If we were to encapsulate our efforts in Mpamba, Nkahata Bay across 2015, we’d say that we’ve been “sowing seeds”. Working shoulder to shoulder with community is central to our work and we recognise that this is not a process that can be rushed and forced into convenient timelines. It involves hearts and minds and there can be no genuine commitment and long-term sustainability without deep engagement. Across the last year our team has spent a great deal of time mobilising community leaders, convening community discussions , facilitating action planning and organising training programs.
The main focus for this region of 38 villages at present is to build a strong community bank, a SACCO (Savings and Credit Cooperative) in more formal terms. This is because community members themselves recognise that developing a culture of saving and havng access to affordable credit is vital if they are to improve their livelihoods and develop as a region. Over the last year we have heard many annecdotes about the operations of microfinance institutions in the area, from hasty departures to exploitative practices. This is why the idea of a community bank is so appealing. It is an opportunity for these rural communities to address the issue of financial inclusion on their terms, without being hostage to predatory lenders. Since members of these villages in Mpamba came together, we’ve been on the journey of supporting the establishment and growth of their own financial cooperative. An institution that allows all its members to save and access credit in proportion to the shares they purchase in the cooperative. As the byline of the cooperative now says “I am not just a customer, I own it”.
We’d like to take this opportunity to share some highlights over the last year. We’d also like to acknowledge the incredible support we’ve received from Reho Travel, an outstanding B-Corporation that has backed our efforts in Mpamba, Nkhata Bay from Day one! We would also like to thank Opportunity2Do for their support in providing the Timbiri SACCO with the startup capital that they needed.
Formation of a Community Board
One of the first steps we oversaw was the democratic election of a SACCO board that govern operations. We had an enthusiastic response and notably, had Elizabeth Phiri voted in as Treasurer.Poignant as she has experienced the challenge of access to capital and unethical lending institutions first hand. The board then developed a constitution and policy documents with the help of the Empower Team and the Malawi Union of Savings Cooperatives (MUSCO), the national body for financial cooperatives in the area.
Hiring Professional Staff
Tawina (L) was hired as the Bank Manager of the Timbiri SACCO while Vincent (R) was recruited as a Cashier/Administrative Officer to help the board (comprised of community members) manage day to day operations and build the capacity of both Directors and members. Both Tawina and Vincent have been central in developing a Business Plan for the SACCO and helping the Board organise marketing efforts to grow membership. The agreement between the Timbiri SACCO and Empower Malawi is that Tawina and Vncent’s salaries will be covered by the latter for a 2 year period, after which it will gradually transition towards being covered by the SACCO itself.
Mobilisation and Training Sessions
Empower Malawi and MUSCO have worked in concert with the Timbiri SACCO Board and management team to organise regular training sessions on the cooperative’s policies and procedures. As financial literacy is often low in these parts, we have taken care to ensure that there is adequate training and support to ensure that members are a) aware of the bank and its benefits b) know how to take advantage of what the bank has to offer.
The Timbiri SACCO has now grown its membership to 178. These members have consistently increased their level of savings in the cooperative and the SACCO is on the cusp of issuing its first round of business and agricultural loans in August.
Launching the Bank
Upon completion of the building, the Timbiri SACCO was officially launched in January 2016 with great ceremony. Local singers, dance troupes and theatre groups entertained the masses by the roadside as a local councillor cut the ribbon. The Timbiri SACCO is situated in the heart of the bustling Mpamba market centre and now enjoys a daily stream of customers making savings deposits or potential members making inquiries.
Another milestone that has been achieved is with respect to the Timbiri SACCO being a mobile money agent for local mobile carriers TNM and Airtel. Mobile money usage in Malawi is surging and being a mobile money agent means that the cooperative’s members can send and recieve money into their account via SMS. In fact members can now receive remmitances into their SACCO account from other African countries e.g. relatives. The Timbiri SACCO earns a small comission off of each of these transactions while offering customers the conveniene of mobile banking. A win win!
Impact to Date
The Timbiri SACCO’s membership has grown to 178 members and is just on the cusp of issuing its first wave of business/agricultural loans to members in August. Having said that, the SACCO has already had a considerable impact on households in Mpamba. For instance, in the picture above, Jacob Chirwa opened an account with the Timbiri Savings and Credit Cooperative as he finds it the most convenient and cost effective way to save surplus from his business at the marketplace selling bananas. Here he is ably assisted by the Office Assistant Ruth Nyimbiri.
An idea in workshops is now a reality. The Timbiri SACCO has now become a feature of development conversations in the region. We feel that the cooperative’s fundamentals are strong and are excited about tracking the cooperative’s impact on the wider community as it starts to issue loans to members this month. We feel confident of the fact that affordable access to capital will help improve the livelihoods of households across all 38 villages and look forward to sharing these stories with you. We anticipate that the good news will spread fast and that membership numbers at the SACCO will rise as more mmebers reap the benefits of loans. In fact, we anticipate the membership could double within the space of a few months!