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Access to financial skills: a key tool for sustainable development

Read how Christine Bigler introduces the savings and skills building project for casual workers in rural Rwanda.
© University of Basel

Casual agricultural workers in Rwanda receive very low wages. There is a project that supports them as they build up savings and develop financial skills.

“I want to have a better future and money. I don’t want to be a beggar”. (Marie, casual agricultural worker, Kinigi, Rwanda)
At 15 percent, casual agricultural workers represent the second-largest employment group in rural Rwanda. They work in the fields of agribusinesses and are among the poorest of the Rwandan population. The economisation of agriculture and the ongoing population growth are leading to an increasingly unequal distribution of land. Often, casual workers do not own land themselves or their own plot is too small to cover the basic needs of their families. As a result, they are forced into wage labour.
The growing sector of casual workers is highly feminised, which means that most workers in this sector are women. Wages are among the lowest in the rural labour market, at about 1000 RWF (1 USD) a day. They barely cover daily needs such as food and clothing. Therefore, there is no possibility to save. Casual agricultural workers, however, need to put some money aside and build up new income opportunities (Bigler et al. 2017).
“The other challenge [besides business ideas] is related to how to get money to invest in small businesses”. (Micheline, day labourer, Canyka, Rwanda)

The research findings generated by the project Feminization, agricultural transition and rural employment1 form the basis of the ongoing implementation project Building up savings and financial skills for economic empowerment and wellbeing of women and youth in rural Rwanda2. The project is funded by the r4d Transformation Accelerating Grant of the Swiss National Science Foundation.

The goal of this implementation project is to bridge the gap between theory and practice and to promote the financial inclusion and educational development of casual workers through savings groups with formal access to bank accounts and training. The aim is to empower casual workers to invest their saved money on their own or as a group, thus creating a new source of income for themselves.

The project has three key elements: first, casual workers receive 12-month contracts by the agro-entrepreneurs, and they have the opportunity to join a savings group with a bank account. In these groups, casual workers collectively save a self-defined amount of their wages.

Second, the members of the savings groups benefit from a training programme. This skill-building programme covers various topics, such as savings and business planning and management.

Third, the process is accompanied by a validation study. The study includes Randomised Control Trials (RCT) and qualitative interviews (Bigler and Ingabire 2019a, 2019b).

In September 2018, the project started with 28 agribusinesses, each forming a savings group of about 10 workers. A total of 75 percent of the participating workers were women.

In February 2020, another 14 savings groups were formed. The interest in the project was so great that not all casual workers could be included. Most of the participants in the savings group are very satisfied with the project, and several groups have already reinvested their saved money.

The first evaluation results show that the savings are often used to buy sheep, seeds and health insurance, as well as to rent land. Thus, an initial improvement in precarious living conditions can be observed (Ingabire 2020a).

The COVID-19 pandemic caused a delay in the project, and the training programme and data collection had to be postponed for several months. Fortunately, agricultural production was not affected by the general lockdown in Rwanda, and casual workers were able to continue with their savings projects (Ingabire 2020b)3.


Bigler, Christine; Amacker, Michèle; Ingabire, Chantal; Birachi, Eliud (2017): Rwanda’s gendered agricultural transformation. A mixed-method study on the rural labour market, wage gap and care penalty. In Women’s Studies International Forum 64, pp. 17–27. DOI: 10.1016/j.wsif.2017.08.004.

Bigler, Christine; Ingabire Chantal (2019a): New saving possibilities to empower women and youth in rural Rwanda: a story about bridging theory and practice. Blog, Feminization, agricultural transition and rural employment. Available from:

Bigler, Christine; Ingabire Chantal (2019b): Mid-term evaluation – foster financial inclusion. Blog, Feminization, agricultural transition and rural employment. Available from:

Ingabire Chantal (2020a): Report July/August 2020. Building up savings and financial skills for economic empowerment and wellbeing of women and youth in rural Rwanda. Not published.

Ingabire Chantal (2020b): Report September/Octobre 2020. Building up savings and financial skills for economic empowerment and wellbeing of women and youth in rural Rwanda. Not published.

  1. For more information, see: 
  2. For more information, see: 
  3. This article was first published in German in the journal Gender Studies from the Interdisciplinary Center for Gender Studies, University of Bern, in September 2020. 
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