savings group lock box

Bringing Financial Inclusion to Scale

Photo by Sara A. Fajardo/CRS

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Featured Project

Expanding Financial Inclusion in Africa

Burkina Faso, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia


"The project pushed the boundaries of poverty outreach, and did so with a fee-for-service model"


Expanding Financial Inclusion in Africa demonstrates that poverty alleviation can be brought rapidly to scale through a market approach with built-in sustainability and post-project growth.

CRS’ savings-led microfinance program — Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC) —empowers low-income people to increase their wealth by building on their own assets.

With EFI, CRS and the Mastercard Foundation took SILC to four countries with an ambitious goal: improve the financial lives of half a million people — particularly the poorest, most excluded members of the communities.

The project exceeded goals early on.

  • 543,220 SILC members in Burkina Faso, Senegal, Uganda, Zambia – 76% of whom are women
  • 20,273 SILC groups
  • 28% return on savings
  • Below 1% dropout rate
  • Two thirds of group members come from the poorest half of their community


savings group meeting

Expanding Financial Inclusion in Africa reached more than half a million people through a market-based provider service that reached the most needy while establishing long-term sustainablity and continued growth.

Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS


“Savings groups are beneficial for everyone,” says Marc Bavois, CRS senior technical advisor for microfinance. “But it’s easy for the poorest to be left out.”

A cornerstone of the project is the Private Service Provider. CRS carefully recruits and trains qualified community members on the SILC methodology and oversees their work. They receive a fee from groups they help form and train, so they’re incentivized to reach deep into their communities to include every interested person. Many PSPs have continued to form groups after the project’s end.

“The project pushed the boundaries of poverty outreach, and did so with a fee-for-service model,” Bavois says. “We go beyond sustainability and aim for continued growth post-project.

Savings and Internal Lending Communities:

  • Provide a safe, convenient place for poor households to save and borrow to meet their needs. The goal is to help members better manage their existing resources by teaching them basic financial management skills.
  • By facilitating savings services, CRS enables the poor to build up useful lump sums without incurring excessive debt or interest charges. Moreover, SILC helps protect members’ limited resources by shifting their money from poorly protected informal locations (e.g., under the mattress) to investments in group members’ businesses. This provides members a positive return on their savings. 
  • The accumulation of savings and the subsequent ability to borrow from the group fund leads to greater financial resilience among participating households, and allows investments in productive assets, ranging from agricultural production to small business activities.

SILC groups consist of 15 to 30 self-selected members who generate, own, and manage all of their funds.  The model asks group members to meet once a week and deposit cash into a savings fund and a social fund. As the group increases its cumulative savings, members can take loans from the savings fund for investment or consumption and pay back the principal with interest. Members also have access to interest-free loans and grants from the social fund in case of an emergency in the household. The group records all of these transactions in a group ledger book to ensure accountability, security, and transparency. After a pre-determined time (normally between 8 and 12 months), groups distribute the accumulated savings, and profits earned from interest, to the members.


How SILC members use their money.

Private Service Providers and Sustainability

Expanding Financial Inclusion (EFI) in Africa Research Program