Christina Daelo (top) prepares vegetables for lunch with a relative. Mchiramwera, Thyolo District, Malawi. Image: ETP/Homeline Media
Christina Daelo poses in front of her goat kraal. By participating in the Ulalo programme, she has been able to save money through the Maso Patsogolo VSLA and buy her own livestock. Mchiramwera, Thyolo District, Malawi. Image: ETP/Homeline Media

Ulalo ‘Bridge’

A community lending and saving scheme addressing poverty and gender inequality in Malawian tea.

Helping tea workers leave loan sharks behind.

Ulalo – which translates to ‘Bridge’ – tackles financial inequality experienced by Malawi’s tea sector workers, many of whom rely on money lenders.

It pays particular attention to women to close the economic gender gap, breaking down traditional barriers that have restricted their financial independence.

The initiative works by creating local Villages Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) and providing skills training, including record-keeping, finance management, and business idea generation.

  • 2021-2024
  • Status: On-track

Project overview

Bridging the gap workers, particularly women, face each day in Malawi’s tea sector.

Project partners

Taylors of Harrogate and ETP core funding; in-kind contribution from Lujeri Tea Estates 

Christina Daelo (right) prepares vegetables for lunch with a relative. Mchiramwera, Thyolo District, Malawi. Image: ETP/Homeline Media

We have been working on VSLA projects in Malawi since 2016, and we have seen first-hand the benefits tea communities gain from building knowledge and financial and technical skills.

Through Ulalo, we hope to directly impact more than 10,000 tea workers by establishing at least 550 VSLAs.

By ensuring that 60 per cent of these workers are women, we aim to reduce gendered economic inequalities across entire communities. Our goal is for women to have improved financial stability and opportunities to make their own informed, life-changing decisions around money.

Eliza Bangula waters her vegetable garden. Taking part in the Ulalo programme and saving money through the Amayi Otsogola VSLA gave Eliza an alternative to borrowing money from loan sharks at high rates of interest. Mulanje District, Malawi. Image: ETP/Homeline Media

VSLAs are a model originally developed by CARE International. Each VSLA is an informal self-managed group of 15-25 people that provides their members with basic and practical financial experience.

Members put individual savings into a joint fund, then borrow money from it at an agreed rate of interest (typically 20-30%). Over time, the groups’ profits grow as loan repayments are made.

After 6-12 months, the accumulated savings are distributed back to members, and a new saving cycle begins.

To assist in this process, we also provide complementary finance and accounting training for VSLA members.

Christina Daelo releases a kid from her goat kraal. By participating in the Ulalo programme, she has been able to save money through the Maso Patsogolo VSLA and buy her own livestock. Mchiramwera, Thyolo District, Malawi. Image: ETP/Homeline Media

Ulalo is still ongoing, but so far: 

  • 107 VSLA groups have been established. 
  • Less than 20% of VSLA members would now consider taking a loan from a loan shark. 
  • We have directly reached 1,072 tea workers (53% women) and 5,360 people indirectly (70% women). 
  • We have provided training for 20 new VSLA group leaders and lead workers. 
  • Members who lost their homes and property during Cyclone Freddy were able to use a social welfare fund through the VSLA groups. 
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Key achievements
Eliza Bangula riding her bicycle which she bought after saving money for six months with the Amayi Otsogola VSLA. Taking part in the Ulalo programme and saving money gave Eliza an alternative to borrowing money from loan sharks at high rates of interest. Mulanje District, Malawi. Image: ETP/Homeline Media
107

VSLA groups established

15-25

people per VSLA

170

vocational trainees 

20

lead VSLA workers trained