Village saving groups benefit hundreds of families in Kenya

To create a platform to involve communities in conservation, Born Free is helping establish dozens of local saving groups in Kenya, benefitting hundreds of families. Elizabeth Yiambaine, Education Officer for Amboseli, Kenya reports.

Cattle standing in a line eating grass

Amboseli cattle © George Leakey / Born Free

Working in an area where communities have coexisted with wildlife for thousands of years and already have a huge amount of indigenous knowledge on different species of flora and fauna, how can organisations like Born Free support community-based wildlife conservation? 

Elizabeth Yiambaine, Education Officer for Amboseli

Elizabeth Yiambaine

When I joined Born Free, I was tasked with the responsibility of delivering conservation education to communities in Amboseli. Here, in southern Kenya, our charity has supported projects to protect wild animals for over 30 years. However, during every interaction with community members who I had the privilege of meeting during education outreaches, it became very clear to me that conservation education was not a priority to Amboseli’s communities.

Their priorities were highlighted in the many requests I received:  
 – ‘What development projects will Born Free undertake for us because we are in need of boreholes and diesel to pump water.’  
 – ‘We need grass banks.’  
 – ‘We need hospitals.’  
 – ‘We need more classrooms and dormitories in our schools.’  
 – ‘We need to start an agribusiness.’

Well, the list is endless. However, Born Free being a wildlife charity and not a development charity, along with the sheer scale of the need meant this was beyond what Born Free had the means to address. 

That is why, in June 2023, we helped establish Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) in Amboseli. This is not a new idea and indeed is replicated across many countries. But, VLSAs help communities meet their own needs in a self-sustaining way, by getting a group of people together to regularly save and take small loans from those savings. The purpose of the group is to provide simple savings and loan facilities in a community that does not have easy access to formal financial services.



A Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) is a group of people who meet regularly to save together and take small loans from those savings. The activities of the group run in cycles of one year, after which the accumulated savings and the loan profits are distributed back to the members. The VSLA methodology emphasises accountable governance, standard procedures and simple accounting that everyone can understand and trust.

A group of villagers in Kenya attending a meeting at the village hall, sitting together under a tree

A village meeting © George Leakey

The system is very simple, but the result is powerful.

Members do not have to save in equal amounts; these can vary at each meeting. Additionally, by saving frequently in very small amounts, they can build their savings more easily, contributing to improving the security of the household.

Savings are deposited to a loan fund from which members can borrow in small amounts, up to three times the value of their savings. Loans are for a maximum period of three months and may be repaid in flexible instalments at a monthly service charge determined by the group. This flexible repayment system is an advantage when compared to the more rigid repayment demands of ‘microfinance institutions’.


In addition, VSLAs came as a perfect tool to empower communities and build their resilience, because the return on investment is huge. It is sustainable and gives Born Free a great platform to speak about new and emerging conservation issues like climate change that communities perhaps do not fully understand. The reception from the communities is very positive and it seems they all appreciate our involvement.

For me the most important thing is that communities in Amboseli are becoming self reliant. I foresee a great economic empowerment which will help to reduce pressure on natural resources.

A close-up image of a woman's hands holding a tree sapling. She is wearing brightly coloured maasai dress and jewellery

© George Leakey

But don’t take my word for it, here are a few examples of how the community have benefitted so far: 

  • BI took a loan of 1,500 Kenyan shillings (£9) and started selling tea leaves. From the profits she is able to pay back the loan and buy food for her children.
  • SS took a loan of 3,000 Kenyan shillings (£18) and started a groceries business, from the profit she is able to save 500 shillings every week. Before she took the loan she was able to save only 100 or 200 shillings per week.
  • KK took a loan of 10,000 shillings (£61), she bought a female goat at 5,000 shillings (£30), spent 2,000 shillings (£12) to pay schools fees for her children at one of our partner schools and used 800 (£5) to start a kale business, using the rest to buy food for her family.
  • ST took a loan of 10,000 shillings (£61), she started a petrol business with 2,000 shillings (£12), which gives her a profit of 500 shillings (£3). She started another business of selling utensils with 3,000 shillings (£18). She was also able to pay school fees for her child.
  • TM took a loan of 4,000 shillings (£24) and paid school fees for her son.
  • NK took a loan of 10,000 shilling (£61) and used it to construct her house.

All these women are very grateful for the VSLAs started by Born Free, they all say that it is a game changer. They have easy access to money, unlike before, and they can now empower themselves.