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Savings Groups for Refugees: 10 Tips for Development and Humanitarian Actors

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Savings Groups contribute to economic inclusion. On the other hand, a minimum level of economic activity may be required for individuals to participate and benefit from Savings Groups. Access to markets, employment opportunities and formal financial services may be more limited for refugees than for host populations. Many refugees live in urban centers with constraining work permits and business licensing. Others live in camps, often in rural areas and cut-off from markets. Nevertheless, even when livelihood options are curtailed, the benefits of Savings Groups are multiple. Savings Groups can help members cope with economic and personal shocks, strengthen social and business networks, and build self-esteem. In other words, refugees, like any other marginalized group, would derive greater benefits from Savings Groups with improved access to markets, employment opportunities, skills development and formal financial services. Yet, even when relegated to the margins of an economy – with limited mobility, documentation and rights – refugees stand to benefit from Savings Groups. Groups may be the only support system they have. 

Savings Groups can overcome some of the barriers to expand access to finance for refugees. They do not require legal identification, collateral, or investments in infrastructure. They can be integrated with formal financial services and digital payment systems – but can operate independently as well. And they appeal to refugees as many are already familiar with informal savings and lending. In fact, informal savings mechanisms are the most prominent financial service provider in refugee communities; and emerging evidence suggests that Savings Groups perform just as well in refugee communities as in host communities.

Several challenges remain, however, before these efforts can reach scale. The mobility of refugees challenges some of the basic principles and operational norms of Savings Groups; legal barriers to employment and the isolation of refugee camps constrain livelihoods opportunities; increased levels of theft and insecurity can place members and group assets at risk; traditional group mobilization and training practices may not be sufficient to develop group solidarity amongst target populations comprised of multiple nationalities, ethnicities and languages, and without permanent residency; and evidence remains thin regarding the complex interactions between Savings Groups and humanitarian aid, including cash transfers, food aid and other in-kind support.

The experience and lessons learned of the Peer Learning Group is consolidated in these 10 tips for development, humanitarian and market actors that promote or work with Savings Groups for refugees.

Document Information

Document Type Brief
Year of Publication 2020
Publisher SEEP Network
Number of Pages 19
Region / Country Global /
Primary Language English (en)
Keywords Savings Groups, Refugees, Learning brief
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