Empowerment in action: savings groups improving community water, sanitation, and hygiene services
With 748 million people worldwide lacking adequate water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) services (WHO/UNICEF, 2014), increased access to these services is a significant global challenge. Savings groups (SGs) combined with social empowerment strategies can be used to engage communities meaningfully in addressing development challenges such as access to clean water and a functioning latrine. As participants in PCI's SG initiative entitled Women Empowered (WE), women have independently identified WASH needs in their communities and have organized and carried out collective actions to improve their situation. This paper highlights results from a qualitative study in which PCI looked at SGs within two international development programmes in urban and rural Guatemala. The paper explores key opportunities in implementing an integrated, social and economic empowerment strategy and how changes in self-efficacy and leadership can lead to positive community impact. PCI found that participation by women in rural and urban Women Empowered SGs contributes to increased decision-making abilities and leadership, as well as increases in collaborative, collective actions at the community-level. Moreover, when one integrates SGs as a component of larger, multi-intervention development programmes, one can create a facilitative environment which encourages SGs to participate as active development partners rather than passive development recipients.