The Philippines is rich in marine and coastal resources and is home to a large fishing industry. However, small-scale fishers are among the country’s poorest and most marginalized people. The average fisher earns around P178 (Philippine Pesos) per day, which barely covers the basic needs of their families. As a result, fishers have limited savings to protect their households from unforeseen financial challenges such as natural disasters, illness and variations in fish yields. Unmet financial needs increase the tendency to overfish, reducing the impact of marine conservation efforts and increasing the pressure on ocean ecosystems. Furthermore, in isolated coastal communities, near-shore fishers have historically had limited access to formal financial institutions because of their low and unpredictable incomes.

To support fishers, Sun Life Foundation is assisting Rare, a global leader in program development for people and nature, with an innovative pilot project in the Negros Oriental Province. The project seeks to revitalize vulnerable coastal communities.

To address the links between financial vulnerability and risk to ocean ecosystems, the project launched 22 savings clubs in three fishing villages. The program uses a model for community-managed loans and savings and provides financial literacy training. This model aims to ensure fishers are protected from financial vulnerability which encourages overfishing. Fishers who become club members pool money together and direct it towards a shared goal. Members can also take low-interest rate loans from the pool. Profits from repaid loans are shared among members. Education activities help participants learn how to set financial goals and build good financial habits, so that they can use their savings to buy items such as fishing gear or electronic devices for their children’s virtual classes.

With nearly 1,000 savings club members enrolled, the program has become an invaluable resource to fishing families, during both the COVID-19 pandemic and recent devastating typhoons. The clubs have accumulated P2.8 million in savings and local fishers are proud of both their new-found financial knowledge and their growing savings that protects them against emergencies and health-care costs, or that can be used to fund future education or entrepreneurial goals.

In phase two of the pilot, Rare will be expanding the program to four new towns and aims to conduct at least four financial education activities. This work is expected to help 500 community members and empower at least 50 local leaders and youth program champions.