By Johanna Ryan, Operational Effectiveness Director, VisionFund International
“What is your vision for 2020?” I asked Claudine. “I want,” she says, “even the poorest in the community to afford motorcycles, and the wealthiest to afford cars.”
I was standing in a group of about 20 people, on top of a steep hill in southern Rwanda – the vibrant green of the young crops almost glowing in the sunshine against the red soil – to hear from our clients the effect of taking a business loan from VisionFund Rwanda. The savings group had been set up some six years previously by the organization CARE and had ‘graduated’ to the formal finance sector – ready to fund their burgeoning but small agriculture-based businesses.
At 25 years of age, Claudine is the leader of the savings group made up of men and women, older and younger. Articulate, sure of herself, always smiling, Claudine has the bearing of a humble version of a Forbes Entrepreneur of the Year. Perhaps it is this assured manner that is behind her repeated election as the leader of this diverse group. Claudine’s entrepreneurial endeavors are small-scale, but no less impressive for that.
Supported by VisionFund Rwanda, Claudine led the group to take its first loan of $600, and they are now on their fourth loan of $1,350, with a perfect repayment history. The group receives training and members advise one another, making the group stronger and members closer . The training, says Claudine, “opened our minds. ”
Claudine used her first loan to buy two goats, and by selling their offspring she was able to buy a cow, earning money from the sale of milk and fertilizer. After repaying the loan, she had enough profit from her small business to lay a cement floor in her house. Now, she says that she and her daughter have good clothes and can afford medical care when they need it.
Rwanda is known as the ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’, every one of which appears to be cultivated, no matter how steep. With typically less than one hectare of land per family, the 90 per cent of the population who are farmers are not able to produce enough food to feed their families. They need supplementary businesses if they are to have any hope of improving their lives and educating their children.
Claudine’s story – and indeed other experiences from the group – bears out recent World Bank research that shows when women control more household income, children benefit as a result of more spending on food and education. Indeed, the Gates Foundation’s recent newsletter notes that women spend 90% of their income on their families. And, the newsletter continues, if daughters are educated, as mothers they are more than twice as likely to educate their children – they in turn are likely to have fewer children who are in better health.
Another member of the group tells me she was struggling to save 100 Rwandan Francs (15 US cents) a week before the capital injection from VisionFund. Now she says, “We can save up to 1000 Francs! We were begging before; we were not even able to buy salt.” I asked to see her savings record, and there it was: the small but oh-so-beautiful security for her children. “I don’t worry as much as I used to.”
Such small numbers, such a grand effect. It’s the difference between eating to survive, and eating as a communal pleasure. It’s the difference between none or all of the children being educated.
Another member of the savings group is Donatila, who at 60 years old is just beyond her life expectancy in Rwanda. Encouraged by the crowd to speak up and tell her story, she says that before the loan from VisionFund she “had nothing.” Her husband had left her with seven young children, and now, having invested in sorghum trading, she is able to send them to school, and buy good food, “like salt and onions.”
Donatila’s vision for 2020? She wants her children to grow up to be mayors, governors and members of parliament, the boys as well as the girls.