Greeting as a Basic Human Need
A very poor Malian woman joined Nyesigiso - the big network of cooperatives in Mali that I was then the director of. Remarkably she was able to save some money, and borrowed some also, and went into business. It was a very small business - it started with 1500 francs, about three dollars. The business grew, and she began to acquire some assets and more important, confidence. We wanted to see what the impact of membership was, especially on the businesses of our members, so we brought some consultants in to do a qual-quan impact study. I went out in the field to spend some time with the members, and I met this woman and asked her what had changed in her life. “People greet me now,” was the unexpected response.
I asked what she meant by that. The woman replied, “I was so poor, that I had only one pagne (cloth) to wear. So, I would wait until the evening when everyone had gone to bed, and wash it so I could wear a clean pagne the next day. When I greeted people in the street, they would avert their eyes and hurry by. They were afraid I would ask them for money. Now, when I greet people, they greet me back. And people even greet me before I greet them!”
I drew two lessons from this:
First, financial services can help people to build up assets. Essentially, people manage to save some money, and having money is one great way to get out of poverty. Show me someone with money, and I’ll show you someone who is less poor than someone without money!
Second, it’s hard for most of us to grasp the misery of extreme poverty. Not being greeted is a kind of degradation that I’d hate to experience. It’s worse than having low standing: it’s having no standing, not being fully human.