Saving for Change (SfC) is a community-based savings group program designed and implemented by Oxfam America and Freedom from Hunger in Mali, Senegal, Cambodia, El Salvador and Guatemala. This baseline study of the Saving for Change (SfC) program in Mali is the result of a collaborative research effort in 2009-2010 by Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and the Bureau of Applied Research in Anthropology (BARA) at the University of Arizona. This innovative methodology combines qualitative and quantitative approaches to create a nuanced picture of the current SfC program and to document the baseline situation in an SfC expansion zone in the Segou region of Mali, where a randomized control trial (RCT) is currently underway to measure the socioeconomic impacts of the program over a three-year period (2009-2012).

The first section of this report details the methodology of both teams, which combined quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis. The second section provides baseline results from the Segou expansion zone. The baseline information is based on large-scale quantitative survey research conducted by IPA in 500 villages in the Segou region and complementary qualitative analysis by BARA in 8 of those villages. In keeping with RCT protocol, SfC activities in this expansion zone began only after all field data collection for this research was completed. Follow-up studies in 2012 will help determine the program’s impacts for participants.

A third section of this report focuses on evaluating the current functioning of the existing SfC programs in five villages in other regions of Mali. Research in these villages is oriented toward gaining a qualitative understanding of how savings and credit systems function in relation to local livelihood strategies. These results build upon information collected by BARA during a prior study of 4 villages in 2008 that examined the establishment, replication, and function of SfC groups. The key areas addressed in this current research are: (a) household livelihood systems and vulnerability as they affect SfC activities; (b) the relation of SfC to the larger socioeconomic context of rural Mali; (c) the role of savings and credit organizations, both formal and informal, and their relation to SfC participation; and (d) community perceptions of the impact of SfC on livelihood systems and women's lives. Particular attention is paid to the ways in which community members are modifying the SfC model to meet local conditions and needs and several recommendations are offered to strengthen the existing model.