Earlier this year, we were thrilled to award five grants as part of the Women Saving for Resilience Innovation Fund. The awards support ground-breaking COVID-19 response and recovery efforts related to Savings Groups, in the areas of women’s livelihoods, voice and leadership, violence against women, digital Savings Groups, crisis and emergency risk communications, access to finance, and clean energy. We sat down with our five recipients to find out a little more about their innovations and what they hope to achieve by this time next year:
DREAMSTART LABS | ELLESOLAIRE | GLOBAL COMMUNITIES
WORLD RENEW | ZOOLOGICAL SOCIETY OF LONDON
DreamStart Labs (DreamSave)
What’s your innovation? DreamStart Labs is an award-winning provider of digital savings group solutions. We will use funding from this grant to create two new technologies that build financial and social resilience for women. The first innovation will provide data-driven credit scores to millions of unbanked women in emerging markets, while the second will make it easy for NGOs to deliver in-app messages and surveys to hard-to-reach communities directly through our DreamSave app and DreamSave Insights platform.
What inspired you to come up with this idea? We were inspired to address two of the biggest challenges coming out of the pandemic. (1) Economic Agency: In an era of pandemics, natural disasters, and economic crises, women are often the most at risk financially. (2) Social Isolation: In times of crisis when women need social connection, information, and support the most, they are often more isolated than ever. We believe digital savings groups can address both challenges with higher impact at a fraction of the cost.
What is novel about this approach? Our first innovation will deliver the world’s first data-driven credit scores for savings groups. Members will have personal credit scores with tips to improve their financial health, while groups will have greater leverage with lenders. Our second innovation will make it easy for NGOs to deliver targeted messages and surveys quickly and efficiently. The next time members login to DreamSave, any new messages will appear directly in the app. Responses will be collected automatically and correlated with demographic and financial data from members, changing the game for data collection.
What do you hope to achieve by this time next year? We will pilot both new technologies with our strategic partner TechnoServe in Benin, working with savings groups from Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and local MFI partners. By this time next year, both new innovations will be part of our DreamSave product line and will be made available to all DreamStart Labs partners across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
What’s your innovation? ElleSolaire builds community-anchored partnerships with Women's Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) to empower women through clean energy entrepreneurship, lighting up health & maternity clinics that are currently in the dark. VSLA women are recruited, trained and become businesswomen in their own right, distributing cutting-edge energy solutions at affordable pricing plans to remote communities.
What inspired you to come up with this idea? With WHO reports that COVID-19 could infect 44 million people across the African continent, we were conscious of the severity of the threat. We became concerned about the weak healthcare infrastructure at the local level and the precarious livelihoods of our women entrepreneurs, 100% of whom reported COVID reducing both personal and collective income-generating opportunities. Responding to the crisis was a moral imperative for ElleSolaire, despite the financial risks.
What is novel about this approach? ElleSolaire is the first women-led PAYGO clean energy distribution network in West Africa. Not only are women stepping into the sales and technician roles, previously reserved for men, but what makes ElleSolaire truly unique is that partnering with rural VSLAs is at the core of our operational model. ES’s holistic solution to help lift rural women out of poverty has an innovative human-centered design approach offering both core capacity building and professional integration.
What do you hope to achieve by this time next year? By this time next year, ElleSolaire aims to significantly increase the number of people positively impacted by the work of women entrepreneurs from 97,000 to over 250,000. Economically, we hope to see incremental incomes and skills training is designed to socially empower participants. Health-wise, solar installations will ensure improved and safer healthcare for remote rural communities.
What’s your innovation? Our project centers around the creation of short, practical tools that will make digital solutions for savings groups more accessible to women who make up the majority of those groups. Women face well-documented barriers to digital inclusion, and it is critical for implementers to have the tools to recognize and address these barriers as they introduce digital products and solutions.
What inspired you to come up with this idea? Global Communities and Women for Women have first-hand experience introducing digital products to savings groups. Through these about unique aspects digitization projects must consider ensuring women truly benefit from these new technologies - that they add value for women members, not just make things more efficient for implementers and mobile money operators. That’s why we came up with this project to build tools to support gender-intentional digitization.
What is novel about this approach? This project builds upon lessons learned and research from around the development sector and focuses them on practical tools for savings group implementers. While digital tools and products have gained a lot of exposure and interest, especially during the pandemic, there’s not yet a practical set of guidelines and tools to support implementers and trainers as they digitize more aspects of group operations.
What do you hope to achieve by this time next year? By this time next year, we’ll have launched and distributed our Gender Intentional Digitization Toolkit that will be available to anyone who is considering or actively pursuing digital activities (digital ledgers, virtual trainings, mobile money, etc) with the savings groups they support.
What’s your innovation? The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down markets and impacted Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) groups’ ability to meet, contributing to a loss of livelihoods with greater impacts on women and girls. World Renew will build and strengthen 13 Cluster Level Associations (CLAs) in Uganda, to enhance the capacity of VSLAs to respond to the gendered impact of COVID-19, focusing on gender-based violence (GBV), voice and leadership, and access to markets.
What inspired you to come up with this idea? Since 2010, WR and PAG TESO have sustained over 50 VSLAs and have learned that when combined in clusters, these groups can leverage more resources and advocate better for women to build resilience in the face of pandemics. Witnessing lives transformed, hope restored in families, and positive results in empowering women inspired us to further strengthen these CLAs and create tools to share lessons learned with others.
What is novel about this approach? The project joins VSLAs in neighboring communities into formal community-based organizations to join efforts, knowledge, and experience. CLAs are platforms for advocacy, economies of scale, accessing resources, and increasing purchasing power. This innovative model provides a safety-net for women and their communities to strengthen their preparedness in the face of future emergencies. The project fills an existing evidence gap regarding the differential benefit to community resilience in Uganda from embedding VSLAs within the larger framework of CLAs.
What do you hope to achieve by this time next year? We hope to build the resilience of VSLAs and their members in times of crisis by improving access to resources, stakeholder capacity to engage in emergency response and preparedness efforts. Through gender intentional strategies, we plan to mitigate the negative health, economic and social impacts of the pandemic. Stay tuned for a toolkit on facilitating women’s empowerment through CLAs.
Zoological Society of London: Our Sea Our Life
What’s your innovation? Coastal communities in Mozambique are affected by rapid local changes: depleting marine resources and widespread poverty, further exacerbated by COVID-19 and gender equality. Our Sea Our Life aims to address the limited access to alternative food sources and economic opportunities, by supporting communities to adapt and building capacity for gender intentional responses with savings groups at the heart of our conservation approach.
This program brings together communities and government bodies to introduce Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs), enforced by local Community Fisheries Councils and national legislation.
What inspired you to come up with the idea? Our model is based on inclusivity and supporting sustainable livelihoods. Savings groups are key in empowering women to participate in marine resource management. The social cohesion created by the savings groups is what helps to catalyze our conservation work, has inspired us to work towards improving their capacity and meeting the needs of women in our partner communities.
What is novel about this approach? Our innovation improves the capacity of savings groups to effectively mitigate the disproportionate and multi-dimensional effects of COVID-19 on women. We achieve this through gender intentional strategies to secure economic empowerment, enable equitable benefits, and have an equal voice and influence in marine resource management. Our Sea Our Life has supported the establishment of over 50 savings groups since 2013, benefiting around 3,000 people (over 700 households), and their success demonstrates that access to finance through savings groups increases advocacy of marine conservation.
What do you hope to achieve by this time next year? We’re looking forward to piloting two inclusive conservation enterprises, underpinned by savings groups, with strategies informed by our research into the socio-cultural barriers for women and the gendered impacts of COVID-19. We hope this will enable and secure the socio-economic resilience of women in our partner communities and bivalve aquaculture groups, and incentivize inclusive and equitable market access.
Women Saving for Resilience (WS4R) is a two-year program funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and implemented by the SEEP Network in partnership with MarketShare Associates. Stay tuned for updates and deep dives with our innovators in the coming months!
If you’re interested in learning more about the Savings Groups approach to financial inclusion, please visit The Mango Tree – your global resource on Savings Groups.