Finnish Embassy representative visits savings groups

Jesse Maarit-Laitinen of the Finnish Embassy visited two SaveAct-trained Savings and Credit Groups in KwaZulu-Natal in 2010. She took time after her visit to share some of her observations.

Jesse_thumb_croppedThe SaveAct model “seems to move people from passive consumers towards active participants” and “mobilises local capacity”.

These were some of the observations made by Jesse Maarit-Laitinen (pictured right), Programme Officer for the Finnish Embassy, after a recent two-day visit to SaveAct-trained savings and credit groups in KwaZulu-Natal.

The Finnish Embassy has been a SaveAct donor partner since 2009. Maarit-Laitinen, who is based in Cape Town, said the intention behind the visit to SaveAct in May was to monitor progress, talk to beneficiaries of the programme and learn more about the SaveAct model in practice.

During the limited time available, Maarit-Laitinen was able to visit the Table Mountain area where she spoke to members of the Masimbambane SCG about their experiences. She then travelled to the Underberg area (see picture below) where she met with the Ikusasalethu SCG/Lotheni Family Literacy Project group (a combined group as a result of the partnership between SaveAct and FLP) and was able to witness a scheduled SCG meeting. Maarit-Laitinen said both groups she visited were enthusiastic about the SaveAct model. “It was clear that they valued it, and saw it as addressing their core problems,” she said.

jesse_9She said she was struck by how tightly bonded group members seemed to be, displaying visible signs of trust and support among each other.  She likened this trust to “social capital”, which she believed might be the desirable product of keeping the size of the groups relatively small.

Maarit-Laitinen also commented on the sense of agency that the programme seemed to instil in its participants. “I got a sense that the improved access to credit and savings reward at the end of the year had brought optimism and a feeling of ‘I can improve my life’. This is true empowerment.”She said she believed that the SaveAct model represented a “first crucial first step” towards sustainable livelihoods.

“It seems to change people from passive consumers to take more active role in improving their lives. I am hoping that the mental and financial benefits will lead to more ambition and ideas,” she said.

“As the SaveAct model has shown, the core problem is not the amount or lack of resources at the rural communities.  It is rather the lack of services and drive that block progress. The SaveAct model mobilises existing local capacity.”

Asked about the highlight of her trip, she said it was difficult to isolate one. “There were many,” she said. “The enthusiasm of the groups, the beautiful scenery of the mountains, the fabulous cakes offered to us at Table Mountain, and, of course, the dancing that ended the last meeting!”

She said her trip had produced the happy realisation that when you don’t treat people like they are poor, they don’t feel poor.

“Instead of handouts, SaveAct offers them a way to help themselves.” – Compiled on June 1, 2010.

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