Aminatou Salifou (right, in the blue pattern) meets with her women's savings and loan group. (Photo by Jake Lyell)

Sheep, a savings account and doughnuts

It’s a sunny Thursday afternoon in Berni-N’Konni, Niger. Aminatou Salifou collects a small amount of money from each of her neighbors at their weekly savings and loan group meeting. She makes her financial contribution, then they discuss the week’s business, which includes new loan requests.

After the meeting, Aminatou returns to her small business at the nearby street market, where she sells fresh, delicious doughnuts. The delectable treats are a favorite in Niger, just like in the U.S.

It’s a new venture for 53-year-old Aminatou, and one she expects to grow, thanks — in large part — to her saving group and sheep.

The multiplying effect of sheep

Your generosity provided Aminatou with the initial capital she needed to purchase, care for and breed sheep — valued for their wool, milk and meat. She quickly grew a small herd and sold two sheep, earning a profit of nearly $100.

But that’s not what she used to start her doughnut business … not exactly.

Aminatou used the profit to purchase another ewe and contributed the rest to the savings and loan group.

The power in numbers

The group consists wholly of women from the community. They pool their contributions in a shared savings account to support each other when they need a loan for medical care, school fees or — in Aminatou’s case — a business investment.

Aminatou’s loan allowed her to launch her doughnut business without having to borrow money from a high-interest money lender. Meanwhile, she continues to grow her herd of sheep, pay back her loan and contribute to the group savings.

With two income streams — in addition to the income she may earn from selling crops — Aminatou is more financially secure than ever before.