International Womens Day is celebrated annually on March 8. As the world heads towards this great celebration, it is an important time to do everything possible to help forge a more gender-balanced world. Women have come a long way, yet theres still more to be achieved. This year’s theme is “Balance for Better”, a call to action for driving gender balance across the world. In Rwanda, Savings Banks Foundation for International Cooperation (SBFIC) strives to reach out to women in order to promote gender equality through promotion and empowering women approaches in development programs. An organisation that has been involved in one way or another to support women all over the country, SBFIC began its activities in Rwanda in 2008 and since that time has partnered with the Association of Microfinance Institutions in Rwanda (AMIR) to professionalize the microfinance sector in the country. How Tinyuka wigire Munyarwandakazi started In 2017, SBFIC, in collaboration with AMIR, initiated a financial product for women with lower income aged between 18-45 years called “Tinyuka wigire Munyarwandakazi”. The objective of the product is to improve the well-being of low-income women through creating easy access to financial services and enabling them to access loans without physical collateral assets and instilling financial discipline through conditional savings. According to Alphosine Musabyimana, the Financial Education Expert at SBFIC, the product is implemented through training of Micro Finance institutions/Savings and Credit Cooperatives (MFIs/SACCOs) managers and staff, as well as including local authorities in order to support the sensitization process. MFIs in partnership with local authorities identify low-income women and sensitize them to work with MFIs. Convinced women then open an account as an individual or group. They are then encouraged by MFIs to start saving. Later they can request for loans in groups or as individuals without physical collateral and after that follow-up training in loan management is conducted for those women. In July, 2017, seven member institutions of AMIR were initiated into a one-year pilot project with the target of having 200 new women as best savers and 50 good borrowers. The pilot phase came to an end in August 2018 with 6 institutions that had implemented the program successfully. After that year 2,315 accounts were opened by women and Rwf 161,043,394 was registered as savings while Rwf 132, 117,500 was disbursed as loans. After the implementation of the program success stories kept rising In most parts of the Musanze district, 93 km north of Rwanda’s capital, Kigali, through the early morning mist, slow-moving laborers are seen ploughing open stretches of farmland. In one particular field, a woman is tirelessly working with two boys and a girl on a family-owned farm ahead of the rainy season. For Uwamahoro Gaudence 30, a mother of 3 and happily married owner of the land, the rainy season is around the corner and they must be ready to plant in a few days. Uwamahoro is among the many smallholder women farmers in the five districts that were chosen for the pilot phase of Tinyuka wigire Munyarwandakazi program that works with MFIs and local authorities to boost sustainable agricultural production and rural women’s economic empowerment through saving. Hailing from Musanze sector in Musanze district, Uwamahoro says that in the past she thought that all a woman had to do was to get married and the husband would provide the rest. “It was a misconception that I finally drove out of my mind and I focused on how to start being a problem solver for my problems and those of my family. In spite of the fact that I had no income, I decided to start saving Rwf 100 per day and that meant making sacrifices as it wasn’t easy to find it every day,” says Uwamahoro. Woman banking money at a Sacco in Musanze. She joined the women’s cooperative in her village of Kanganwa in Garuka cell where she received a loan of Rwf 10,000, which she used to start an Irish potatoes business. Uwamahoro would wake up early in the morning to go to potato fields where she would buy, in bulk, quality potatoes that she would later sell at the market in Musanze. “I continued to save in our savings group until I heard that SACCO Umutuzo that operates in our village had introduced a program called “Tinyuka Wigire Munyarwandakazi” which was helping women with low income to emancipate them from poverty. I immediately opened an account and started saving with the SACCO,” said Uwamahoro. Because of her ability to save, Uwamahoro was given a loan of Rwf 200, 000 which she used to go into Irish potato farming. “I have successfully managed to pay back the loan and I have applied for another loan for Rwf 300, 000 that I will pay back promptly in one year,” she said. With the help of her husband, Uwamahoro uses her daily income to support her three children by paying health insurance, Mutuelle, paying school fees and buying them clothes. “I feel important and proud of what I have become because my savings helped me gain access to funds. Today I save Rwf 5,000 daily and I can deal with most of my financial issues with no hassle. I call upon my fellow women to believe in themselves and start saving for a better future,” she added. Brewing and selling sorghum beer has helped her fight poverty 61-year-old widow and mother of 5 children, Kabayundo Verdiane, is a resident of Rutagara village, Cyabajwa cell, Kabarondo sector in Kayonza district who for a long time feared to borrow money to do business thinking that nothing would come out of it but trouble. “My village is known for growing sorghum and brewing it in traditional ways, which involves fermenting and later mixing it in hot water. I started by saving Rwf 200 per week in a small savings group which later helped me go into the beer brewing business,” she explains. Women from Kabarondo attending training in Tinyuka wigire program. With the increase in her savings, Kabayundo decided to open an account in a SACCO called RIM in Kabarondo which helped her to overcome the fear of approaching financial institutions. Equipped with her beer brewing techniques, she borrowed Rwf 50,000 through the Tinyuka wigire Munyarwandakazi program and has continued to save as her business grew from scratch. “Last year, I managed to buy the house that I previously rented and my resources have increased tremendously. Today I earn every day because I sell my brew on a daily basis unlike before. I am proud of my achievements,” says Kabayundo. She says that some members of her community found it so unbelievable that a woman of her age could be that successful in business. Goat rearing has turned my life around Some of the goats bleat, others munch at the grass while the young ones run around in circles at the farm oblivious of our presence. Standing in the goat shed, Mujawayezu Jovia, the owner of the farm, offers instructions to a worker on how to feed the animals. “We keep over 120 goats in total,” says Mujawayezu. The adults are 80 and the rest are kids, many of which are born every other day,” says the 34 year old brainchild of the thriving goat project that she runs with her husband. The couple lives in Rwinkwavu sector in Kayonza District in the Eastern province where the carry out their business of buying, selling and rearing goats. “I started saving very little money every week and keeping it until I had enough to buy one goat. Every time I saved up to Rwf 10,000 I would buy another until I had over ten goats. Then I got the idea to join a Micro finance and borrow money to go into real business,” says Mujawayezu. Mujawayezu was doing this from her home and had run out of space. She decided to join RIM Kabarondo Micro finance that lent money to expand her project. Last year, she received a loan of Rwf 500, 000 which she used to rent a farm where she buys and rears goats for sell. “Today I have over 100 goats ready to be sold. We sell the big ones that no longer give birth and leave the young ones. There is a ready market for the goats in Kabarondo and Gisenyi where we sell them every three months,” she explains. According to Mujawayezu, she rents a truck every three months and takes the goats to Gisenyi where there is a ready market. “For a goat that I buy at Rwf15, 000, I sell it at Rwf 25, 000 after three months thus earning a profit of Rwf10, 000 which is good business,” she says smiling. Goats reared by Mujawayezu Jovia in Kayonza. Today, the mother of three says life has really changed and that she no longer has to worry about school fees and other financial problems. “We have renovated our home and from the money I earn from the business. We bought a small car that we use for our movements and we also bought a motorcycle that brings money daily plus the kids are happy and they attend school,” she adds. According to Donatille, the branch manager of RIM in Kibungo, they launched Tinyuka wigire Munyarwandakazi program in 2017 and the impact of the program has been profound. “The support is a turning point in effectively empowering the women and in making it a norm that women are benefiting and owning assets equal to men. For example, children and youth in the community used to refer to assets owned by the family, such as livestock, as ‘my father’s sheep’ and ‘my father’s goats’. Today, they are saying ‘my mother’s sheep’, ‘my mother’s goats’. This leads to a long-term change as it is impacting future generations,” says Donatille. She adds that the program has been a success due to the fact that they don’t request for women to avail collateral. “Many women have been educated about how Tinyuka program works and it has taught them to save and borrow money to improve their way of life,” she added. Mary Lambasha, Kimisagara SACCO Manager, describes Tinyuka wigire Munyarwandakazi as the pride of women “Tinyuka wigire Munyarwandakazi program has restored the pride in women because it has helped many women today to learn how to do business and having a saving culture,” says Lambasha. Members take a photo after the East African microfinace capacity Development Workshop. “We do not ask collateral from them and all it requires is 30% of the money requested and after paying the loan they get back the 30%. We have so far given Tinyuka wigire Muunyarwandakazi loans totaling to Rwf19, 862, 000 to 108 women at a rate of 16% which is very low interest rate compared to other loans,” she adds. About SBFIC Since its foundation in 1992, SBFIC has implemented more than 200 projects in over 80 countries worldwide. More than 2,000 Sparkassen(savings banks) employees have been deployed on project assignments and over 200 permanent staff members are today working to promote financial inclusion and their numbers are growing. According to the Regional Coordinator East Africa SBFIC, Britta Konitzer, since 2009 SBFIC has been permanently active in partnership projects with government and private sector institutions, with a focus on strengthening the microfinance sector and vocational education in Rwanda. Members of Tinyuka wigire in COOPEC ITI in Rulindo. Currently the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (Bundesministerium für wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung, BMZ) is financially supporting two SBFIC projects. “These projects are conducted in partnership with the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MINICOM) and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MINECOFIN), the Rwanda Cooperative Agency (RCA), the Association of Microfinance Institutions in Rwanda (AMIR), as well as the Rwanda Institute of Cooperatives, Entrepreneurship and Microfinance (RICEM),” says Konitzer. SBFIC Rwanda is in close contact with SBFIC’s project activities in more than 40 countries worldwide, but particularly with those attached to the Regional Office East Africa, i.e. Burundi, Mozambique, Tanzania and Uganda. “All project activities are conducted in accordance with the Rwandan national development strategies, including Vision 2020 and the National Strategy for Transformation (NST). In Rwanda, SBFIC’s activities include, among others, professionalizing of the Umurenge SACCO sector, financial education, vocational education and capacity development and institutional strengthening of the partner organizations,” she explains. The Savings Banks Foundation is actively supporting financial institutions, promoting a sustainable economic and social development of women through Tinyunka Wigire Muunyarwandakazi program. “We have started working with children to provide financial education. From there we have expanded the program. We have included adults, especially women. The objective of our program is to encourage them to start saving for their future and for the future of their kids,” says Konitzer. She explains that in the Tinyunka Wigire Muunyarwandakazi program they target vulnerable young women. “Through this program these women get the opportunity to set up their business and to become economically self-sustainable. Through their better economic environment they also improve their living conditions in general and in their communities,” Konitzer adds. She goes on to say that in all their program components, SBFIC aims at improving lives of the Rwandan women, children and Rwanda’s people in general. “In our joint financial education program, SBFIC and AMIR provide detailed information about financial education and savings and encourage the people of Rwanda to start saving, to provide for their future,” says Konitzer. Britta Konitzer SBFIC Regional Coordinator East Africa. SBFIC trains its beneficiaries in very practical training, e.g. in the business simulations for micro entrepreneurs and farmers where participants learn how to lead their enterprise successfully. This leads to better living conditions for the whole family and the community. The institution has successfully supported its partners in various areas in the recent years. According to Konitzer, SBFIC has set up a comprehensive and nationwide program for financial education and savings mobilization for children, women and the Rwandan population in general including the development of the program Tinyunka Wigire Munyarwandakazi, in partnership with AMIR and their member MFIs/SACCOs. SBFIC has also introduced a dual system apprenticeship system for the Microfinance sector to professionalize the sector, under the auspices of the Workforce Development Authority (WDA) and in partnership with AMIR, RICEM, and MFIs/SACCOs. “We have supported MINICOM in the establishment of the Rwanda Institute for Cooperatives, Entrepreneurship and Microfinance (RICEM) to provide training to Cooperatives, Entrepreneurs and the Microfinance sector,” she added. SBFIC’s future plans are to continue providing support to their Rwandan partners and to the Rwandan population. “We believe that capacity development can help improve people’s lives, and we are ready to make our contribution to this objective. Furthermore, SBFIC will continue supporting the Rwanda Cooperative Agency (RCA) in the computerization and consolidation of Umurenge SACCOs and the establishment of the Cooperative Bank,” says the Regional Coordinator. “We also intend to enhance our capacity development program in collaboration with a Rwandan university, e.g. by broadening their curriculum for entrepreneurs and microfinance and to render their programs more practice-oriented and applicable to the needs of the employment market,” she added. SBFIC has been working in the area of financial education since 2011, together with AMIR and its member MFIs/SACCOs and in close collaboration with local authorities.