Maybe adults are a lost cause. Development agencies spend so much time and money trying in vain to get adults to change their behavior, to little effect.
We all have a theory of change about human development and usually it is a theory we hold about others, not about ourselves. This is true for savings groups as well. We who read and write this blog would not want to be part of a savings group, but we are convinced others do. Let’s face it. They will do whatever we tell them; our good intentions are a kind of tax on group members. They pay the tax and in exchange they hope to get more tangible benefits: maybe an irrigation system, a new school building, or in lean times, food. Maybe in the process we might trick them into positive behavior that they will sustain over time, and then again, maybe not. There is an exception to such cynicism and it’s called …
kids. Children are the great exception to development ennui. They aim to learn and to please. Take Sueños Infantiles (Childhood Dreams), a savings group of 13 members in the rural hamlet of Cañas, Honduras. The youngest member of the group is seven and the oldest just ten. Sueños Infantiles meets once a week on Thursdays after class in their one room school house. Members deposit one lempira, about five cents, into the group fund. One lempira does not seem like a whole lot but the prospect seems to bring delight, or at least a lot of giggles, to members. Unlike a previous post on the Youngest Loan Sharks, this group does not yet lend its money. They seem to enjoy watching coins accumulate in their cash box, wellguarded by the Treasurer.
When asked “why do you save?” in unison three members respond, “so we can have more money.” Duh. Why do we ask such a silly question? And more importantly why do adults respond so differently to the same question? Why do grown-up members say things like: we save for emergencies or we save to smooth consumption, or for that matter any of the things we program them to say? Why don’t they just say “we save so we can have more money?” Because they know better. If they answer directly, chances are that other benefits headed their way will dry up. Mundane answers are not welcome in the world of development. Adults get this.
Kids are different. It’s hard to program them. They cannot help but report what they see. In fact, several members of Sueños Infantil can recount in perfect detail the exact debates they had over the group name, a rare thing for savings groups. Cindi one of the younger members says she wanted the word dream in the name because “we could not imagine what saving might be like – it was like a dream to me.” But, she did not get her way with the entire name. She wanted Sueños de Ahorros (Dreams of Savings) and was out-numbered. Another member points out proudly that infantil was in fact her choice and fared well against other options. It was clear that these young savers were not just following rote orders or an agenda of consensus offered up by a lackluster promoter. They were deeply engrossed in every decision, including exactly where the keys to the cash box were to be hidden: “It’s a secret!”
Members gather their deposits from parents who see child savings as key to constructing a their future. Patience, thrift and resisting temptation are part of this future. As one mother said: “we find it difficult to refuse our children. When they ask for money for candy, we can’t say no. When they ask for money to put in their savings box, we really can’t say no. It’s nice to be able to ask them: would you prefer that I give you one lempira to spend on candy or one lempira to put in your club’s cash box? They always prefer the cash box.”
Parents are betting that savings clubs for kids are a good thing and will produce long-lasting financial behavior, perhaps even better behaviors than their own. “I am saving, too, along side my child,” said a young mom. “I force myself to set aside a coin each week to make sure my own daughter is not embarrassed during meeting day. I find it difficult to save for me, but to help my children save? That is another story. They are learning a habit that can last a lifetime. I only wish I had had that experience.”
Reader Comments (4)
Great post, Kim, that left me with a smile. "Why do you save?" "To have more money!" Duh, indeed!
Mon, May 16, 2011 | Paul Rippey
I love this post Kim! We have a similar group here, except they call themselves the "Adorable Divas"! Another group, "Young Blood" put in their constitution that no adults (except the training officer) are allowed to attend their meetings because at the beginning, their mothers came along to make sure the kids saved and loaned out their money they way the adults wanted!
Wed, May 18, 2011 | Jill Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Es excelente Kim, la forma en que muestra el gran trabajo que hacen los niños y niñas en Honduras y Centro América. La alegria, el compromiso y la rapidez para aprender de los niños nos indican que por medio de la participación en un grupo de ahorro tendremos adultos más concientes del uso de los recursos, con desarrollo de valores fuertes.
Fri, June 3, 2011 | Mabel Guevara
Thank you Kim, this is a delight. I met a not dissimilar group at a school (sort of school, under a tarpaulin on a building site in Jaipur) in India last year. Seven to nine year olds, mixed boys and girls, and guess what; the boys held all the officers' positions and proudly told me so, and the girls kept quiet, kept the books and saved more reliably.
Tue, June 21, 2011 | Malcolm Harper