From its modern beginnings with Grameen Bank, microfinance has focused on women. This made so much sense: they were traditionally underserved and financially disadvantaged, had clearer financial priorities, and were better risks. Savings groups as well have
focused particularly on women in most parts of the world, again for very good reasons.
But a recent visit to rural South West Uganda helped me to understand that this
is not the ideal situation. It helps to explain why the livelihoods innovation grant team of which I am a part has started seeing requests for grants to help with increasing the number of men in savings groups.
The (mostly Ugandan) team that I was privileged to join met with a number of people who were members of three different savings groups.
Two of the groups were almost entirely women: one group of 34 had just 2 men, and another of more than 40 had only one man. When asked what the impact of this was, the married women agreed that the absence of their husbands from the groups meant that they
needed to carry the full load of financial management. In some cases, their husbands would demand the proceeds of loans, or of savings redistributions at the end of a cycle. While the women had learned some good skills from the groups, especially when tied
to Conservation Agriculture methods, they had not seen relational improvements at home.
Another group we visited in a different area on the border with Rwanda showed a marked contrast. In this case, the savings group had grown organically out of HIV/AIDS awareness programs, particularly in couples groups. As a result nearly half of the members
were men, and where a household was headed by a married couple, it was typical for both the man and the woman to be active members. We were told by this community that they had experienced considerable change in the areas of joint decision-making, household
harmony and reductions in domestic violence.
While both communities shared some remarkable stories of economic transformation, only the group with many men also shared stories of harmony and peace in the household (which also translated far more fully into the community as a whole, as was very apparent
in our community-wide meetings).
Our conclusion, and the conclusion of the communities we visited, is not so much that we need to encourage men to be members of a savings group instead of their wives. The most successful groups may be those that have a healthy number of couples, in addition
to the men and women who head single-parent households. How can this be done?
We asked how the group with couples came about. The community has for the past 3 years had a number of groups (men, women, couples, youth) focused on HIV/AIDS education and prevention. In the couples group, they concluded that it was poverty that was seriously
increasing the spread of HIV/AIDS, since the very poor men were going far away to find money, and returning infected. As they brainstormed with their NGO partners how the men could be encouraged to stay at home, the idea of a savings group was raised and adopted
with enthusiasm. Hence the group grew organically from an existing community-owned initiative, and it was natural for both of a couple to participate. This led to joint economic decision-making in many households, and thus bypassed a lot of the money-driven
Communities that have any couples-driven iniatives may wish to explore savings groups emerging from those initatives (whether healthcare, agriculture, business development or educational groups). What other ideas do you have for encouraging more male participation?
Graham Seel is a financial services consultant who volunteers with World Renew in the area of Improving Livelihoods. The content of this blog, and associated comments, reflects his personal views and is not reflective of the Norman Group, World Renew,
the CRCNA, or any of its partners.
 World Renew evaluation of its local partner PAG South West Uganda
 All the groups used variants of the Village Savings and Loans model initiated
by CARE International