Fostering women empowerment and integration through savings groups

Integration in a new society can be hard for anyone, especially for migrants who arrive in a country where most of the time, they have no family nor networks while still have to look for ways to provide a better future for themselves and their family left at their countries of origin. For women this is even more difficult. The challenges women usually face to be economically empowered and access the labor market are exacerbated when they find themselves in a migrant situation. Women suffer from adaptation and integration issues and encounter extra challenges to a social and economic integration into their new society.

Financial empowerment and inclusion are important areas on the way to integration, especially for those that have lost their personal networks and financial background when coming to Europe, while at the same time having difficult access to financial services, including loans due to the lack of information and personal background. In the specific case of Europe, one way to foster integration and women empowerment among migrants is through the creation of saving groups to provide access to small amounts of money to help women manage their daily lives and therefore, achieve financial independence.

What is a saving group and how does it work?

Imagine a small box. Now imagine a group of people who regularly meet to place their individual savings into that box. These shared savings serve as a fund for those who need access to small loans, needed to pay for household repairs, unexpected bills, to transfer money back home or even to get a small business off the ground. The fund helps members deal with small emergencies or realize economic opportunities.

This simple savings concept is called a “self-managed saving group” and has proven successful around the globe, especially when women are the driving force behind the savings. But a saving group is not only about saving money to achieve financial independence. It is about creating a social network and building trust among the members. Saving groups also provide self-financial education, promoting the savings concept among the members which will encourage each other to maintain financial discipline to meet their savings obligations

How can we foster empowerment and integration among immigrant women through saving groups?

The creation of saving groups can be an important instrument that empowers women to exert their financial rights, as well as start to make financial choices to improve their livelihoods in a sustainable manner. The instrument is not new: Women around the world, especially the ones belonging to vulnerable groups, use saving groups to manage their finances to help them get ahead financially and make choices that improve their lives, which most likely translate in the long run into access to better opportunities and active social and economic participation in their society. In Guatemala for example Las Azucenas is a saving group formed by 35 women who save together for non-business expenses and use the saved money to cover emergencies and unexpected expenses in their daily lives. In Europe, a group of women in Spain, created a saving group not only with the purpose of saving money together but with the aim of creating a support network to help them develop ideas on how to improve their financial and personal lives. These women have now a better access to financial services and feel themselves as active members of their society.

As in Spain and in Guatemala, the model is now introduced to Germany to tackle an integration issue: to address the acute challenges arising from the refugee crisis in Germany, and the need for innovative concepts for financial integration that empowers refugees to integrate more easily, SavingBuddies was founded by people from different countries, some of them with migrant backgrounds themselves. It currently focuses on supporting refugees, especially women, who want to launch savings and loan groups, and organises trainings on financial and economic integration and counselling.

Authors: Johanna Klein & Julia Pérez both based in Berlin, are driven by the wish to create more local social Impact. They partnered with other consultants to create SavingBuddies, an initiative promoting financial independence through the creation of saving groups.