Microfinance: Training and Saving in Sudan

Sudan microfinance

The graduates clap and ululate as each participant receives her certificate. Photo by Melita Sawyer/CRS

Melita Sawyer, Microfinance Technical Advisor at CRS headquarters in Baltimore, recently attended a graduation ceremony in Sudan.

Graduations are a big deal in Sudan. Not that they go unnoticed in the United States, but here in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, graduations mean singing, dancing, showering graduates with congratulations (and sometimes fake snow too) and lots of food—all during the ceremony.

I was really looking forward to attending the graduation ceremony for 150 women who received vocational training through CRS’ Khartoum State Poverty Reduction program, and it far exceeded my expectations. The minute we arrived and heard the all-women’s marching band playing a lively tune, surrounded by graduates happily dancing, I knew that this graduation would be different.

Before the ceremony began, we were able to see wonderful displays of the skills the women had learned during their three-month vocational training courses. There was embroidery, crocheting, examples of health and beauty skills like henna painting, jams, baked goods, dried dates … the list goes on. Before the training topics were decided, CRS’ partner Khartoum University conducted a market study to ensure all of the skills would be in demand in the local market. As a result, the women have already been able to start selling their goods and services and increase their incomes. For someone who is a bit of a microfinance and livelihoods geek, this was incredibly great to see.

Sudan dance

A professor from Khartoum University dances to the tunes of the all-women’s marching band. Photo by Melita Sawyer/CRS

I was also happy to see and speak with many women I’d met earlier during a visit to a Savings and Internal Lending Community (SILC) group. SILC is a microfinance method that emphasizes savings and makes savings, loans and insurance available to people that aren’t being served by formal financial institutions. All of the vocational training graduates are also involved in SILC groups. The combination of these activities has been really important, as participants are able to take loans out from their SILC groups to launch small businesses using their new skills.

Not only do these women now have skills that are demanded by the market, but they have the means to start and expand their businesses. They can also use their SILC group to save their profits and then invest those savings back into their businesses or families. For example, many women use their savings to pay their children’s school fees.

Another highlight of the afternoon was meeting the professors from CRS’ partner, the Khartoum University Home Sciences Department. Many of these professors had donated their time to teach the women the skills they are now so proud of.

This project has done a wonderful job of bringing together a mix of partners—community-based organizations, academics, NGOs and the private sector—to help women and youth improve their incomes. Khartoum University hadn’t previously been involved with a project that works directly with people in poor communities, but the experience was a very positive one for them. The Dean of the University said they plan to increase their work in this area.

Overall, this project has helped 3,000 women and youth living in Khartoum’s poorest neighborhoods and camps for internally displaced people to change their lives for the better. It was evident in speaking with project participants that the benefits gained went far beyond improved skills and access to financial services. People also made some important new friendships and are incredibly supportive of one another. In communities with diverse populations, this is exciting to see. As Fatima, one of the women who I had met at the Wahda “Unity” SILC group, told me, “Before this project, we didn’t really know people from other tribes. Now we truly love each other.”

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