Financial empowerment is a transformative journey that leads individuals and communities to gaining economic independence and security. It is the key to opening the doors to a brighter, more prosperous future!

Let us head to the small village of Lamu, along the Kenyan coast, where a model for economic empowerment and poverty reduction known as Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) has gained in popularity. Its goal? Supporting small-scale fishing businesses and improving the livelihoods of the fisher communities, especially for local women.

Overcoming challenges

Problems like overfishing, the growing menace of climate change, and the financial isolation – caused by a limited access to banking services – have for long negatively impacted the lives of the fisher communities in coastal Kenya, leaving them highly vulnerable to poverty.

Fortunately, thanks to the VSLAs, these challenges are being addressed. Community members created a platform to help them pool their resources and save money.

Imagine a joint piggy bank – everyone chips in a little each week or month, and these savings are then lent to those who need it most. It’s a lifeline for people wishing to start businesses, expand their existing ones, or meet essential needs like education and healthcare. Sometimes, the members also take out loans to pay school fees for their children or cover medical expenses.

Women at the helm 

The women of Lamu are the ones who’ve taken advantage of the VSLAs most effectively. They also received financial management training, helping them handle money better and become smarter about their finances.

This led them to form their own groups, steering the community towards economic growth. The groups, which are self-managed, give members access to credit so that they can grow their businesses.

The VSLA project came to life thanks to the support of WWF-Kenya, with an impressive sum of 45 Million Kenyan Shillings, acquired through various projects, including the European Union-funded KECOFISH project. Since its introduction in 2016, over 400 women and approximately 75 men have benefited from the initiative.

Harvesting hope 

In addition to a flourishing system that empowered them financially, the resilient women of Lamu have ventured into farming. They decided to acquire a parcel of land where they grow valuable crops such as spinach, kale, onions, and tomatoes. With the profits gained from selling these crops, they were able to navigate through medical emergencies and clear school fees.

Like many other women, Ms. Hawa Mohammed, the Chairperson of the Kashmir Tafakur Village Savings and Loans Association, can joyfully declare, “Some of our members are single mothers who struggled to secure bank loans. Since the establishment of our VSLA in the village, our members have been able to grow their financial revenue streams by launching businesses such as grocery stores, M-Pesa shops, and Henna parlours. Some members have built their own houses and many others are able to educate their children.” 

From humble beginnings to a horizon filled with possibilities, the VSLAs have contributed to the financial empowerment of the inhabitants of fisher communities, making a remarkable difference in their lives.