The third goal of a Community Economic Development volunteer in the Peace Corps is Personal Money Management. This goal helps community members to improve their financial management capacity in order to increase their household economic security and, ultimately, increase quality of life. This is my favorite Peace Corps goal so far.
Shortly after coming to site, I started throwing out the idea of forming community banks to start promoting savings and credits amongst our community members. Currently, there is not a culture of saving money at all, so this concept was completely foreign. But, the Municipality of the Province of Asunción came together and decided they wanted to pilot the bank program in what they call the “savings game.” I’ve even heard bank members say, “Do you want to play the savings game, too?” Hey, whatever gets people interested in saving money, right!?
So, all of the members of the bank got together and during our first meeting they elected the board of directors for the bank. This includes a President, Treasurer, Secretary, and 2 Auditors who each have their own roles and responsibilities. The bank as a whole has the power to make all of the decisions, but the board of directors helps manage the group. After electing the board, the bank made a list of rules and regulations. For instance, when someone comes to a bank meeting late, they must pay a fee (this is a no tolerance policy). Once the group discussed all of the processes and rules for the bank, they signed an official document and the bank was officially open. We even celebrated with homemade cakes!
The bank is not the kind of bank that we think of in the United States. It is actually just a wooden box with 3 locks (The President, Secretary, and 1 Auditor are key holders). Banco Asunción meets once a month and each meeting they put in a designated amount of savings. Bank members can also take loans for emergencies or to support income generating activities, such as opening a business. Each loan must be paid back in the designated time with the designated interest rate.
Banco Asunción is just piloting the program for 3 months, and then will start back up in January for 6 months. At the end of the 3 months, all of the bank members will receive their savings plus any interest or fines received in the bank during the 3 months. So far, the bank members have saved over S/1000 and there have been an equal number of loans, which means everyone will be enjoying some extra money from interest payments.
This is an absolutely great program that is based of Muhammad Yunus’ idea of strengthening developing economies through micro-financing. It is empowering community members to have access to money rather than spending everything that comes through their door. As Yunus once said, “Making money is a happiness. And that’s a great incentive. Making other people happy is a super-happiness.”