Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Women's Savings Groups in Guatemala "Trickle Up" to Fight Poverty

July 11, 2013

Saving money can be hard for anyone, but it’s especially difficult for the poorest and most vulnerable around the world. The ultrapoor—those who live on $1.25 a day or less—are characterized by insufficient and irregular income, high vulnerability to shocks, chronic food insecurity, and poor health. For most people living in these conditions, there are no insurance programs to fall back on in the event of an emergency. If disaster strikes, families are often forced to sell what few assets they have and take out the only loans they have access to those with very high interest rates. All of which leads them further into poverty. How can anyone save money in a situation like this?

Trickle Up works with women who live in ultrapoverty, providing training and a grant to start or expand a business. To ensure the longevity of their hard work, learning to save and access credit is essential, which is why Trickle Up helps participants form savings groups. These voluntary, community-based, self-managed groups meet regularly and enable women to save as a buffer against emergencies and unexpected expenses, while also being able to access credit to grow their businesses. Even more, women build solidarity, enabling them to learn from one another and be a support base in times of need.

 For women who had almost no social, political or economic capital before starting this group, the shift is enormous.

Las Azucenas is a savings group based in Tamahu, Guatemala that does all of this and so much more. Started over four years ago by 19 Trickle Up participants, the group has since grown and thrived. It now has 35 members and a total savings of 13,500 quetzales (approximately $1,800) and 1,300 quetzales (approximately $175) in a social fund that is used for non-business expenses agreed upon by the group.

The women of Las Azucenas are a tight-knit group who have developed a rigorous set of rules to work together and continue taking their transformative steps out of poverty. They support one another and have positioned themselves as an important part of their local community. Meeting times and other information about the group are broadcast over local radio, they have been given access town’s main municipal building to hold their meetings and members of the local government often visit their meetings. Even more, last year they used their social fund to help a neighboring community recover after an earthquake. For women who had almost no social, political or economic capital before starting this group, the shift is enormous and vital to ending the marginalization that women and the ultrapoor often face in Guatemala and around the world.

Trickle Up is dedicated to building more of these groups in order to help women and their families in Guatemala begin journeys out of poverty and integrate in their communities.  To ensure that we are maximizing our impact, we measure the effectiveness of our work with robust monitoring and evaluation systems. These systems help us to accurately identify the very poorest, inform program development and design, and demonstrate our effectiveness in positively improving the lives of the participants and families we reach—like Las Azucenas.

We currently use 11 data collection instruments on the ground. By providing our field workers with mobile phones and training on mobile data collection, Trickle Up can increase the efficiency of these processes, improve the quality of our data, and support real-time decision making. Going mobile will position the organization better for programmatic innovation with mobile banking and phone-based coaching. All of this will enable us to better serve our participants, track their progress in the remote, rural areas where we work, and ultimately build more groups like Las Azucenas, helping to enhance the economic status of women in their communities. 

Supporting Trickle Up’s Catapult project in going mobile in Guatemala will enable us to write more inspiring stories of transformation effectively and efficiently—and also see the impact in numbers. Visit our project on Catapult here.

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