Savings Groups in Missouri
Unlike a lot of the readers of Savings Revolution, I have no background in overseas development projects, and in fact - until recently - I had never been to Africa. Instead, I’m a wife, mom, entrepreneur, lawyer by education, and a licensed minister.
However, I have a passion for empowering people to succeed. A few years ago I saw a movie called Poverty, Inc., that had a very brief mention of Savings Groups in it. The world that Poverty Inc. described was in other countries, but it was a lot like my area here in Missouri. In 2009, St. Louis had the highest number of unbanked African Americans in the country. We also have the highest instance of payday loans per person in the country. According to the 2011 FDIC Survey, the St. Louis Metro area is home to 111,000 unbanked households (9.7%), and this has increased by 2.1 percent from 2009! There were 229,000 under-banked people, a fifth of the population, and that percentage has also increased since 2009.
People here want to improve their lives, but many of them understandably have a mistrust of the institutions around them. Savings Groups seemed to me like a possible way of bring people together, helping the set goals and achieve them, and providing them with access to some basic savings and credit.
However, I had never seen a savings group in my life and I thought that I needed help to start them, so I contacted some of the organizations that the internet said promoted savings groups; however, they all said they couldn’t help me because I live in the United States, and they only worked in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world! I looked around on the internet and found the website Savings Revolution. I contacted the founder, Paul Rippey, and asked his advice; he was encouraging, and said that Savings Groups were something that I could do myself; I asked him for his technical input on a couple of points, and he mostly told me that my ideas were fine and I should just go ahead.
We started our first group - the Wealth Walkers - in 2017. We started with Started with 15 members; one ran into difficulties, and 14 finished the cycle. Members took out 24 individual loans worth a total of $5,850; we used the leftover social fund to bless members of our church and families in the community.
After share-out, every one wanted to continue, and five of the original Wealth Walkers group members went on to form 4 new groups, including a youth group with an average age of 12 years old; Wealth Walkers added 8 new members for a cycle 2 total of 17.
In May of 2017, I was thrilled to go to the SG2018 conference in Kigali Rwanda, and present on our experience to a very enthusiastic and interested crowd. Paul shared the podium with me, and we both argued that people can start savings group by themselves without a trained trainer - BUT it is very very useful to have some guidance. I worked with Paul to develop the approach and manual available on StartYourSavingsGroup.com - designed to make it easier for people like me to start groups.