WEST AFRICA – Mars, the global manufacturer of confectionery, pet food, and other food products has partnered with CARE, a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty, to promote women’s social and economic empowerment in cocoa-growing communities in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana.
CARE and Mars Wrigley are building on the success and learnings of their Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) initiative with an investment of US$10m to aid them to expand beyond the 12,000 members they have supported through mid-2019.
Through the initiative they are targeting to reach 50,000 more members in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana by 2025.
Globally, VSLAs are remarkable engines for development and transformation, and powerful facilitators of economic empowerment.
Since its inception, CARE’s promotion of the VSLA model has formed a constellation of more than 330,000 groups representing over 7 million members – the overwhelming majority of whom are women.
VSLAs can help households accumulate savings, provide loans, and provide access to local finance institutions so women can build their own businesses and increase their economic security.
Together, CARE and Mars have developed a VSLA model that includes a number of essential building blocks beyond standard savings and loans activities.
The model starts by setting up VSLA groups – comprised of 15-25 members. Once in place, these groups act as entry points in the community or through the farmer groups to support interventions in four areas over a period of three years.
The four focus areas include, financial inclusion and connections to formal finance; Entrepreneurship, supporting income growth and diversification; Gender-equality interventions at individual, household and community levels (including literacy); A healthy family curriculum that promotes early-childhood development and child protection by engaging parents and households.
“Based on CARE’s implementation of this approach for Mars since 2015, our ambition is that each element of the VSLA model will not only contribute to closing the gap to a living income for cocoa-growing households, but will also increase resilience and women’s confidence, and strengthen local governance and child protection,” said John Ament, Global Vice President – Cocoa, Mars Wrigley.
The Mars DOVE brand first implemented VSLAs in collaboration with CARE and with support from the Jacob’s Foundation in Côte d’Ivoire.
The program grew in 2018 as part of Mars’ Cocoa for Generations strategy aimed at creating a quicker pathway for cocoa farmers, their families and their communities to thrive.
By mid-2019, 458 groups had been formed with 12,134 members – 80 percent of which are women – and a total of more than US$700,000 in savings mobilized.
“We are honoured to expand our collaboration with Mars,” said Michelle Nunn, President and CEO of CARE.
“Their investment will significantly scale our VSLA programming in cocoa-growing communities in West Africa. With this expansion, thousands of women in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana will come together and under their own leadership and with their own aspirations realize critical improvements in their lives, and those of their families and communities,” she added.