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Using Technology to Boost Women’s Economic Power

Over the years, digital technology has significantly transformed how we work, communicate, and access information. But due to inequitable access to technology, lack of education, low income, and socio-cultural barriers on how women utilize technology, many women and girls are left behind. The DreamSave app is trying to change that. 

As part of our Stronger Women Stronger Nations program, Women for Women International brings women in groups of 25 and assists them in establishing Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) groups to help them save up their money since they do not have access to formal financial services. Many of them are engaged in small-scale farming, microbusinesses, and trading. 

VSLA group Nigeria
Zumunci members during a weekly meeting. Credit: WfWI.

In 2018, 25 women from Barkin Ladi community in Northern Nigeria came together and formed a VSLA group called “Zumunci” meaning togetherness. Led by Rahila Mathews, the aim of VSLA is to pool their savings and provide access to affordable loans with reasonable interest rates for its members, primarily to support income-generating activities, meet their household needs and diversify their businesses. Members meet weekly. They openly share how much money has been collected and who will be given the loan. Members can cash out the original investment and any interest earned at the end of the year and can choose to reinvest the money. 

“When we started the VSLA, it required a lot of effort. It was difficult for members to buy a single share at meetings. However, training on the importance of consistent savings and the establishment of savings objectives at cash out significantly improved the situation.” says Rahila. 

VSLA is not a complex financial concept, but it makes a difference in the lives of women in Nigeria. Determined to bring positive change, the women contributed N200 weekly to their savings. Since the start of their group, they have increased their share value from N200 to N300 per share. The results were even more impressive during the second cycle, when the group cashed out 771650 Naira, which is equivalent to $1,100. What is phenomenal about the group is that it is a locally driven model wherein the women amongst themselves elect a chairperson, treasurer, and a secretary to manage the funds and keep detailed records of all transactions, loans, and interests. 

As the members' savings grew, they started getting loans which support a variety of income-generating activities, including agriculture, small business investment, livestock acquisition, and home construction. The members have access to loans at lower interest rates than financial institutions, enabling them to save and invest for the future.  

"One year after joining the group, I have expanded my farm and am now involved in irrigation farming, which was not previously part of my farming practice."

– Rahila Mathews, group chairperson. 

digital VSLA
Rahila Mathews, Zumunci’s chairperson explores the DreamSave app on a mobile phone. Credit: WfWI.

In 2022, Zumunci was selected to participate in the digital savings learning pilot in Plateau State, Nigeria, and their savings only grew by leveraging digital technology. With members cashing out N2,041,800.00, which is equivalent to 3,000 US dollars. 

Using the app was not without its challenges initially. Most Zumunci members did not have smartphones and had never used one before. Once they had access to a smartphone provided by WfWI, they had to be trained on how to use it. But they caught on quickly by enlisting the help of others in their community. The app also has user-friendly features, such as animal sounds initially used to represent various goals set by members and would be played on loud sound. These simplified features made it easier for members to understand what was being done and how the application worked.  

With the digital app, Zumunci members could easily track their activities from the convenience of their homes. The app provides tools for goal setting, record keeping, attendance, loan repayment dates, fines notification and encourages competitive membership efforts to save.  

Dreamsave VSLA
Zumunci’s group secretary, Jossy, shows one of the members how to use the app. Credit: WfWI.

The DreamSave application is specially designed for rural communities; it considers local requirements and constraints by giving women the proper learning opportunities. Having access to smartphones and using the app has enhanced participants’ digital skills, communications, economic growth, and productivity.  

The app has not only improved the groups’ financial well-being but also fostered a sense of collective progress. It demonstrates the potential for technology to empower rural communities and create lasting social economic change. This app is a digital solution that has the power to bridge the technology gap, unlocking a world of opportunities for women. 

A woman, Cinama, stands and smiles proudly. Behind her is a foundation of bricks
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