Two and a half billion people worldwide, too poor and too rural to be served by traditional financial institutions desperately need a better way to save and borrow. Jeffrey Ashe and Kyla Jagger Neilan say the answer is savings groups. In savings groups, members put what they can in a communal pot and make loans to individual members for needs like buying food to survive the "lean season" before the harvest, building a business, investing in livestock, or paying school fees. Once a year, the entire pot plus interest on loans is divided among the members. Unlike other poverty alleviation options, savings groups are run entirely by their members, and, they spread by word of mouth from village to village, allowing them to reach remote areas with remarkable success. By catalyzing the problem-solving capacity of the poor they avoid subsidies, debt, dependency, and high costs while reducing hunger and building assets and solidarity. Ashe and Neilan show that applying savings group principles could revolutionize development in areas as diverse as health, agriculture, education and grassroots political empowerment. "Being organized gives us courage," as one woman said.
It is their courage translated into action that explains the success of "in their own hands" development.
Jeffrey Ashe teaches microfinance at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, USA, and the Sustainable International Development program at Brandeis University, USA. He has worked in international development for decades, mnost recently as director of Community Finance at Oxfam America, where he and his team trained savings groups in Mali, Senegal, Cambodia, El Salvador, and Guatemala Kyla Jagger Neilan is an emergency and early-recovery program manager for Catholic Relief Services in the Central African Republic. She was formely a myAgro fellow in Mali, implementing a program that helps farmers use their savings to purchase fertilizer and seeds without going into debt.
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