Posted April 12th 2011 at 10:45 am by
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Creating a Saving Culture in Colombia: A Key Strategy to Defeat Poverty

I have been working nonstop for more than 15 years to improve my house and ensure a future for my children. That’s how I’ve won the admiration and respect of my community. I always say to women: Be economically independent, don’t rely on your relastionship and don’t let people degrade you. You can’t stay ignorant. You must wear the boots, the overalls and the gloves every day, because with the current situation no job position is ensured. With hard work, this training and your ideas for a business, you will emerge triumphant.

There is a strong will to defeat poverty, but poverty is not only economic; it is also intellectual.

— Ilsa Victoria Rivas

 

This is how Ilsa Victoria Rivas, leader of the Mujeres Ahorradoras en Acción (MAA) and a survivor of domestic violence, writes about her experience with the program.

Mujeres Ahorradoras en Acción is a program that offers banking opportunities to low-income women, taking into account the importance of savings as a safety net against poverty. ACCIÓN SOCIAL, the Colombian government agency responsible for social programs, founded MMA. The Colombian National Government developed MAA because poverty and inequality are among the biggest problems in Colombia.

MAA is based on the premise that the lack of savings among the most vulnerable families represents a backward step on the road to overcoming poverty.  Any unexpected event can severely diminish quality of life for a struggling family. Moreover, families with no access to the formal credit system often turn to more expensive informal options, eliminating their chances to invest their money wisely and reverse the inter-generational cycle of poverty.

We at ACCIÓN SOCIAL decided to engage economically vulnerable women, such as single mothers who have been displaced or are living in poverty, in a comprehensive financial training program with a gender-sensitive approach. The women gain access to the financial system, incentives to build a saving culture, micro-insurance, business capitalization and the development of their individual capabilities.

34,699 women in 115 municipalities in Colombia have been trained to embrace this saving culture. The savings were matched in a process of affiliation to micro financial services, such as life insurance, and to the banking system.

In fact, it was the risks households face due to lack of insurance on their savings that led us to consider the importance of promoting access to the formal financial system. That is why ACCIÓN SOCIAL’s programs and initiatives, such as MAA, are currently leading a revolutionary process of affiliation to the banking system for low-income families. Currently, 100% of the MAA participants have low cost savings accounts, which together add up to 5 million U.S. dollars in formal savings, while 78% of the money has been invested in their businesses.

The concept of saving implemented in this initiative goes beyond keeping money in a piggy bank; it deals with all aspects of life. Through this broad concept, we’ve proved possible the creation of efficient distribution systems among households with economic difficulties. But above all, we’ve proved that besides structural social gaps, there are barriers related to the way in which people manage their personal finances.

Furthermore, the most significant results of the project have run parallel to the amount of savings: the participants of the initiative have witnessed unexpected transformations in their selves, their families and their communities. Now, through a process of social and economic empowerment, these women have leadership roles they never thought possible.

My experience working with the MAA project has made me realize that poverty is more complex than a lack of economic resources. I have come to understand, and advocate for, the non-quantifiable social changes brought by this kind of initiative. All in all, offering women the opportunity to save and invest is the pivotal factor in ensuring long lasting and sustainable results in the struggle to defeat poverty.

Post by Diego Andrés Molano Aponte, Colombian High Presidential Commissioner for Social Action and International Cooperation.

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