Clad in a clean blue Kitenge dress and sandals, Chantal Nyirantawuziyandemye, is all smiles after reaping benefits from her savings, something that could possibly change her life.
Nyirantawuziyandemye and 30 other women who had, for a long time, been trapped in extreme poverty belong to Voluntary Savings and Loans (VSLs) groups that bring together poor people who each make weekly savings of Rwf100.
Today, determined to totally kick out poverty, she is set to receive a loan worth Rwf120,000.
“I never thought one day I could hold such an amount of money. It has always been hard for me even to raise Rwf100,” the mother of four elatedly says.
Her goal is to boost her tomato business and buy a cow to provide milk for her children.
She initiated the tomato business in June last year after securing a loan of Rwf20,000 from the group.
“I am so happy that I can now talk in public; I was afraid to be regarded as poor,” she recalls.
For Domicilla Nyirandemeye from Kirehe District, rural savings groups have helped her to learn much about savings to uplift her livelihood.
“I would always move to friends asking for money to buy basic needs or go and cultivate farms for other people to earn a living, but now they come to me and I have learnt how to do business as well as make savings,” she comments.
A 2008 survey by Finscope revealed that only 21 per cent of Rwandans had access to formal financial systems thus the need for pro poor tailored financial programmes.
“We selected the very poor; those ones who could not even go to Savings and Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs) and put them in groups of thirty and started savings only Rwf100 a week, because that was what they can manage,” observes Innocent Rutikanga, Project manager for Sustainable Access To Financial Services for Investment (SAFI).
SAFI is a project initiated by Care Rwanda, an international NGO, to promote voluntary savings and loan groups and ultimately help poor people have access to financial services.
The project has attracted over Rwf1.9 billion (US$ 3.18m) in savings since last year, boosting government’s ambitions to have 80 per cent of the country’s population accessing formal financial systems by 2017.
“This is a good amount to attract microfinance institutions to set up base in rural areas to bank people who have been excluded for a long time,” Rita Ngarambe, Executive Secretary Association of Microfinance Institutions in Rwanda, AMIR notes.
With more people in Rwanda unbanked, there is need to step up efforts aimed at promoting financial inclusion especially in rural areas.
Financial Institutions have started making their footprints in rural areas with Urwego Opportunity bank, Vision Finance already banking these groups and offering loans to targeting their members.
“What we are now doing is to link these groups to financial institutions to access formal financial services,” Rutikanga adds.
The Finscope survey also revealed that half of the adult population in the country claimed to be making savings. Yet, over 70 per cent of them did it through informal channels, mainly by keeping money under the pillows, which is deemed risky.
Rwanda is also rolling out other reforms, especially in the micro finance industry where Umurenge SACCO is expected to be one of the key drivers.
According to the central bank’s monetary policy and financial stability statement released early this year, the microfinance sector recorded a positive performance with the continued expansion of its balance sheet, realising a 12.1 per cent annual growth last year.
“The introduction of UMURENGE SACCOs enhanced the growth of this sector. In the year under review, UMURENGE SACCOs contributed to 37.6 per cent of the sector’s total assets,” the statement said.
By end December 2011, UMURENGE SACCOs registered deposits and gross loans amounting to Rwf22.5 billion and Rwf4.7 billion, respectively.
Based on these indicators, experts are optimistic that government’s target to have the 80 per cent of the population banked by 2017 is realistic.