Mpamba is a bustling trading centre in the Nkhata Bay District of Malawi. It is close to the port town of Nkhata Bay. Our work with villagers in Mpamba started as a result of the local community expressing a desire to address the issue of financial services. These low income households, which largely rely on subsistence farming, require financial services to improve farming productivity and/or establish local enterprises. Furthermore, households would often save money within their homes, where they were prone to theft. The problem back in 2016 was that households were often excluded from the local financial system due to a lack of collateral for credit (valuable assets), or prone to predatory microfinance organisation (exhorbitant interest rates).
In response, households across 38 villages in the region pledged to work with us to establish a community-owned financial cooperative. This is a community bank that is regulated by the ReserveBank of Malawi, as well as a union for financial cooperatives (MUSCO). It is an institution operated by a community board, where each member is a part owner and received dividends (profit share) in proportion to how much they have saved with the bank. This bank was established in 2016 and is known as the Timbiri Savings and Credit Cooperative.
Our partnership with villages in Mpamba has primarily been focused on establishing the Timbiri Savings and Credit Cooperative and supporting its journey towards becomiga respected, self-sustainingcommunity institution. This has involved a commitment to the following across ourfive yearpartnership (2016-2021):
- Providing seed funding for the establishment of the financial cooperative.
- Comprehensive training and support to establish the requisite policies to establish a financial cooperative.
- Facilitating the democratic election of a community board, and hiring a management team to manage dayto day operations.
- Ongoing professional development the community board + management team to ensure effective compliance and forward planning for sustainability. This support is gradually phased out as we reach year 4 and 5 of our partnership.
- Financial support for initiatives to improve household financial literacy in Mpamba.
- With over 550 members as of 2019, the Timbiri Savings and Credit Cooperative has had a positive impact on households in the Mpamba region. In 2017, the cooperative opened a second branch on Likoma Island, a small island situated in Lake Malawi. Community members from this island had no access to financial services on the island and had to previously spend all day on a ferry to access such services on the mainland. As of 2019, the usage of the cooperative’s services on Likoma Island have started to outpace efforts on the mainland!
- Approximately 45% of members are women. In addition to providing access to capital for a range of local farmers and entrepreneurs, the cooperative has also provided households with a safe space to deposit their savings and earn interest. Loan sizes aretypically betweeen $100-200 in the interest rates are set by the Reserve Bank of Malawi. Refer to the stories of Rose Odala and Elizabeth Phiri as examples of the significant positive impacts that access to finance has enabled in the lives of women in the region.
- The bank has had four AGMs, bringing in some new board members each time. The cooperative has also had a positive record of featuring women on the board (a requirement for our support). Our observation has also been that there is a now a broad pool of community members who have a deep understanding of how the cooperative model works, and what constitutes best practice.Thefact that the cooperative’s slogan proudly declares “I am not just acustomer, I own it” perfectly captures the pride and accountability that comes with the organisation being community owned and led.
- The cooperative has also been able to conduct some local philanthropy in the form of donating seedlings for a tree planting program at the local primary school. This was complemented by training in care, and an initiative where each student took to plant at home.