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CAPE TOWN, South Africa – The chances are that most people who live in South Africa have never been to Sweden, but work will begin work this month on developing nine new SACCOs (savings and credit cooperatives) in the Eastern Cape area of South Africa as the result of a grant the country’s SACCOL (Savings and Credit Cooperative, Ltd) has received from a Swedish cooperative organization. R2.6 million ($350,000) has been awarded to SACCOL from the Swedish Cooperative Centre (SCC) based in Stockholm, Sweden. The SCC is comprised of Swedish federations representing 59 major cooperatives of different types. They currently are providing funding for projects in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia. The literal translation of their name Kooperation Utan Grnzer is Cooperation Without Borders. According to SACCOL General Manager David de Jong, “The Eastern Cape province is the most depressed economic region in South Africa and is largely rural. It has an unemployment rate of over 45%. The fact that it is rural and largely relies on social welfare grants and payments poses particular challenges to setting up viable SACCOs. Most member are engaged in some form of subsistence economic activity to survive such as subsistence farming or hawking.” SACCOL is winding up a project in the same area with funds provided by the Irish League of Credit Unions Foundation (ILCUF). This project saw the development of eight new credit unions. Thanks to ILCUF’s help, 25% of all credit union members are from the Eastern Cape area. “Their help,” de Jong said, “was immeasurable.” According to de Jong, “70% of the rural SACCOs membership are women, while 38% are involved in self employment activities 19% unemployed and 9% retired.” De Jong was quick to point out that they are not targeting women, but women have embraced the idea of SACCOs quickly. Despite the financial assistance, SACCOL still faces a major problem to implement the new project – the poverty of the region where the average income is $150 per month. According to de Jong, 60% of all South Africans are without access to financial services. Still, the spirit of co-cooperativeness is already working in the region informally. People band together to meet the needs of the larger group. When a member of a family goes to one of the two cities in the area, Port Elizabeth or New London, they send money back. But it is a real problem for people to put their meagre funds into any financial institution. SACCOL has three full-time staff members, but with the rapid growth of the past three years and the projected future growth they will need to expand. The first new employees will be used for training volunteers. They are awaiting word for new grants from USAID (United States Agency for International Development) and the Ford Foundation. De Jong believes SACCOS are the answer to giving people the basic financial services that will help them to help themselves to improve their lives. He feels the new grant will give SACCOL “the sound support to make some impact and inroads into providing these services for communities previously denied.” -

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