Saving and Growing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
Soap, sugar, matches, pasta, candy, tissues. The shelves are well stocked in Alexandre Tshibamba’s boutique in Bakua Mwagi village in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He has, he says, pretty much anything his clients come looking for. This wasn’t always the case.
For years, Alexandre sold only a few random household items off a small wooden table at the local market. He barely made a profit. He continued to dream, however, of one day opening his own shop. In his spare time, he made mud bricks, one by one, until he finally had enough to construct a small building. Even then, he couldn’t afford to stock his shelves.
Alexandre Tshibamba in his boutique in Bakua Mwagi. Through participation in savings groups, he has been able to buy in bulk, adequately stock his store and increase his profit.
Photo by Jennifer Lazuta/CRS
“Clients would come, asking for something, but I always had to say, ‘No, sorry,’” Alexandre says. So, his clients went to shop elsewhere.
Then, in 2020, Alexandre was approached by staff from Catholic Relief Services’ Budikadidi project about joining a Savings and Internal Lending Community, or SILC. These CRS-led savings groups provide a safe place to save, invest and borrow money to help people increase their income and better manage their existing resources without incurring excessive debt or interest charges. Most group members are unable to access bank loans or must do so at a high rate of interest. Alexandre decided to join.
Today, he is the secretary of a savings group that currently has 21 members. As of 2022, they had about $475 in savings available for lending to members.
Alexandre shows a savings group register he uses to document member savings, investments and loans.
Photo by Jennifer Lazuta/CRS
Alexandre used his first loan to buy merchandise in bulk, which lowered the cost and allowed him to make more profit when he sold the items.
“With the loans, I can always keep [my shop] stocked and pay back the loans once I sell the merchandise,” Alexandre says. “I’ve also been able to add more types of items to my shop, so there is more variety for customers.”
He uses the money he earns to help feed his family and pay school fees for his children. He also has emergency savings in case someone falls sick and needs to go to the health center.
Still, he dreams of going even bigger.
“I hope in the coming years to build up my boutique even more, to have even more stock,” Alexandre says.
Budikadidi, which means
("self-sufficiency" ) in the local language of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is a Catholic Relief Services project funded by the United States Agency for International Development through its Department of Humanitarian Assistance. More than 87,500 households across 484 villages in the Kasai Oriental province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo participated in the project's interventions. CRS led this seven-year project in partnership with the National Cooperative Business Association, Sun Mountain International, Tufts University, Caritas Mbuji-Mayi, ReFED, and Reseau des Associations Congolaises des Jeunes, to deliver multi-sectoral programming, including agriculture and livelihoods, nutrition, health, water, sanitation and hygiene, and governance. The integrated activities are based on global evidence and appropriately adapted to the local context, working to strengthen existing systems, improve accountability, strengthen social cohesion, and reduce barriers to structural, cultural and gender-based change.