Bongole Parish MG is one of the 18 fast-growing parish-based savings and credit cooperatives in Uganda under the Maul Geumgo umbrella.
The Maul Geumgo financial cooperatives currently found in Mpigi and Mityana districts, were inspired by the success stories of rapid rural financial mobilisation in Korea that dates back to 1960s.
Started in October 2020, Bongole MG has become the envy of its peers in the MG league and other mushrooming SACCOS in the area, through the rapid expansion of its membership as well as mobilization of savings.
In a period of less than 3 years, Bongole MG has garnered 2100 members whose savings now total UGX268M and a loans portfolio of slightly more than UGX370m.
All this coming from largely the efforts and sacrifices of members and no cash incentives from outside.
Bongole MG started from eight villages that make up Bongole parish in Buwama Town Council in Mpigi district. Its birth coincided with the introduction of other Korean economic development initiatives by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA).
They included the extension of clean piped water to the parish, and support to youth-run agricultural projects that have endeared many and clearly transformed their lives.
Owing to vigorous mobilisation by the leaders, coupled with a strong sense of ownership by the members, the MG has now spread to 26 villages across Buwama Town Council.
Bongole’s rapid growth was acknowledged by Mr. Andy Kim, the Patron of all MGs in Uganda. Mr. Kim’s employer – the Korea Federation of Community Credit Cooperatives (KFCC) has championed and overseen the establishment and growth of MGs in Uganda and a few other countries in South East Asia such as Laos and Vietnam.
As revealed in our recent interview with Mr. Kim, KFCC’s work across the MGs has so far been to sensitize members on the benefits of mobilizing savings and provision of technical support to facilitate the smooth running of the cooperatives.
During a recent visit to Bongole, Mr. Kim showered praises on the leadership and members of the MG for their massive mobilisation campaign which he noted offers many lessons for other MGs in the country and anyone interested in financial empowerment of grassroots population.
“I think Bongole have achieved a lot. I was pleasantly surprised by the huge number of members recorded in such a short period,” Mr Kim said.
He expressed confidence that Bongole’s story will inspire hope in the rest of the countries where MGs have been established.
The stars aligned for Bongole’s success, right from its beginning, or so it seems.
The strong sense of passion, unity and goodwill that welcomed the MG to Bongole have persisted to date and continue to manifest in everything that the members touch.
The donation of a building to host the offices of the MG at inception by Hajj Ssekabira Hassan, the LC 1 chairman of Kanaani Village, one of the 8 villages that make up Bongole Parish, is constantly cited as a major step that helped to inspire confidence among the residents that this was a genuine cause.
Besides the in kind donation of office space, the members have not sat on their laurels either.
With mentorship from KFCC through the Uganda Federation of Credit Cooperatives (UFCC), the members of Bongole have developed some unique initiatives that have catapulted the MG to greater heights.
How Bongole achieved rapid growth
Perhaps their most important tactic has been the way they have inculcated into the community the mindset of savings as opposed to borrowing.
As Kairanga Godwin, the MG’s loans officer and one of its founder members testifies, they preach savings and savings.
At Bongole, members are encouraged to open two types of accounts; the Programmed savings account and the Voluntary savings account. Unlike the programmed savings account where a member withdraws money after a set period, the voluntary account allows one to access their savings whenever they want.
Kairanga says: “Our philosophy is that most of us can afford to live within our means. Borrowing must never be the first but rather the last option when faced with a problem that requires money.”
To achieve this mindset change, Kairanga and team have devised tactics to ensure that people grow their savings culture.
“We tell people not to allow money to leave their hands without keeping part of it,” says Kairanga.
The people of Bongole have suceeded in replicating the Korean saving culture that was popular back in the 60s, which encouraged housewives to save a handful of rice which they would collect in a pool to realise marketable quantities.
The idea is that you keep just a portion of every income that you make. Like the Korean women who made sure they saved rice without compromising the nutrition of their families, what you keep does not stop you from accomplishing your objectives. Done repetitively, this grows into a habit and formidable culture of saving and growth.
The local school initiative
The savings-first approach has been supplemented by an aggressive outreach campaign dubbed the local school. This strategy ensures that the leaders of the MG constantly engage the members and villagers in general by reminding them to save, and inform them about any new innovations.
“People have learnt to save. Our strategy is continuous sensitisation or what we call Local school. We target and make sure we reach everyone,” says Kairanga.
Member mobilisation has been made more pleasant by persuasive music that was composed by Mr. Kairanga with limited inkind support towards recording by Mr. Kim.
Buy-in from the leaders
The membership of Bongole MG has been boosted by the direct participation of local leaders right from the villages up to district level.
As Ms. Dorah Nakazibwe, the treasurer of UFCC and a member of another MG in Bukooba, located in Ssekanyonyi sub-country in Mityana district testifies, the direct participation of respected local leaders as members and active savers, has instilled a sense of confidence in the rest of the population that the initiative is credible and worthy their trust as a custodian of their savings.
“The Chairpersons and many councillors at LC 3 and LC5 are members of the MG. I think this has boosted confidence among the people when they see role models being part of the initiative,” says Nakazibwe. She admits that the absence of such high-calibre membership in Bukooba MG is undermining their mobilisation efforts.
Target young people to influence the adults
Children can be powerful change agents for parents, especially when it comes to introducing new social concepts. The students of St. Jude Buwama S.S can attest to this.
Nalukwago Robinah, 18 and Nakacwa Dorcus 16, both students of St. Jude Buwama were persuaded by their teacher Mr. Ssebyala John, one of their teachers who doubles as the treasurer of Bongole MG.
The duo testified that Master Ssebyala encouraged them to start saving for a project they could do after school.
Little did Master Ssebyala know that his message would attract the girls’ parents.
He notes that majority of the 27 students in his school who have become members of the MG, have recruited their parents to join the group.
Complementary support to boost the income-generating activities of the community of Bongole, such as support to agricultural activities for the youth, support for women entrepreneurship projects, provision of dairy cattle and fertilizers for farmers, has further endered community to the MG.
As Ndawula Alex, 30, the Manager of Kanaani Maize Farmers Field School, told this writer, their members have been trained in modern farming practices by another Korean project.
“They’ve also supported us with fertilizer as an incentive to attract reluctant young men to start to save a bit of their money,” says Ndawula.
Mr. Kyepa Andrew, the Chief Executive Officer of UFCC, the umbrella body that oversees MGs in Uganda, observed that they encourage the youth to join such income-generating ventures to grow their savings culture.
Muteesasira Gerald, the in-charge of operations at Kanaani farmers field school, testified that the support received towards their maize work has enriched them and opened their eyes to greater potential from working together.
Such testimonies are perhaps confirmation, that Bongole has put itself up as a model MG that should attract the attention of not only policy makers, but the rest of Ugandans who wish to rise from subsistence to the money economy.