In January 2008 Yael Falicov, IDEX’s Director of Programs, visited three savings and credit cooperatives affiliated with WACN in rural Nepal.
To date, WACN has helped developed 35 cooperatives with over $2.5 million dollars of capital in circulation. WACN works with each cooperative for five years. In the first two years, WACN staff helps women start their own savings and credit groups in each village, brings them together and gets them legally registered as a cooperative. For the next three years, WACN staff provides follow-up support as needed, and typically by the sixth year the cooperative is functioning completely independently, without any need for outside funds.
Each cooperative has approximately 200 members and includes groups in 9 communities. The local women administer the cooperative themselves, and provide training to the members on financial literacy and income-generating skills. Each member has a savings account that accumulates with 10% interest, and can be withdrawn after a certain number of years. They also qualify to receive one-year loans that are used for agriculture, livestock, opening small stores, building fishponds and other income-generating activities.
A typical example is Sabitri Timilsina, a middle-aged woman who doesn't have enough land to grow food. She eventually built up enough loan capital to buy 4 buffalo, and now sells 80 pints of buffalo milk per day. She makes even more money selling the manure, and has enough left over to run her own mini-biogas plant. This innovation, built with training and technical support from WACN, converts the methane from the manure into fuel, which is piped into her home to power a gas burner.
The structure of the cooperative empowers women financially, but also allows them to come together around many other issues. One cooperative in Kavre grew so powerful that the leaders took over the local 'forest users group' - the committee of locals who work with the government to manage the forest. When a group of wealthy landowners appropriated the forest for their own use, the women rose up in protest. The leaders of the cooperative were arrested, but they convinced the police of their cause and were immediately released, at which point they marched to the local government office to protest. They filed two lawsuits and eventually prevailed, saving the forest from destruction.