In 2014, the Aga Khan Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) launched a Global Development Alliance entitled Economic and Social Connections: A Multi-Input Area Development Financing Facility for Tajikistan (ESCoMIAD). Since then, ESCoMIAD has improved lives for people living along the Tajik border with Afghanistan.
For people living in poor, remote areas, access to formal financial institutions to borrow or save money is considered a luxury. Yet families in these regions still need small amounts of savings and credit to help fill gaps in irregular incomes, make investments, and plan for emergencies.
Along Tajikistan’s border with Afghanistan, community-based savings groups (CBSGs) are helping transform local economies by providing access to these crucial financial services. Groups typically convene around 20 community members on a bi-weekly basis to pool their own funds for use to save and borrow. Since their introduction in Tajikistan by the Aga Khan Foundation in 2009, CBSGs have had an impressive impact—providing communities with critical financial skills while working to reduce poverty.
Women in Tajikistan face barriers to economic opportunities, especially in rural areas. Savings groups address this by improving members’ financial literacy and access to—and control over—financial resources.
Like in other villages, female residents of Guliston, also in Khatlon, found that formal financial institutions like banks were often unable to address the needs of their households due to high interest rates, long wait times, and limited access. Therefore, the community established a savings group comprised almost entirely of women—with only a single male member.
The training that members received under ESCoMIAD’s support covered topics like financial management and record-keeping. For many of the women, they were learning how to use credit and manage a budget and for the first time.
“This CBSG has equipped us with the knowledge and the practice to manage cash in our households,” says one of the group’s members. “I have a private small shop. Nowadays, I know how to effectively manage the cash to keep it running— how much to save for this and for that.”
Another member says: “Before I joined the savings group, I kept cash around the house. I would put it under the bed, and sometimes I’d forget where I put the money. I did not manage my cash in a proper way. But now, after several trainings conducted for the CBSG, I know how to manage cash—how to plan for it and prioritise the expenses of our household.”
As a result of the savings groups, members feel empowered to manage household funds and contribute to community conversations. With each meeting, they are beginning to view themselves as valuable contributors at home and within the community.
By investing in community-based institutions like savings groups, ESCoMIAD is helping create a cycle of growth and development—expanding social and financial opportunities for women in Tajikistan.
Today, over 3,000 women across Khatlon are members of community-based savings groups supported by ESCoMIAD—marking 80% of total members. Now equipped with access to resources and basic financial management skills, these women are establishing lifelong habits that will improve their well-being and protect their families from financial risk and economic hardship.
This article was adapted from an article originally published on the Aga Khan Foundation USA website.