DRC: Solidarity funds cut poverty and strengthen community ties

Members of a solidarity fund in DRC
Members of a solidarity fund supported by UNDP in DRC. Photo: Benoit Almeras/ UNDP in DRC

Pen in hand and notebook poised on his lap, Gasozi resumes his calculations aloud for the benefit of those present:  “I borrowed 60,000 Congolese francs (approximately US $65), and with that amount, I was able to buy enough potato seeds to produce 8 sacks of potatoes. Generally speaking, a sack of potatoes is usually sold for 18,000 francs. So, if we multiply by the amount of sacks, that makes a total of around … 140,000 francs, doesn’t it?”

Give or take 4,000 francs, Gasozi was right. “In any case, I have to pay back my loan… with interest,” he adds with a grin.

Highlights

  • In North Kivu, poverty affects 7 out of 10 households
  • 75 solidarity funds have been established in the five communities targeted by the project, bringing together more than 1,500 inhabitants, of whom 50 percent are women
  • The $6.5 million project is funded by Japan, with a contribution from the Swedish Agency for International Development

Gasozi is a member of a solidarity fund (MuSo) – an entity bringing together members of a community based on a simple idea: pooling their savings in order to finance projects and help each other.

Gasozi belongs to Maendeleo (“development” in kiswahili), a MuSo set up in September 2013 as part of a peacebuilding project in the artisanal mining areas of North Kivu. In addition to developing the economy, these tools have the potential to stimulate investment and entrepreneurship in this rural eastern area of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Since June 2013, UNDP has facilitated the creation of 75 MuSo in the five communities targeted by the project, bringing together more than 1,500 inhabitants, of whom 50 percent are women.

Sosthène, one of Maendelo’s 20 members, explains: “First of all, our friends at CARE and ETN -- both UNDP NGO partners -- told us about this project, and then they trained us so that we could organize ourselves.”

 “The red box serves as the emergency fund: when one of our members has a personal problem, he is granted a loan so that he can overcome this setback,” he continued. “The green box helps to finance member projects such as that of Gasozi … but loans are only granted every three months, so as to avoid abuses and also to accumulate adequate funding. The loan must be reimbursed at a rate of 3 percent interest.”

Beyond interest rates far lower than those charged by private banks, the appeal of solidarity funds lies in their very structure. The members all know each other and the fund is managed in a collegial manner; as a result, the risk of theft and conflict is very slim.

 “Some MuSo members still are not able to pay the contributions that have been set,” Sosthène explains. “As they are farmers, they have to wait for the crop season in order to earn money and thus make a contribution to the MuSo.”

The joint project of UNDP, FAO and UNICEF has received funding of nearly $6.5 million from the Government of Japan, as well as a contribution from the Swedish Agency for International Development to improve community access to water sources and hygienic conditions.

It is part of a stabilization and reconstruction project in post-conflict areas.

By their very nature, the MuSO established by the UNDP help not only to improve the socioeconomic status of the population, but also greater community organization and thus aim to strengthen social cohesion within the beneficiary communities.