When a Woman Saves, a Community Wins

Rebecca Mqamelo
Grassroots Economics
4 min readJun 20, 2019


Community-based savings and loan schemes are often what keep under-resourced economies afloat. In Kenya, these savings groups or chamas, as they are locally known, are an important source of funds in times of scarcity. We zone in on some of the women who use Sarafu to show how the community currency has enabled them to increase their savings.

How it works

Reba has been part of the Sarafu network since 2016. She is a self-employed weaver and bead worker so it’s important to her that she is able to set aside enough Kenyan shillings to buy the materials she needs to make her scarves, jewellery, bags and wallets. Her primary market is her immediate community and she often accepts payments in Sarafu, which she then uses to buy food or to pay the school fees of the two pupils she sponsors at Skylife Academy.

Reba believes in the power of collective saving. Since using Sarafu, she has not only seen an increase in her number of customers but has also been able to set aside more money per month towards her chama. Reba’s chama is called Joywo — the Joyful Women’s Organization. Every month, twenty members contribute a portion of their savings that gets pooled together and loaned out on a rotating basis. Interest is typically charged at 10% and by the end of the year, all the interest collected from loan repayments is shared out according to the portion of savings contributed by each member. A number of the members of Joywo are also part of the Sarafu network. Reba believes that if she can convince the other members to also join Sarafu, they will have more Kenyan shillings to contribute to the monthly pool and thus increase the credit available to all members.

A new savings tool

How is that using community currency as a primary medium of exchange actually increases users’ monthly savings? For one thing, there is something to be said about the psychological separation between “spending money” (Sarafu) and “saving money” (Kenyan shillings).

Jackline Kasiva is the proud owner of Jackie’s Hair Salon. She says that using Sarafu has helped her increase her income and better manage her finances. She uses Sarafu for everyday expenses such as buying food for her toddler and husband. Most of her Kenyan shillings go towards her M-Shwari savings account that she holds in her M-Pesa account with Safaricom. In nine months, she saved enough to include hair products in her business stock and she now hopes to expand to lace weaves, which are a more costly product yet are in demand by her clients. Jackline says that if she uses Sarafu on a daily basis, she can typically save up to 100 Kenyan shillings per day or 30 US dollars per month.

Before using Sarafu, Kuzumi Katuma (pictured left) used to save between 1,000 and 2,000 Kenyan shillings per month, which she would pool together with her husband’s savings in order to pay for their children’s school fees. Since using Sarafu, Kizumi has sometimes been able to bring home more money than her husband and now contributes up to 4,000 Kenyan shillings per month in savings.

Grace Dzidza lives in Miyani and sells paraffin. She says using Sarafu helped her grow her customer base and she can now save about 600 Kenyan shillings more per month than she was able to before. She uses most of this money to pay for one of her daughter’s high school fees.

Community currencies are a multi-dimensional development tool. These women’s stories highlight how resilient economies can be built from the bottom up. All it takes is empowering people to take charge of their own financial future.

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