The POWER of savings groups in Burundi

“Savings make it easier for teenage girls to refuse sex with boys if they don’t want it.”

Adolescent girls in Burundi say one of the biggest impacts of savings groups is the ability to stand up for themselves. Find out why.

Here’s a link I never thought about: savings make it easier for teenage girls to refuse sex with boys if they don’t want it. Why? Because for many girls in Burundi, the only way to access cash is to get it as “presents” from a “boyfriend.” Now, with money from Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) and their own businesses, girls feel self-reliant, so they are more able to stand up for themselves.

It’s not just about saying no to boys. Girls stand up for what matters most to them. Fidella overcame a difficult family situation to make sure she and her sisters could go to school.

“Thanks to the VSLA, I have now finished secondary school and earned my high school diploma. At school and at home, people could not understand how I managed to go back to school at my age, and this is why they nicknamed me ‘Perseverance,’” said Fidella.

The POWER project ran in Burundi, Rwanda, Cote d’Ivoire, and Ethiopia with $13 million from the MasterCard Foundation from 2013-2018. In Burundi, the project reached 127,082 people directly and 510,000 indirectly with $2.3 million. CARE partnered with Great Lakes Inkinga Development to implement this project.

What did we accomplish?

  • Girls have more income: The most common change girls cited was having more income through their businesses and the ability to get loans. As a result, girls feel more self-reliant, and can pay their own school fees.
  • Girls are connected to banks: Girls often said that having a relationship with a bank was one of the biggest changes in their lives. It mattered so much that one girl has started to work with a local micro-finance institution to connect other people in her communities to banks, and to help make sure their loan repayments are on track.
  • “I can speak up for myself”: Girls felt that speaking up for themselves was one of the greatest gains in the project. They feel they have more respect from communities, can say no to unwanted sex more easily, and that their parents have become less skeptical about what girls can do.
  • Girls can cope better with crisis: Many girls said that they have more skills and tools to cope with crisis. The most common skill they mentioned was better conflict resolution, but they also talked about savings, diversified businesses, and the ability to contribute to the household as new tools to help them face challenges.

How did we get there?

  • Listen to what girls need: POWER made several changes to the standard VSLA program based on what adolescent girls asked for. That included changing the schedule so girls didn’t miss school, linking girls to banks quickly so their money is safer, and teaching time management so girls could balance school and businesses.
  • Convince parents and teachers: Many parents and teachers mentioned that they were initially skeptical of the program. They didn’t think girls were capable of running businesses and worried it would make the girls drop out of school. Burundi did a study of the effects of running a small business on school performance. Once parents and teachers saw that it wasn’t hurting girls’ education, they were more willing to support. Working with Burundi’s Abatangamuco male champions and community leaders was a big support here.
  • Focus on community norms: The project had to confront the fact that many families—especially brothers—feel they own a girl’s money because of strong local traditions. It was important to help girls overcome this barrier by hosting community conversations about norms, and helping boys start their own VSLAs.
  • Understand all girls are different: Some girls had resources that made success easier for them—like being in school, getting family support, and being able to access land—but not every girl had that. Girls without that support could still succeed, but they needed to focus on different activities to do it.
  • Work through partners: the demand for VSLAs was so high—especially once they started creating boys VSLAs—that the project staff couldn’t start them all alone. They worked with a Village Agent model to expand reach and scale of VSLAs.

Want to learn more?

Read the post-project evaluation.