By Adetola Wusu

In the face of multi-dimensional poverty and lack of inclusive social welfare policies, many wonder how African women strive and thrive financially to support and meet their family needs within the African context. Oftentimes, it comes with a daily culture of savings from meager incomes within a group to increase their access to funds and loans at a minimal interest rate. In Nigeria, Alájesékù is a Yoruba word for cooperative societies. Literally, you are not expected to eat with your ten fingers. Saving for rainy days through organised means is one way women can ensure financial empowerment for themselves.

The culture of savings amongst market women, illiterate women and small business owners in the southern part of Nigeria is quite interesting. It is hard to find a store or a market stall in the area under review without the contribution and membership card of at least one cooperative society. They all belong to one Alájesékù or another. While I was growing up, I remember that there were at least two persons who would always come to my mother’s as well as other traders’ stores to collect daily contributions. This adds up to their level of financial literacy and explains why many of them can afford to send their wards to school and cater for their families (especially the single mothers). They make contributions daily to their Alájesékù groups and then seldom take up loans to do major projects. This has been a major means of financial expansion and meeting family needs for them.

According to the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs’ statistics, Nigeria’s women’s business activity rate was 59.1% as of March, 2018. Most of the women in business are traders in local market areas. The International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) in its Statement on the Cooperate Identity, in 1995, defined a cooperative as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise”. A cooperative society is a group where people with common goals and objectives belong to. They pool their resources together in order to achieve these common goals and objectives. A cooperative society is of many types; Consumers’ Co-operative Society, Producers’ Co-operative Society, Co-operative Marketing Society and Co-operative Credit Society among others.

Alájesékù has been saving lives for donkeys’ years. It has many advantages, amongst them are; ease of formation, voluntary membership, democracy, equitable distribution of surplus/earnings, stable existence, more accurate identification of members’ interests, low taxes, low interest rates on loan to members and social benefits. The Alájesékù groups have been discovered to have the following disadvantages; limited funds, lack of managerial skills (most of these groups lack competent personnel for managing and running them), misuse of funds, inefficiency, conflicts among members, and lack of confidentiality. However, many market women, illiterate & semi-literate women and small business owners are found in several Alájesékù groups. So, in order to empower women and give them more financial inclusion, different philanthropists, international donor agencies and the government can strengthen the different Alájesékù societies. This is because these societies are at the grassroots and they can easily monitor their members in the case of grant disbursements so as to ensure the recipients use the grants for the purpose(s) for which the grants were given.

In strengthening the different cooperative societies, government, development partners and the private sector can leverage this age-long model to ensure financial inclusion of the most vulnerable women. Platforms like this could also serve as both a learning and training ground. When these cooperative societies are strengthened, more women will be empowered, have resources to meet their needs and then be more useful for their communities, thereby boosting the economic system at large in their own small way.

Alájesékù societies can be a vital means of disseminating information and training to our local businesswomen. Training can be provided for our local businesswomen through the many Alájesékù societies. Through such training, they will be more financially informed and they can be better empowered, expand and sustain their businesses. Through such training, they would know how better to manage their finances, more yielding means of investments and better information about the process involved in loan requisition.

Strengthening Alájesékù societies will enlighten them on better ways of investment of their members' funds, thereby increasing the members' funds and their dividends invariably. It is also pertinent to look into leadership training which includes people management, crisis management, accountability and openness amongst others.



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