Economic development in Sierra Leone has come a long way the past 15 years. Yet this tiny West African nation remains one of the poorest in the world: 60% of its people live below the poverty line. Now the government, like in other impoverished nations, is turning to financial literacy programs to further boost local economies.
In Sierra Leone, they are especially hopeful of reaching rural women. The thinking is that if women in small communities are trained in the basics of personal finance they will start small businesses or engage in profitable micro-projects like basket weaving.
The key program is called “Expanding the Table: Empowering Women to Identify Protection Strategies in Sierra Leone’s Industrializing Rural Districts,” which receives financial support from the U.S.
Training for this program comes from Ecobank, a conglomerate with operations in 36 African countries. The bank recently completed financial literacy training among vulnerable women from rural Sierra Leone communities. The women learned about money management, banking, investments, saving, dividends and start-up capital.
Rural women empowered through financial literacy have a strong record of entrepreneurial activity, according to Ecobank executive Samai Bureh, who helped in the training, partly funded through the bank’s community development program. In a short period, Ecobank has reached 186 rural women.
As part of the program, women receive financial instruction and a grant of $7,000 each. They use the grant to start revenue-generating projects including bread making, rice farming, cassava and groundnut farming, and soap production. Mentors are available indefinitely after the operation is running.
Economic hardship is a fact in Sierra Leone, which has been held back by civil war and other armed conflicts. The nation ranks 180 out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index, which ranks countries based on a composite of life expectancy, education and per capita income. Financial education for women is regarded as way to boost local economies through female financial power.