Fall 2021

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Littorals Regional Initiative By Atiewin Mbillah-Lawson, Communications and Reporting Officer

I attended a week-long field multimedia production and training trip in August for the USAID Office of Transition Initiative’s Littorals Regional Initiative (LRI). Taking place in Nabore, a rural community in Ghana’s Savannah region, the training focused on the newly established Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA). The experience was eye-opening for me. Facilitated by the Center for Conflict Transformation and Peace Studies, VSLAs provide financial educa- tion and training to marginalized groups, including members of the Fulbe tribe, who have typically been unbanked. The VSLA organizes, among other things, savings and loan meetings where members can learn and practice financial management skills. As I attended one such meeting, I watched as Fulbe members counted their pennies to determine how much they had saved that week. I watched the interactions among the 30 VSLA members who sat outside in a circle of chairs and saw them grin with pride at how much they had accumulated since the last savings and loan meeting.

For years, many Fulbe members have not used fi- nancial services because they do not trust them to keep their money safe and they lacked the knowl- edge and documentation required to establish a VSLA. This lack of formal financial management has made Fulbe members vulnerable to negative external influences, such as criminals and violent extremist organizations. Through the guidance of the VSLA, which is acces- sible to and inclusive of both Fulbe and non-Fulbe members, they can learn to manage their own savings, while reducing the need to seek monetary support from illicit actors. Coming from Ghana’s Upper East Region, also near the Savannah, I feel a deep sense of connection and gratitude for being part of the LRI team that works to build cohesion and resilience in commu- nities like Nabore. I look forward to seeing a similar impact in the five other communities where 14 additional VSLAs have been implemented. n

VSLAs create savings and lending opportunities in rural Ghana.

In this Issue

Signals of Change 14 p.

07 Dispatches

Updates from around our world

08 // New Creative Programming 09 // Field Notes

10 // Nigeria Education Initiative Plus: By the numbers 12 // In Focus: West Africa Trade & Investment Hub

14 Cover Package Signals of Change: How local partnerships are rebuilding trust and livelihoods in Northeast Syria

NEI Plus By the Numbers 10 p.

West Africa Trade Hub, Liberia 12 p.

ON THE COVER: A farmer stands with arms full of potatoes in Al-Mansoura, Raqqa. Photo taken by Mohammed Ghannam, Field Officer for Syria’s Agriculture and Livelihoods Stabilization Project (ALSP).

Photos by Erick Gibson (Snap Shot; NEI Plus), ALSP Staff (Signals of Change); John Healy (West Africa Trade Hub)

4 | Think Creative | Fall 2021

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