Luong Thi Thuy saw the leap changes in the ethnic minority women who are members of Village Savings and Loan Association, or VSLA, groups, in her commune.
The money concern
Thuy, head of the Women’s Union of Bung Lao commune in Muong Ang district of Dien Bien province, was one of those taking part in rolling out the Reach to Excel project funded by Procter & Gamble.
She still remembered the early days in the summer of 2018. It was a challenge for herself and others to offer training for village women on the process, principles and operation of VSLAs. The women had little confidence in the saving and mutual support that this platform promised them. They also felt confused about how to hand over their own savings to group management.
It took one month for Thuy to set up 14 VSLA groups with over 300 members. Still being hesitant and cautious, most groups decided to denominate each share at 20,000 dong, or nearly 90 pennies.
Thuy knew so well the concerns. Despite the need for cash to buy fertilisers and breeds or pay school fees or hospital bills, many did not have the habit of saving and managing family expenditures. Seeing the benefits of VSLAs, she herself joined two groups. Two birds with one stone. She could save more while increasing the confidence of others when they see her leading by example.
Moreover, when joining VSLA meetings as a member, Thuy had a closer look into the issues the group leaders and members faced. They ranged from bookkeeping to loan tracking and interest payment. That was why she worked closely with group leaders to guide members on such issues. She also supported group leaders in facilitating discussions on gender topics in VSLA meetings.
Using internet for effective group management
Thuy made use of the availability and accessibility of internet in the area. She created a chat group named “ZALO – VSLA Bung Lao” via Zalo, a Vietnamese social media platform.
In this group, Thuy and others can all respond quickly to questions and share experiences across 14 VSLA groups. The group leaders use this same channel to send her updates about the number of members, shares, and loans after each meeting. In this way, it became easier for Thuy to monitor the activities of all groups.
In the first cycle, i.e. 12 months, the 14 groups saved 472 million dong, or slightly over 2,000 USD. Little as it may seem, it was a breakthrough because it set up a whole new habit of saving among all members. In addition, each group, with 25 member each on average, provided the space for the women to share and learn from each other about farming, animal husbandry, and any life lessons. Thuy talked with pride about how the meetings became part of the life here.
Engaging men in saving activities
Men are interested in VSLAs, too. Several groups have men members while in some others, men come to meetings on behalf of their wives when the latter are busy elsewhere. The VSLA model, according to Thuy, also creates the chance for women to help each other out via loans.
Now convinced about the benefits, from the second cycle, many groups raised the share value to 30-50 thousand dong, or 1.3-2.1 USD, per share. Every one hopes to see a bigger amount of saving by the end of the year.
For her part, Thuy wants to see the groups maintain their meetings beyond the project life. She also plans to set up new groups in all villages in her commune and others in Dien Bien so that more women benefit from the Village Savings and Loan Associations.
The Reach to Excel project was implemented to support the economic empowerment of ethnic minority women in Hoa Binh, Son La, Dien Bien and Bac Kan provinces. Click here to learn more about the project.