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Senegalese Women Find Innovative Ways to Save Money

Women in West Africa have implemented many types of informal banking as a result of not having access to regular credit. Some of these innovations are used to start or expand local businesses while others cover more basic needs, like a baptism or a funeral.

On the tiny island of Carabane, Khady Ndiaye and her eldest daughter Sophie bustle around her well-stocked store.

Boutiques like these are common throughout the West African nation - a one-stop shop for all household goods. It is rare, however, to see a woman behind the counter.

But Ndiaye is a veteran entrepreneur, dedicated to making her new venture a success.

She says that all the money she earns, she reinvests into her boutique. And like any entrepreneur, Ndiaye wants to get the maximum benefit from her cash.

If she were in North America or Europe, she might open an account at a bank, where she could earn interest. But in Senegal, according to estimates by economists in the region, only about five percent of the people have bank accounts.

Oumar Diene, who works at a Senegelese NGO and has studied informal banking in Yoff village, near Senegal's capital city of Dakar, explains that, instead of bank accounts, Senegalese have developed a variety of local strategies to save money and raise capital. Examples include what are known in local languages as maases, tontines, and tekks.

A maas is a support group based on local traditions. Where once that meant helping a sick neighbor plow his field, today this has evolved into various forms of economic support.

Tekks are a simpler form of informal saving, in which a group of children turn over their collected change to a trusted adult for safekeeping.

But it is the second method, tontines, that have become particularly popular among women on Carabane, Ndiaye explains that groups of women formed to help each other, and her group of 17 women contributed 1,000 local francs per month. That is the equivalent of about $2.

The idea is a sort of group savings plan. Originally developed in Europe in the 1600s, members would contribute a sum to be invested jointly, and dividends were shared equally until the last surviving member took all.

In modern Africa, the form has been reinvented to fit with local needs. Each member pays in a fixed amount at regular intervals. The members take turns receiving the entire pot. For Ndiaye, that meant instead of a trickle of francs every month, she had a lump sum of 17,000 to reinvest in her boutique. That is about $35.

For Desirée Diatta, whose job is making a home for her husband and their six children, it meant a chance to buy herself some new clothes. Without a job, Diatta had to be creative to raise the 1,000 francs a week the members of her tontine agreed to.

We do what we have to, she says. We cook mangoes to sell them for 25 francs each (about 5 cents). Whatever it takes.

Despite their sometimes limited opportunities and education it is women who are finding innovative ways to save money, Diatta says, even on small islands like Carabane.

She says women want to work, but it is difficult for them to find the means to do so.