Madame Oumou Mariko Doumbia was elected by her peers to be the first leader of the cooperative union in September. She lives in Sabalibougou, a peri-urban community in Commune V of Bamako, where Mali Health has worked for several years.
She is 52 years old and is married with seven children. Though she never had the chance to go to school, she has been a leader for women in her community for many years.
As she explains,
« In my community, so many women approached me for financial support or for other social needs. I managed to help many of them through my dyeing business, which I set up to create employment to help women in my community.
In the past, I had great difficulty meeting my needs and those of my children because our resources were limited. I have tried several different income-generating activities that were not successful. Having been through all this, it was easy for me to understand the requests of my sisters because I saw myself in them. »
But with a growing number of requests, Madame Doumbia was not able to satisfy them all. In 2015, she decided to establish a tontine with women in her neighborhood, hoping it would help meet their needs.
Over time, they encountered some challenges, such as when many women in the group became pregnant at the same time. With limited contributions, it became difficult for the tontine to cover all the maternal care and delivery expenses. They also struggled to cover the costs of health care for children, but the tontine continued serving its members.
It was 2016 when Madame Doumbia learned about Mali Health organizing savings groups in Sabalibougou to help women access healthcare. She invited our animateurs to come work with her group, which is how her collaboration with Mali Health began.
She notes how the partnership greatly helped with the challenges their group encountered. Their savings activities increased. Pregnant women receive all their maternal care throughout their pregnancies, and group members can access funds 24 hours/day for health needs. They also have more funds available for their income-generating activities. Thanks to their dedication, Madame Doumbia and her group were one of the first to pilot the cooperative program. They produce and sell soap, which has increased their revenue and allows group members to afford even more basic family expenses, like school fees for their children.
Mme Doumbia describes the changes this way :
« Personally, the support from Mali Health has enabled me to set up a system of social assistance between us women. I was then able to prosper in my business because requests are taken to the group and not me personally; so I can save more money for my family’s needs.
At the same time, I have enjoyed the consideration, respect, and trust of members of my community and political leaders. Political leaders rub shoulders with me regularly for electorate needs. Also, in the health sector, when setting up the new health association, ASACOSAB3, members of my group had the opportunity to make our voices heard and to fill 30% of the elected seats in the association. »
Mme Doumbia’s leadership continues to grow. Today, she is the president of the new cooperative union, a women-led grassroots organization created to support the cooperatives, developed by women in savings groups like hers. Focusing on peri-urban communities, the union currently has five member cooperatives from three different communities around Bamako. They named their union Keneya Yiriwa Ton, which translates to Promotion of Health.
Despite her experience and passion for supporting women in her community, she describes her initial hesitance at accepting the position :
« My sisters have given me the privilege of leading this union, and I accepted it with honor. At first I was worried, wondering how I could get out of it, because I haven’t been to school. But the capacity building trainings we received on leadership and business management made me a new person. I am proud to be at the head of this union. I will work to ensure that it is well-positioned to have a greater benefit to us women. »
Mme Doumbia and the other leaders have great hope in their union’s future and are determined for it to succeed. Noting the development of her savings group and cooperative in Sabalibougou, Mme Doumbia is sure that as they support more women, their strength and power will grow.
Union leaders are already determining how to support women’s leadership in their communities as well as the economic, health, and social well being of the union members. Mme Doumbia tells us, as they see it:
« Through the role that we play as pillars in our households, it is important that we prove that we have potential and that we are capable of change. This union is an opportunity to prove it. »