Coping with COVID-19: The Experience of Savings Groups in Nigeria

November 23, 2020

This post was originally posted on CARE's website here.

Background & Key Insights 

In Nigeria, the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was declared on February 27th, 2020. In September 2020, CARE surveyed savings groups in the Yobe, Jigawa and Bauchi states of Nigeria. Over 200 respondents (mostly women) shared their community experiences throughout the COVID-19 response. Majority of respondents reported family livelihood, access to food, and nutrition as the area most affected by COVID-19. In spite of these challenges, savings groups are also initiating innovative adaptations to survive the pandemic. 52% of male respondents and 42% of women respondents reported groups using mobile banking strategies for savings to reduce person to person contact. Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) are contributing to community and individual resilience by using social funds for member support throughout the pandemic. VSLA members have joined community groups, participated in COVID-19 prevention activities, and bolstered outreach initiatives to share health messages which complemented CARE’s COVID-19 response in providing water and soap to members. 

Viamo Engagement

CARE partnered with mobile service provider VIAMO to ensure program participant access to the right information on the spread of the virus and how to cope with shocks to livelihoods. VIAMO worked with CARE’s country teams to push SMS messages over a period of 4-12 weeks, to disseminate messages on the spread of COVID19, the importance of social distancing and handwashing, as well as key messages on GBV, food security and adapting VSLA meetings. Through this partnership, CARE and VIAMO also implemented mobile based surveys to gather data on how VSLA members are coping with COVID-19 and if/how they are adapting their VSLA meetings and what their most immediate needs are. 

Preliminary Results

239 respondents (70% women) completed the mobile survey and provided crucial insight on how COVID-19 is affecting VSLA members lives and households. Moving forward, the CARE Nigeria team will bolster these insights with an additional round of mobile surveys and targeted qualitative studies to understand the specific needs of VSLA members across Nigeria and to develop programmatic responses that help them with positively coping with the COVID-19 crisis. 
COVID-19 Prevention Communication. Group and community members have been receiving COVID-19 information from a variety of sources including the local government through platforms such as radio messaging. Survey respondents reported that messages and calls from CARE are the top sources of information for approximately 5,000 people in their communities. VSLA weekly meetings were also used to pass along this information for prevention efforts. Once equipped with this information, VSLA members have taken it upon themselves to spread messages about social distancing and the transmission of the virus to their community members. 
Impact of COVID-19 on Personal and Family Lives. 53% of respondents (50% for women; 61% for men) reported livelihood, food, and nutrition as the top area where COVID-19 has personally impacted them through job loss and access to food. This aligned with a high number of reports of COVID-19 impacting livelihood, food, and nutrition within their family life as well (61% for women; 54% for men). In most cases, Nigerian VSLA members experienced the economic effect of COVID-19 prior to the direct health effects.  
There were also some gendered differences between the impact of COVID-19 for VSLA members. More women respondents raised concern on safety in addition to both personal physical and mental health impacts when compared to men. On the other hand, men respondents expressed more concern on impacts to their education and access to information.  

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Bar graph depicting the personal and family impacts of COVID-19 on Nigerian VSLA members disaggreagated by gender
Figure 1. The Personal and Family Impacts of COVID-19

Group Adaptations. The leadership of each group in most locations (LGAs) formed a cluster group representing all the VSLA groups. During COVID-19, the cluster meets and decides on ways forward while also meeting with Government Authorities on behalf of VSLAs to bring information back to their respective groups. 
At the time of the survey, 35% of the 239 savings groups respondents had not changed the way they meet. These groups were able to maintain their normal schedule as not all areas of the country have continued widespread restrictions on movement and gatherings. For groups that have instituted a complete halt to meetings, most are located in areas of the country that remain under total lockdown. Through the survey, respondents report that saving groups that continue meetings enforce social distancing, hand washing, the use of hand sanitizer and face masks.  
VSLA groups are continuing to be resilient in the face of the pandemic as 70% are still saving and 47% are still administering loans. Groups formed by CARE have supported members by using their social funds to provide food to members in need during lockdowns. Through the use of group social funds, 42% of VSLAs are supporting their members. Additionally, 15% of VSLAs have bolstered member access to hygiene materials and PPE by providing more when those materials are locally out of stock or members have run out within their own households. Additionally, groups aided in providing running water to members to increase hand washing. Even though group savings have affected by this crisis, VSLAs are surviving the shocks and damages caused by the pandemic through adaptation and adherence to COVID guidelines. 

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Pie graph depicting how COVID-19 has affected saving methods for savings groups
Figure 2. The Adjustments of Savings Groups to COVID-19