Working with Savings Groups During COVID-19

  • Date Posted: April 1, 2020
  • Authors: Emily Janoch
  • Document Types: Guidance
  • Donor Type: Non-Governmental Organization


Photo description: A Savings Group Shareout in Haiti. Credit: Emily Janoch/CARE 2016
Savings Group Shareout in Haiti. Photo Credit: CARE/Emily Janoch 2016

Savings groups are one of the most consistent and sustainable platforms for community programming across many sectors and contexts. Currently, there are more than 15 million members in savings groups in more than 73 countries around the world. About 8.4 million of these people are in CARE programs.

These groups are overwhelmingly made up of poor, rural women, and provide a critical engine for economic opportunity, a source of social solidarity, and a safety net for many families in vulnerable situations. These groups have proven that they are resilient and resourceful. Often, they are at the frontlines of their local response to crisis.

  • Women in Somalia savings groups organized $40 cash transfers to at-risk families during the 2015-2016 drought.
  • During a 2014 conflict in Congo, women organized houses, food, and jobs for refugees in need.
  • In Niger, communities decided to put the Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) groups in charge of all of the food aid distribution from the government because “it is obvious that they have more management capacity than us men, and are better able to maintain social cohesion,” according to the chief of the village.

COVID-19 poses crucial health and economic risks for savings groups as markets falter, mobility is restricted, and community gathering is restrained. Especially as the majority of members are women, they are likely to be primary caregivers in a health crisis, which puts them at special risk of additional burdens. Given the importance of savings groups in CARE’s work, and the scope of 8.4 million savings groups we have worked with since 1991, CARE is releasing this guidance immediately to support our teams. We are working with the SEEP network and others to craft industry-wide guidelines as soon as feasible.

CARE just released guidance to help implementers consider how best to support savings groups and their members during this crisis. The tips also address how to support savings groups as leaders of community-level response efforts and maintain safety nets. Our first priority must be Do No Harm and to protect the safety and health of all of the people we serve and our staff. At the same time, we need to support groups to find solutions that will allow them to continue the benefits from savings groups that are key safety nets in this crisis.

Immediate Actions – For All Stakeholders

  1. Protect group member health. Start every conversation with ensuring Do No Harm principles for all of the groups we work with. All staff members should adhere to WHO guidelines for personal protection against COVID-19, or the relevant guidance from the National Ministry of Health.
  2. Support groups to create adaptation plans. Groups are highly resourceful and the model itself is highly adaptable. The top priority should be to help groups understand the current crisis and its potential impacts (health, economic, social) and support them to develop adaptation plans. 
  3. Create contingency plans. Given the pace of COVID-19 spread, mobility restrictions may be put in place with very short notice and without the opportunity for groups to generate an adaptation plan. Start planning immediately for how to reach out in a restricted mobility scenario if quarantines come into force, including new communications mechanisms.

The guidance provides recommendations for savings group promoters, community-based trainers, and groups themselves to adapt their work so communities can respond to the current crisis.