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Burkina Faso: Mutual savings groups, a financial alternative for women in Hauts-Bassins

Zenabo Soré is a resident of sector 25 in Bobo Dioulasso, the economic capital of Burkina Faso. She has been a member of a local pari-mutuel, or “mutual savings group,” for nine years.

She explains: “I contribute 500 FCFA ($0.90 US) to the group each day. At the end of the month I am entitled to 15,000 CFA ($27 US).”

Thanks to this sum, Ms. Soré says she is proud to be able to pay for her daughter’s education.

Women’s mutual savings groups are common in the Hauts-Bassins region of Burkina Faso. Three types of groups operate in this region, depending on the needs of the members.

The first is a simple savings group in which the members make daily contributions of a set amount to the fund manager, who is called Maman Tontine, or “Mama Money.” The group runs on a verbal contract between the fund manager and each member, with the contributions collected and tracked by the fund manager. At the end of each month, Mama Money subtracts her commission from each member’s savings – equal to one day’s contribution – and pays each member the remainder of her sum.

A second type of group allows women to save enough to purchase a given product. Each customer who wishes to participate pays a daily sum to a given merchant. Once the customer has contributed the equivalent of the price of the merchandise, the merchant gives them the product.

The third type of group allows for women to access informal loans.  In it, each woman makes a monthly contribution to the group. One month’s savings is then lent to each member in turn, either in full to one member or divided between several members at a time. The loans serve as working capital for each woman’s activities, and are paid back in full over time.

Patricia Sanon, now a fund manager herself, sells handbags, shoes, and clothing in Bobo Dioulasso. She saves between 2,000 FCFA ($3.60 US) and 5,000 FCFA ($8.90 US) per day as part of a simple savings group, depending on her daily income. She says she prefers simple savings groups over lending groups because of a bad experience.

She explains: “I was once in a lending group where the monthly contribution was 20,000 FCFA ($35 US). But often, when it is your turn to receive funds, you do not.”

Mrs. Sanon continues to explain that sometimes with such high stakes lending groups, the fund manager disappears with the money, or some members refuse to repay their loans.

With the savings from her simple savings group, Mrs. Sanon is able to continue her business.

If the savings groups are beneficial for the members, they are even more so for the fund managers. Fatimata Somda sells clothing in Bobo Dioulasso, and has been a Maman Tontine since 2014.

She says,”When I started out, I had ten members, but today I have over a hundred. My status as Maman Tontine guarantees me at least 150,000 FCFA ($265 US) per month.”

This income allows Mrs. Somda to support both her husband and her parents.

But being Maman Tontine comes with its challenges too. On a few occasions, Mrs. Somda has lost money due to unpaid loans.

Despite these difficulties, Mrs. Somda says her group helps women pursue their economic activities.

She explains: “The group contributes a lot to mutual aid and solidarity between women in my community, as long as there is mutual trust between them. ” She adds that some women use the credit to pay off their formal loans.

Dahanatou Djerni is Maman Tontine to a group of 30 people. The commissions from her group allow her to meet her household needs while her husband practices artisanal gold panning. Mrs. Djerni collects between 25,000 and 50,000 FCFA ($44-88 US) per month in commissions.

Thanks to mutual savings groups like these, the women of Hauts-Bassins, Burkina Faso, are able to save for their needs and support one another. Given the option of formal banking, many prefer their local pari-mutuel.

This resource is undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada.

Photo: Women discuss Guinea Fowl in Bognayili, Ghana in 2019. Credit: Nina LaFlamme.