Addressing Root Causes of Instability
CARE Nederland commissioned a study to investigate how participation in Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) affects social cohesion in South Sudan.
The study found that while VSLAs act primarily as an approach for reducing poverty and improving financial well-being, they have localised influence over reducing conflict and improving peacebuilding.
VSLAs are a positive force for improving social cohesion for two main reasons: first, strengthening personal agency and one’s role in the community and second, reducing the motivation for conflict by improving economic status. The influence of VSLA membership is especially powerful for women and young men, who are able to shift their traditional community roles (to roles of leaders and entrepreneurs) as a result of economic empowerment. Also, VSLAs are a mechanism for improving economic activity, which has led to increased interaction between people both within the community and outside in income-generating activities and markets. Improving the financial well-being of community members has contributed toward improved social cohesion and peace as community members are not forced into conflict out of economic necessity.
However, VSLAs do not seem to reduce conflict or improve peacebuilding in a silo: they must work in tandem with other approaches and be aligned with contextual factors. When some members face hardship (e.g., family death, destruction of a small area of farmland, etc.), then the VSLAs can build overall resilience in the community. But, VSLAs cannot operate as the only resilient force when the whole community suffers from the devastation of a crisis, such as a flood. Other factors that influence social cohesion are peacebuilding trainings, shared income-generating activities and activities with other community groups. Despite evidence that VSLAs may influence other types of outcomes such as peacebuilding or shifts in gender norms, we must not lose sight of what they do best: improve the financial well-being of their members.