Mars will become the model for other corporate partners to see the commercial and social benefits of connecting with VSLAs in their own supply chains leading to widespread positive impact, especially for women.

Want to learn more?

Check out the MARS Wrigley Cocoa for Generations Annual Report and the Women for Change Program Overview

Ivorian VSLA women

CARE works as an advocate for women's economic justice by empowering women in economic activities as this is key to achieving gender equality and boosting the growth of national economies. Women’s economic justice is at the core of some of the most successful initiatives across CARE International.

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