During our trip we visited several Village Investor Programs live. Most groups we met were solely women that save money by purchasing shares into the cooperative fund. The savings are invested into a loan fund from which the members can borrow and pay interest against.
While there, we observed loans ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 Malawian Kwacha, which the members would use to purchase goods such as tomatoes, cabbage, onions at wholesale, and sell them at a profit of 50-100%!
The loan would then be returned to the cooperative pot with interest, the profits remaining with the member who took the loan. This pot also includes a side pot for welfare fund, which the members contribute to as an emergency fund, in situations where members are in need to emergency funding such as medication. The money is borrowed interest free and the members have 3 months to pay it back into the welfare fund. It was a truly remarkable, self-sustaining program requiring no external funding and significantly help the members with income generation.
In the first group we visited they had already saved over 1,000,000 Malawian Kwacha over the course of 8 months! In the Mikuju village close to the Malawi Lake we met with two other groups who shared some of their success stories. In this group, they discussed some of the challenges they face being near the lake and how weather and winds affect their ability to get fish (the primary business for several members) and as a result, this impact on their ability to repay the loans. A few members had to extend their loan terms. This was unique from the other groups we had observed near Blantyre and really showed us some of the challenges of the communities still face despite the high success of the program.
The visit ended with one of the members taking us to her home where she showed us the oven she uses to make scones (her primary business) and some the benefits she has realized from the program (she has built a chicken coup and housing for the goats she hopes to be able to buy and raise once she has enough money).