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CARE International strengthens saving groups

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By John Mubiru

CARE International in Uganda is promoting transparency and standard regulatory framework among savings groups to encourage more people to save for their future.

Through a project dubbed ‘National Policy, Regulatory and Program Support in Uganda (NPRP)’, CARE extended support in strengthening savings groups’ ecosystem by enabling a legal and regulatory framework and environment.

The organisation has provided support to the Uganda Microfinance Regulatory Authority (UMRA), a regulatory agency of the Ministry of Finance Planning and Economic Development, to finalize the savings groups’ registration guidelines and implementation plan, for which Self Help Group (SHG) operational guidelines were issued.

Women groups
According to Edith Namuuga, the UMRA Executive Director, CARE financed their landscaping study which provided clarity on Women Empowerment Collectives (WECs).

“The landscaping study mapped existing WECs across Uganda, compiled a list of which implementers are delivering on WECs and gathered key information on the approach being delivered to the groups to understand the comprehensiveness of the model,” Namuuga says.

She notes that the study also mapped out the geographical coverage of the women groups scattered all over the country and pinpointed the women’s economic empowerment outcomes being attained.

Namuuga says the guidelines will streamline government programming and reduce redundance of multiple membership and misrepresentation.

She further reveals working with other stakeholders in building capacity for layering livelihoods has led to improvement in the health, food security, and nutrition of the individual members of the savings groups.

Haruna Kasolo Kyeyune (L), the Minister of State for Finance, Planning and Economic Development (Microfinance) graced by Edith Tusuubira Namuga (R), the UMRA Executive Director, during the launch of Operational Guidelines for self-help Groups at the media center recently. (Photo/John Mubiru)

Operational guidelines
With support from Makerere University Business School (MUBS), a Saving Groups (SG) framework report on policy recommendations was completed and submitted to the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (MoFPED) for the next steps on policy formulation.

This eventually gave birth to the operational guidelines for SHGs.

In addition, CARE supported the ministry in developing a comprehensive SHGs policy framework.

Melch Natukunda, the CARE Financial Inclusion Advisor, said their support in developing the SHG policy is geared towards ensuring stakeholders take a comprehensive gendered approach to the nation’s definition of SHGs.

Natukunda said CARE and partners, including the Government of Uganda, have contributed to the Savings Groups (SGs) model which has since been adopted by development partners, the private sector, and authorities.

“As a result of these initiatives, Women Empowerment Collectives (WECs) landscaping study in Uganda, done in 2022, identified 163,870 in SHGs (over 70 per cent women) reaching out to 1,723,213 members. We also had an estimated 540,416 groups; reaching out to 5,712,550 members countrywide,” he says.

The SGs have already started bearing fruits, having accosted over 1,000 money lenders around the country who are operating illegally and outside the legal framework put in place by the Uganda Microfinance Regulatory Authority (UMRA).

According to UMRA, due to the numerous number of cases of fraud, they have established a “Complaints Research Bureau,” where victims to money lenders can go and register their complaints.

Racheal Nakawooya, UMRA’s manager for Microfinance Institutions in charge of Money Lenders, says they use their investigation mechanism to handle cases and resolve them.

She says they have resolved that by beginning of 2023, all money lenders would have registered or risk being apprehended legally.

“Although about 1,500 money lenders have registered with us, our investigations have revealed that about 1,000 out there are operating illegally,” she says

Nakawooya says in case a complainant has lost property to a money lender, they can easily be redeemed back in case they file a complaint and follow the right procedures, provided under the SHGs.

She adds that the operational guidelines which are taking effect on January 1, 2023, will, among others, assist SHGs to establish financial stabilization mechanisms and promote fair and equitable practices by setting minimal operational standards.

The guidelines will also streamline government programming and reduce redundancies of multiple membership and misrepresentation.

SHG operational guidelines will also pave way for developing national registry of groups and setting up a management information system to track registration to guide and inform other related government policies.

They will also support the process of working with other stakeholders in building capacity for layering livelihoods.

Historical partnership
CARE International signed a memorandum of understanding with the government in 1979, to support economic transformation in Uganda.

Although it engaged more in humanitarian work in the 1980s, dealing in emergencies, relief and livelihoods with focus on environmental protection, food security, and health support post-recovery of the 1979 liberation war.

The partnership has been well-consummated, CARE has confirmed its commitment towards economic transformation.

In the 1990’s CARE started mobilising communities for community-based financial access through facilitating Village Savings and Loans Associations to become more organized groups and assume legal status.

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