Savings Groups Help Low-Income Families ‘Put Their Money to Work’

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When a financial advisor says, "Put your money to work for you," stocks, index funds, high-yield CDs and other investments probably come to mind.

But what if you had no access to E-Trade, Charles Schwab, or even a neighborhood bank? What if the closest financial institution wouldn't even accept your deposit? Or what if the fees for setting up an account and making deposits outweighed the benefits of using such services?

How, then, would you "put your money to work"?

The answer for many women and men in rural, under-served communities across the developing world is "by participating in savings groups."

Last week, Julie Zollmann, an associate at Bankable Frontier Associates, gave a talk at CGAP headquarters in Washington D.C. about a financial diaries research project that she headed up in Kenya. Julie and her colleagues recorded detailed financial transactions and tracked the habits of 300 low-income families in both urban and rural communities in Kenya.

Their meticulous research showed that these individuals – many of whom are micro-entrepreneurs – are quite active money managers. They are always looking for ways to put their money to work, and savings groups are among their favorite tools.

"Most...saving was quite intentionally pushed into financial assets—like savings groups—where it could not be immediately withdrawn," Zollmann writes in a blog post for CGAP's website.

"These kinds of devices are playing an important role in the portfolio, helping money build up into useful, investible sums. And, most of the time, they are also playing an auxiliary function. This money, our respondents told us, is not just sitting there – it is working. While the respondents have a future claim on those funds, they serve another purpose in the immediate, such as enabling a loans or enabling a friend or neighbor to invest today. Money that just sits around idle under the mattress—even in a bank account—is seen as wasted."

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2014 Fall Gala to Highlight Five Talents' Micro-Savings Programs

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On October 17, friends and supporters of Five Talents will have an opportunity to learn -- first-hand -- about the organization's programs in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The 2014 Fall Gala, titled "Portraits of Empowerment", will feature a special guest and speaker from Five Talents' program in Kenya.

Guests will also enjoy a delicious meal and a silent auction featuring beautiful hand-crafted products from Myanmar, Indonesia, Kenya, Bolivia and other countries where Five Talents works.

Attendees will also get an inside look at how their participation in the event and support of Five Talents directly benefits the lives of women and men struggling along the road out of poverty, through access to micro-business loans, savings group formation, business skills training, and mentoring.

Click here to find out more about the special event and purchase tickets.

Our annual Fall Gala provides a great opportunity to introduce friends and family to the work of Five Talents. Click here to invite people in your network via the Fall Gala Facebook Event page.

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A Video Invitation For You and Your Friends to 'Walk With Us'

Walk With Us: Provide a Helping Hand Along the Road Out of Poverty from Five Talents on Vimeo.

We're excited to share with you this short video slideshow featuring photography from Adam Dickens, a longtime Five Talents supporter, along with an invitation to "walk with us" as a monthly donor.

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'Our Work Is Serving Those Whom Other Organizations Deem As Too Risky'

Janet in Kenya
In April, Mahoo Lyimo, Development Officer with Five Talents UK, traveled to Kenya to spend time with program staff and savings group members.

Among the women she met was Janet (pictured above), a member of the Malyatte Trust Group in Embu, Kenya.

Since joining a savings group, Janet has moved from sporadic work, such as picking tea leaves, to setting up a micro-business selling grocery items. She can now employ people -- something that she never thought possible. She has access to small loans. She can afford to pay for her children's school fees, and she generally feels more empowered, thanks to the support of fellow group members.

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Slideshow: The Year in Instagram Photos

We couldn't squeeze photos of all 72,725 women and men who participated in our micro-enterprise development programs during 2013 into this brief slideshow. But we picked about 30 favorites from our Instagram feed, mixed in a clip of Gungor's "I Am Mountain" (a great song!) and whipped up this musical collage as a thank-you to supporters like you.

You'll find photos of women and men whose lives are being transformed thanks to their participation in savings groups, loan groups and business skills training seminars.
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Download and Read Five Talents' 2012-2013 Annual Report

AR1213_cover_smTo all of us here at Five Talents, November is an important month. It is around this time that we get to release our latest annual report and share stories, statistics and testimonies about the transformation that is happening across Asia, Africa and Latin America -- because of you.

Your prayers, advocacy and donations helped Five Talents serve 72,725 women and men in 2012-2013. As Dr. April Young, Chair of Five Talents USA's Board of Directors, puts it in her letter on Page 2 of the annual report, that is "72,725 stories" that each of you have played a role in over the last 12 months.

We are so grateful for the support of our friends and donors, and we trust that you will find our 2012-2013 Annual Report as inspiring as we do.

When you hear a woman like Matilda, in Bolivia, explaining how she challenged her family to save for their children's education; when you hear Consolate, in Burundi, attesting to her husband's transformation as a father and as an image-bearer of God; when you hear Nena, in the Philippines, explaining how she uses some of the profit from her micro-enterprises to help her neighbors, we hope you will also hear the voice of the Master saying to his faithful, trustworthy servant, "Well done."

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Weekly Window: On the Road Outside of Thungururu, Kenya

This lovely photo was taken by Mahoo Lyimo, Development Officer with Five Talents UK, during her recent program visit to Kenya. She was on the road outside of Thungururu Village, the latest community to celebrate the arrival of a new community-owned bank, when she and those with her came upon this group of school children.

In a recent blog post, she wrote about the folks she met in Thungururu:

Formerly some people were travelling up to 60km to visit their local bank. These village banks have improved financial access considerably. The village banks are also flexible enough to adapt to the changing needs of their communities and can adapt their products accordingly. For the savvier minded member they can even own shares in the village bank and get a healthy return at the end of the year.

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Savings Groups Making Healthier Families and Churches in Rural Kenya

NAIROBI, Kenya -- I saw a miracle yesterday.

I've been in Nairobi attending the second GAFCON Conference with a number of fellow Five Talents Board Members and leaders, meeting many of our clients and partners and making new friends. We took a day away from the conference yesterday to drive up to Thika to visit the Thika Community Development Trust, a savings group sponsored by Five Talents.


Under the guidance and leadership of Bishop Gideon Githiga, and the direction of Peterson Karanja, Program Director, the Trust has grown dramatically from its modest beginnings in 2005. The program now has almost 5,000 members, 41 savings groups, and over $1 million in accumulated savings. The program is being acknowledged a great success, and is already being replicated in one adjacent diocese, with two more dioceses planning to launch similar programs. I spoke briefly this morning with Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, the Primate of Kenya, who spoke highly of the Thika program and said that he hopes that they will eventually have similar programs in every diocese in Kenya!

Exciting as this is, Five Talents has always been about more than numbers. Indeed, there are numerous microfinance programs in existence that can boast growing membership and good financial performance. However, Five Talents has always had a commitment to reach the "riskier, poorer, and smaller" areas that have been underserved by commercial programs, and has maintained a focus on the whole person, rather than just financial performance. And by that standard, this program is even more impressive.

I had visited Thika twice before, and had heard Bishop Gideon state previously his commitment to microfinance as a key part of ministry in his diocese. But yesterday I heard firsthand the testimony of a parish priest, who stated that families in his community had grown stronger as a result of their participation in their savings group, and that their prosperity and well-being had increased to the point that they were able to meet their own needs, and were able to contribute more to the life of the church as a result.

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‘From Misery to Canaan’: Three Recent Books Depicting Journeys Out of Poverty

The road out of poverty, needless to say, is not an autobahn. The going is tough, and usually slow. But there is a way out, and this blog – with its weekly posts – aims to show what that road looks like for some folks.

We share photographs, post Q&As and highlight successes of women and men who are learning to turn their income-generating activities into sustainable micro-enterprises.

We blog about the opening of a community bank. We share stories of women learning to balance their books and market their business. We post reports of parents earning enough to send their kids back to school.

Occasionally, we share stories from outside our programs – from magazine articles and books. Below, you'll find three recommended reads – one novel and two works of nonfiction – that depict individuals making their way along the road out of poverty.

Before summer winds down, we hope you'll pick up at least one of these books and perhaps share this list with a friend:

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, by Mohsin Hamid (Fiction, 2013)
FilthyRichThis novel depicts the life story of a young boy whom we find, in the opening pages, "huddled, shivering, on the packed earth" under his mother's cot. Each chapter jumps to another point in the boy's life, until we find him a grown man living out his last days as a member of the upper class. What makes this novel particularly riveting is its point-of-view: Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, puts us, the readers, in the shoes of the main character by composing the book in the second person. In other words, "you" are the one who is "huddled, shivering, on the packed earth" under the cot. "You" are the one who will benefit from your mom's hard work and receive an education. "You" are the one who will start a small enterprise and eventually grow it into a small empire. "You" will have trudged along the road out of poverty, and "you" will have the scars to prove it.

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Micro-Enterprise Development for the Marginalized

Screen_Shot_2013-08-02_at_9.04.44_AMPick up this month's issue of Foreign Policy and you might not want to open it. After all, it's the magazine's annual "failed states" issue, and the list is, according to the editors, "depressingly familiar."

But go ahead and dig in, or click here for the online version, because in the stories and statistics you will get a glimpse of some of the communities where Five Talents and our partners are organizing savings groups, providing literacy training, teaching basic accounting and marketing skills, and providing access to microloans.

For example, a stunning two-page photo spread in the print edition shows a malaria-stricken soldier resting in a hut in Juba, South Sudan.

Turn the page and you'll find that Five Talents is working in six countries near the top of the "failed states" list, including Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, Kenya and Myanmar.

Dig deeper still and you'll find a table of statistics highlighting these countries' poverty, adult literacy, and child mortality rates. In South Sudan, for example, 51 percent of the country's 10 million people live below the national poverty line.

Five Talents works in under-served, at-risk, post-conflict communities because in them are the folks that can most benefit from participating in a savings group, accessing loan capital, and learning how to start or grow an income-generating activity, or micro-enterprise.

Take some time to explore the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine and learn more about the people that Five Talents – and you, through your advocacy, prayers and donations – are serving. Here's some recommended reading from the issue:

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