John He’ai is a young father from Siwapo Village in South Malaita. Married with five children, John is in his mid-30s and has lived most of his life in the village.
He earns a living by selling fish and mud crabs, using the cash he earns to buy basic items needed for life in the village.
Life is good but like others in his community, John has found it challenging to meet family commitments such as school fees, the cost of transport to send family members to the nearest clinic, and meeting community obligations such as funeral expenses.
“Our interest in savings started when we heard stories from nearby villages about the benefit of their savings club. They said it helped to pay for school fees and medical expenses,” recalls John.
Today, not only is John a member of a savings club, he is the chairman of his community’s saving group, the Rauimamu Savings Club.
“Before joining the savings club, I would keep all my family’s money at home. But it didn’t work out. We ended up spending the money on anything that came up. I would spend it on alcohol.
“These days I’m not interested in alcohol. I now have a habit of wanting to save,” says John
Whenever he makes a bit of cash, selling fish and mud crabs, John makes a point of setting a portion of it aside; to be deposited into his savings club account.
His savings club meets every two weeks and John is conscious of the days and time, as arriving late or missing a meeting will incur a fine.
Since joining the club, John has attended several training sessions organized by World Vision tohelp villagers manage their personal finance, as well as strengthen the role of committee members.
Joining the group has made John feel secure. “The savings group helps me to keep my money safe and ready for emergencies. The only time I touch what I save is when I get a loan to make a big purchase,” John says.
Living so far from a commercial centre meansthat John doesn’t haveaccess to a bank. Even if he did have a bank account, the trip alone would cost himthe equivalent of a month’s fish sale.
“For us the Rauimamu savings group is our bank,” says John, proudly.
A savings culture
Since 2011, World Vision Solomon Islands with the support of the Australian Government has worked to improve the economic conditions and livelihood of 15 communities in Small Malaita through the Community Economic Development Project.
The creation of savings clubs has been a key part of the project and in 2015 World Vision partnered with the Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme to increase the spread of savings clubs beyond Small Malaita, and into South Malaita.
In early 2016, a mid-term evaluation of the CED project reported that the savings club scheme was an “outstanding success” in Small Malaita.
The evaluation on the 15 communities, found that before the start of the project only 17 percent of parents were able to save money. By 2016, at the time of the evaluation, the figure had increased to 97 per cent of parents.
Between January and June 2016 the cumulative value of savings groups reached SBD$110,173.
The evaluation found that 32 per cent of respondents also took part in World Vision’s financial training, which helped savings clubs members to manage finances.
To support savings clubs the project a number of Village Savings Agents were identified and trained.
One of the unintended benefits of savings club highlighted by the evaluation has been the dominant role of women in the savings clubs, of those representing households 52 per cent are women in comparison to 42 per cent of men and 6 per cent youth.