The Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) is a successful practice implemented across Rural Smiles Foundation programs that stimulates the creation of saving groups within communities. Savings groups are self-managed groups of 15 to 25 people who meet regularly to save their money in a safe space, access small loans, and obtain emergency insurance.
Since January 2023, the VSLA model has played an important role supporting more than 100 group members — the majority of whom are women — to increase access to and control over their resources. Complemented with tools that engage men, community members, and market actors, VSLA participants gain increased influence over decisions in their homes and beyond.
VSLAs, often independently of Rural Smiles Foundation, routinely support each other to set up small businesses, negotiate fair prices in the marketplace, advocate for gender equality in their communities, and pursue public office.
The VSLA model can also be adapted for emergencies which, when combined with cash and voucher assistance, can support improved outcomes for crisis-affected populations.
Rural Smiles Foundation’s VSLAs allow the most vulnerable to efficiently save and invest small amounts of money to grow a new business. By 2040, Rural Smiles Foundation aims to support 5 million women and girls to use this community-led micro savings practice. These saving programs give women and girls vital financial skills to build their businesses by providing training in savings, loans, and financial literacy.
Rural Smiles Foundation’s VSLAs pilot program in Uganda, for example, was designed to improve the ability of women in VSLAs to access finance by addressing household social norms. This was done through household dialogues, which helped to increase women’s agency and shift social norms that were limiting their economic rights, including their control over household income. By the end of the project, almost three quarters of women met their financial goals and 81% had seen a change in their husband’s behavior.
“We never planned together. Financial decisions were mainly done by my husband and I was fully responsible for all the housework.” That was what life was like for Joyce before she and her husband, Patrick, took part in household dialogues facilitated by Rural Smiles Foundation. Now, Patrick says he has changed: “I respect my wife and we share responsibilities and roles in our home.