Global Development Alliance: Saving Money Helps Philippines Fishers Save their Stocks

Starting a savings club is perhaps not the most obvious way of cutting down on overfishing, but Our Ocean is all about facilitating new solutions – and the innovative idea that Rare announced in 2016 is already paying dividends.

Rare has a global small-scale fisheries programme, Fish Forever, which seeks to inspire communities to fish more sustainably, empower them to be involved in managing fishery resources, and give them the technical skills and solutions to better manage them in the long term.

Building on this work, Rare alongside USAID/Philippines and Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a collaboration to address overfishing in the Philippines. The project, named Harnessing Markets to Secure a Future for Near Shore Fishers, was funded under USAID’s Global Development Alliance (GDA) facility and designed to create economic incentives to conserve biodiversity and sustainably manage local fisheries.

For many fishers in the developing world, long-term stock sustainability is less of a concern than putting food on the table that same day – and this can lead to destructive fishing practices. One of the things the project did was explore whether their precarious livelihoods could be put on a firmer financial foundation, to enable them to fish more sustainably.

Savings clubs have proved to be an important part of the solution. They help people in coastal communities of the Philippines save smarter, and thrive from productive use of their savings. Members gather weekly to contribute to group savings, take out loans, and pay them off.

“Since 2016 in the Philippines,” says Nikki Schulman, Director of Global Development at Rare, “there have been more than 170 savings clubs established with over 4,000 members. Approximately 70% of members are women, and almost $2m has been mobilised in savings collectively with those communities. I think this is incredible.”

“Fishing is very unpredictable,” says Marilyn Martinez, who lives in the community of Looc in Occidental Mindoro, “and we rely on our savings to help us tide over during difficult times, especially when my husband [comes] back home empty-handed from fishing.”

The savings clubs benefit the communities more broadly, for example helping Remia Depuno in Libertad, Antique, to buy a motorcycle so her children were able to travel to and attend school, particularly during the rainy season. In addition to individual savings, the members regularly contribute a small amount to a social fund for unexpected needs, cushioning the impact of life’s shocks and helping each other become more resilient. Currently, the savings clubs are moving towards pooling their small funds among multiple clubs and allocating money for collective projects that benefit a larger group, or to support community projects.

The GDA project was completed in 2018 but the lessons learnt and approaches developed have influenced Fish Forever on a wider programmatic level, ensuring that the focus on financial resilience is now a mainstay of Rare’s work.

“Financial resilience has become a core part of Fish Forever,” says Schulman. “It’s not like these are new tools or new ideas in the development world, but they’re newer in the ocean space. We’ve now had similarly encouraging stories in Mozambique and in Honduras – a woman in Mozambique was about to save enough to connect the electricity grid, something that she never thought she would be able to do, so things like doing homework at night became a possibility in her house.”

The success of the savings clubs demonstrates that fishers can and do save on a regular basis, and Fish Forever has since developed a more comprehensive financial inclusion strategy for fishers that builds on the model honed during the GDA project. Training in financial literacy is taking place in communities around the world where Fish Forever operates, and connections to other financial services such as loans and insurance are being explored with partners.

This wouldn’t have been possible without the success of savings clubs, as Rare’s Director of Policy and Strategic Partnerships Anna-Marie Laura explains: “To be able to buy any insurance product, you have to have a pool of money to draw on, either individually or collectively as a community. It’s early in terms of what the insurance product might be, but if we didn’t have that foundation of the savings clubs and know that fishers were able to save money together, we wouldn’t be able to explore this idea of adding an insurance product that reinforces the model and makes them even more financially resilient, especially as we’re looking at insurance related to climate risk.”

Laura’s also proud of how the GDA-funded project was a successful example of collaboration between a private sector driver, government driver and NGO driver; and she’s enthused about how Our Ocean can help to bring these three sectors together.

“The main benefit of Our Ocean that we see year after year is its ability to drive high-level political leadership in this area. I see the government leadership as having been a win in the past for Our Ocean; I think we could probably do more to attract the private sector. These are three really important perspectives and we have to keep all of them in mind to get outcomes everybody wants.”

Photo Credit: Rare