The First Five Minutes

The First Five Minutes


Imagine you are in an African village. Your job is to train a group of 25 people in how to manage a Savings Group. It’s your first meeting with them; you don’t know them, and they don’t know you. You wait patiently while a local authority introduces you and thanks you for being there, and then perhaps someone opens the gathering with a prayer. All eyes turn towards you, expectantly. You exchange the customary greetings with the group… it’s very quiet as the members wait for you to get down to business… What do you say in the next five minutes?

I have never trained a savings group, but I’ve been in enough training sessions – both sitting in a chair as a participant and in front of the group as a trainer – to know that the initial presentation goes a long way to defining what is going to happen for the rest of the training.

  • It establishes the tone: will the training be academic, with the trainer spending a lot of time explaining things, or participatory, with the group being asked to find solutions, or somewhere in between, or something else altogether? 
  • It can establish expectations about the degree of mastery expected: is everyone in the group expected to learn everything? Really? Or, will the training end when enough people understand things? And how many is enough?
  • It can situate the Savings Group training in the context of other relationships between the implementing agency and the group. Is the Savings Group training a one-off activity, or is it one activity among many that the implementing agency is offering to the group?
  • It can define the responsibilities of the group. In exchange for the training, what is expected of them? 

The Arusha Savings Group Summit in October is going to offer some practitioners a chance to demonstrate to the participants at the conference what they say in the first five minutes, in an exercise called Under the Mango Tree. The trainers who have stood under various mango trees in countries like Uganda and Mali, and have trained three or four million group members in Africa, are the experts, and I think the details of their work are not sufficiently known. It will be fascinating to hear the different approaches to the First Five Minutes that are used by some of these masters. And, we might invite a few of the international experts to take a try at it also; while they haven’t done the hard work at the village level, they have seen a lot of training sessions in many countries, and maybe they can bring something new to the party also.

I’m certainly not an experienced trainer of savings groups, but here’s what I would say:


Sisters and brothers, group members, colleagues. Today we are beginning a training in which you will learn how to save, borrow, and take care of your emergency needs, in better ways than you have ever imagined. You will learn procedures that have worked all across the continent, with millions of people like you. I promise you that if you follow those procedures, your savings will grow, you can have a loan when you need it, and after a year, you will be surprised – very surprised! – at how much you have saved, and you will have a lump sum to take home that is bigger than you could have imagined. And in the process of doing that, you will become more confident and capable of running an organization than you ever imagined that you could be. This group will be completely democratic, and every member will have the same voice. It will also be completely transparent, and every one of you – every one! – will know what is happening to every last franc (or shilling, or zaire) at every minute. Nothing, absolutely nothing, will happen in this group that you don’t know about.

And I promise you that I will tell you everything you need to know – in fact, I will not leave this group if there is even one thing in my head here that I haven’t transferred to your heads. I’ll tell you everything, and by the time I’m done, you will know everything I do about how to manage a group.

But I need your help to keep those promises. I can only do that if you come to all the trainings and pay attentions. Also, you have to let me know if you have questions – if I leave a training session, and you have a question unasked, then I can’t guarantee results.

Finally, I’m giving you a gift – this training is valuable, and you are getting it for free. So here’s what I require in return: just like I am going to tell you everything I know, you have to share that knowledge with other people. You have to pass on this bright flame to everyone else in the village. This savings group is a gift, and the gift must keep moving.

Any questions? Does everyone agree? Okay, let’s get started…

That’s what I’d say, but I expect to be amazed, surprised and schooled by what the other participants say. What would you say? I invite the readers to click on the “post a comment” button below - be bold! - and leave us your first five-minute speech, that you would give under the mango tree.


Reader Comments (3) 

Hi Paul,
Well that is a tough act to follow and I am neither an African villager or an international expert but I think what seems like the right way to use my first five minutes is to ask several questions and respond to the answers. So here's how it might go...
Today I have come to tell you about a new kind of savings and lending tool that may be quite different than other ways you have been able get money when you needed it or keep money safe when you had more than you needed at the moment. But before I begin to tell you about this new tool I want to ask if anyone here has borrowed money from a loan shark? What did you dislike about borrowing from this person? What did you like about it? How do you save money now and is it really safe? How do you lose your money? Was there a way you found that you could keep your money safe most of the time? 
What are the kinds of expenses you have that are too big for your daily income or a few days of saved income would pay for? How have you managed to pay these expenses in the past?
If you could have a large amount of money, let’s say ten times more than your regular daily income what could you do with this money?
Have you borrowed money from family or friends or have they borrowed from you? How did that work out? Was everyone paid back? Are you still on good terms with these people?
If you could make your own savings and lending program what are 3 or 4 things that it would need to be able to do for you that would make it better than anything you can use now?
Often people can get things done in groups more efficiently than alone. How have you been able to work in groups to do things that would be hard or impossible otherwise? What was good about working in a group? What helped you to feel like you could trust the people you were working with? Have you had bad experiences working in a group? What kinds of things have gone wrong when a group didn’t work?
From your answers I can see that you have a lot of experience managing your expenses, despite often not having enough money to makes ends meet. I learned that you also have had both good and bad experiences borrowing money and loaning other people money and sometimes the deals have worked better with strangers than with relatives and sometimes the help from your family made the difference between survival and disaster.
I also understand that you often rely on groups to get the big things done that only many people working together can do. And that at times the behaviour of people who said they were leaders or other people on the fringes made being in a group a trying experience and meeting your goals nearly impossible.
From all of these answers I know that you already possess most of the knowledge necessary to make the savings group we are here to learn about become successful. Our task now is to learn the rules and procedures perfected by millions people like you over many, many years. You will learn to be your own bankers; you will learn how to be the banker for your fellow group members. You will learn how to keep money safe and accounted for. You will learn how to build trust upon a foundation of common interests which is access to sufficiently large amounts of cash from time to time to meet your needs and in the meantime a safe place to save. 
All of your bad experiences like the loan shark who charged painfully high interest or the relative who borrowed your last coin which you knew would never be re-paid have taught you how to avoid these pitfalls. The ability you already have, as you told me, to use group power to get things done tells me your group will get things done and everyone will benefit financially and as a community from here on! Let’s get started.

Tue, May 31, 2011 | Bill Maddocks (


the first five minutes after of course exchanging greeteing would go like this, ( may not exactly be five minutes)

where do people in this community save
and where do the people in this community borrow-
what experiences have people had?

summarize that people already save and borrow and hve had different experiences

introduce saving led microfinacne- to day i want to introduce toyou a different way to save and borrow ...and empahasize the features of savngs led, member owned , self managed/ governedgroups, transparency and accountability, fund growth ( and demonstrates with possible scenaarios given by participants twhat this means), facilitation support and what they have to do to start this operating.

also introduce the roles and expectation of the different parties involved. and at the end make sure i get some confirmation of whther they are intersted or not - of cousre with that they should be interestesd, and then agree on when to start and how long it willl be etaking the venue and when it will end


Thu, June 30, 2011 | Wanjiku Karanja


I challenged my training officers to write down their 5 minute speech and would like to share it with Savings Revolution readers. As follows:

5 Min Speech - July 2011
Denise Yeye; Lynette Louis—Training Officers, Mpendulo Savings

A good day to all of you, I’m very honoured to be here with you today. I feel so lucky to speak to you, because u are such lovely people here in your beautiful town. I want to ask u a question, ‘who of u who are here today wants to be a millionaire? Yes! I think all of us want to be millionaires and here’s how you can do it. Today is the beginning of a new chapter in your life.

I hope all of u has come with an expectation, because I know this is the place where your expectations will be fulfilled. Today you will start training free of charge where u will learn how to save and to borrow. You will learn the Procedures and if you take it seriously and do it correctly your savings will grow.

We would accomplish many more things in life if we did not think of them as impossible, and at the end of the year u will be so amazed of how much money you have saved, so group let’s get this training started. As Helen Keller said, “alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”

Fri, July 29, 2011 | 


NB: Originally published in July 2011, but date changed to move it closer to the top of our chronological list. 

The Oldest Group in the World

The Oldest Group in the World

Bitcoin Bites Back

Bitcoin Bites Back