In 1998 in a village in the lowlands of Terai, Nepal, just south of the Himalayas, a group of 25 women came together to form a WORTH savings-led microbanking group. Building on a familiar tradition of women saving together in rotating saving and credit associations, this new WORTH program intended to be more than a village savings and loan group. Instead, it was going to be a place for women’s economic empowerment to grow. WORTH was built on the premise that women’s empowerment grows on a foundation of women acknowledging how powerful they are. Groups were provided with the tools to support this discovery process, which took place in a savings-led microbanking groups that combined training in literacy, numeracy and micro-business development.
Twenty years later and 3,885 miles from Terai, a group of 20 young women are meeting in the suburbs of the hot, bustling city of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. They are coming together at their weekly WORTH meeting to save, lend, learn and socialize. Their savings and lending process is now done via mobile phone and these energetic, funny young women understand the power of social media for growing their businesses. After their savings are calculated the group quiets down so that they can learn from their Empowerment Worker on the safe application of a condom and how to negotiate condom use with their boyfriends and husbands.
WORTH looks only slightly different today in Tanzania then at its beginning in Nepal. The key concepts of WORTH have sustained and adapted contextually across the world over the last 20 years. WORTH groups have been formed and self-replicated across 16 countries and more than 770,000 individuals – mostly women – have learned skills and developed networks that have contributed to improvements in their livelihoods and that of their families and communities. The Pact WORTH methodology is founded on the principle that dependency is not empowering. The program is based on the premise that individuals can empower themselves when they learn to read, generate and control their own assets, and form connections to others whom they help while helping themselves. Each component is elaborated on below.
Literacy and numeracy
WORTH is very unique among both credit- and savings-led microfinance programs in that it places a special emphasis on literacy. Unlike other savings programs, WORTH is designed to ensure that every savings group member can write in her own record book and read the ledger. This is a key component that helps to reinforce trust and transparency between groups and also strengthens the sense of self-ownership of the process. Non-formal education techniques such as story-telling, role playing and pictographs are used by the Women in Business curriculum books used by WORTH: Our Group – focuses on literacy, numeracy; Road to Wealth - teaches empowerment, village bank development and mechanics, sharing and replication; and Selling Made Simple - teaches successful business principles, guiding through the considerations of starting a business such as spreading risk, calculating profit, doing a market survey and adding value to products for improved marketing.
As WORTH has grown and been used in various contexts, this curriculum has been supplemented with another book focused on youth employability and entrepreneurship as well as various mobile workshops. The WORTH model has served as an amazing platform for layering interventions through Pact’s integrated approach. Often, this layering allows for a variety of messaging and workshops to be provided to the WORTH group members. Depending on the contexts, these mobile workshops have themes from positive parenting to biodiversity for sustainable livelihoods.
Financial stability is a key building block of resilience. Yet, one in three women lack access to financial institutions and the knowledge and skills – such as financial literacy and numeracy – needed to plan for their future. The program strengthens participants’ ability to meet financial needs through economic empowerment and increased credit opportunities. The participants create transparent savings and credit groups and start saving on a weekly basis. They then borrow from their savings to develop and expand their micro-enterprises and subsequently develop two income streams – one from micro-enterprises and another in the form of dividends from the loans the group makes. Unlike micro-lending and many other development programs, WORTH provides no seed capital, matching grants or subsidized interest rates, the women are the true architects of their financial freedom.
As groups grow, and develop, the desire for greater financial inclusion also increases. Full financial inclusion means that individuals and households have accessible and effective financial services. One exciting area that Pact is exploring is digital financial services for financial inclusion. Through the MyWORTH app, Pact is able to connect girls to other financial service providers and create alternative credits scoring mechanisms so they can fully utilize services available.
WORTH is highly valued because it creates a platform for collective action. As WORTH participants work together in their group they build close relationships founded on trust and a shared vision for their communities. Their trust and shared vision is then turned into action as they use the power of their new social network to address sociocultural issues. Women who had no influence on their own become agents of change and use their group as a platform to mount social campaigns to tackle issues such as child abuse, gender-based violence, alcoholism, sex-trafficking and child marriages, and stigma associated with HIV and AIDS. WORTH strengthens women’s social networks and enables them to become activists, entrepreneurs, and effective leaders who bring about change in their communities. Our evaluations indicate that the program improves women’s confidence as wealth generators, caregivers, decision-makers and agents of change in their homes and their communities. As a result of participating in WORTH’s pioneer program in Nepal, an average of 89,000 women reported increased decision-making authority in the areas of family planning, marriage of children, buying and selling property and girl’s schooling. Similarly, when several groups were polled in Ethiopia, 83% of women noted an increase in their ability to make decisions related to their families after participating in the program. WORTH also promotes community action as the women use their new social networks to change the world around them.
Through the simple act of bringing people together and encouraging them to trust one another, to save, and to manage their resources collectively, WORTH builds the social, political, financial, and physical capital that contribute to a person’s empowerment.