Today’s Revolutionary:
Kathrine Switzer

Kathrine Switzer (b.January 5, 1947) was the first woman to register (as “K.V. Switzer”) and run in the Boston Marathon, in 1967. (Other women had jumped in previous marathons and completed it, but without registering and without numbers on their jerseys). Most of the other runners in the 1967 race were happy to run with a woman, and the race organizers did nothing, until about mile 4, when officials, led by Jock Semple, tried to stop her. “Get the hell out of my race and give me those numbers,” cried Mr. Semple. Kathrine’s boyfriend, also running the race, shielded her, and she continued and finished.

Switzer has since pointed out that nowhere in the rules was there any provision that runners had to men only. It was just assumed. In an case, the rules were revised five years later, in 1972, explicitly allowing women, and Mr. Semple, who had tried to stop her before, was instrumental in having the rules changed.



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Savings Groups are catching on in Europe and North America.

Follow this movement, and maybe get involved yourself.

Start by reading the Northern Lights page of Savings Revolution.

Then, if you like, contact us below, and we can talk about how you can form your own groups. We’ll put you in touch with someone who can help you do that!

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    Favorite Sites

    Here are some other sites that Kim and Paul read, that we think you might enjoy.


    Winkomun: This is a site of the ACAF network, mostly in Europe. They are doing great work and are Northern Lights leaders. Nice video where various members answer the question, “What is a Group”? Also available in español, català, and français. Where else can you get news about Savings Groups in Catalan?

    The SEEP Savings Led Working Group site. Congratulations to SEEP for putting together this comprehensive, easily accessible go-to site on savings groups. Check out their library, their report on outreach by country, and lots of other goodies.

    Village Finance Blog. Brett Hudson Matthew’s thoughtful posts are grounded in an understanding of oral cultures, history, and social dynamics. Recommended for anyone trying to understand what’s really happening in savings groups. 

    Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion at UC Irvine. “Its mission is to support research on money and technology among the world’s poorest people. We seek to create a community of practice and inquiry into the everyday uses and meanings of money, as well as … technological infrastructures”. ‘Nuff said.

    David Roodman’s Microfinance Open Book Blog. David Roodman combines intelligence, honesty, and a sense of humor. He attempts to bring intellectual rigor to the analysis of the impact of financial services, and isn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers in the process.

    Clean Air, Bright Light. This site by Savings Revolution co-founder Paul Rippey contains useful information about lessons learned in using savings groups to promote clean lighting. Still in development but check it out anyway!

    Center for Financial Inclusion. CFI supports traditional microfinance to become more client friendly, more inclusive, and generally smarter. They have a long-term vision for the sector, and the blog attracts many good writers and thoughtful comments.

    Nanci Lee’s blog. Nanci Lee’s eclectic site includes Savings Groups, and also poetry, travel, links to interesting successes around the world, nature, art, women’s rights, and transformation. A very personal blog, and worth reading.







    Financial Promise for the Poor 

    Financial Promise for the Poor: How Groups Bulld Microsavings is your go-to book on savings groups. Its contributors are authors you often read in this blog. It covers current innovations in microsavings happening around the world.

    Also, don’t miss…

    Savings Groups at the Frontier, the book inspired by the 2011 Savings Group Summit!

    Buy in UK or US.

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    Over the last twenty years, many people have become interested in helping poor people around the world get good financial services. Mohammed Yunus and the institution he founded, the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, won a Noble Prize in 2006 for helping start a movement that has brought financial services to millions around the world. 

    Banks and microfinance institutions are one way to bring financial series to the poor. Savings Groups, managed by the members and based on savings rather than debt, are another solution. In fact, we think they’re such a good solution that they really are revolutionary.

    Savings Groups are self-selected groups of 15 to 30 women and men who get together to save and borrow. Rather than go into debt to an external institution, they manage their own savings through transparent procedures and all the money they earn through interest on loans stays in their village, and in their group.

    This seven-minute video is a great short introduction to savings groups:

    A number of international non-profit organizations work with local partners to train people in villages and cities in how to manage their own savings groups. There are now over five million savings group members in Africa alone, and the movement is also growing in Asia and Latin America. (There are even a few groups in Europe and North America).

    Savings Revolution is designed to help you learn more about Savings Groups, and to get involved with the most exciting new approach to bringing safe financial services to people around the world.


    « China to form Savings Groups in Africa »

    A consortium made up of Shenzhen Development Bank, the Hang Lung Group and Lenovo have announced a major initiative to bring savings groups to Africa on a scale never before imagined.

    The group, through a joint venture called Virtual Sharing Resources Applications (VSRA), plans to introduce very low cost savings group kits with illustrated instruction sheets through retail outlets across the continent. They have set ambitious targets of ten million members in the first year, forty million in the second, and one hundred million in the third.

    Hua Lin, the Chief Executive of VSRA, announced the initiative at a press conference Friday in Yaoundé Cameroon. Hua, who prefers the anglicized nickname “Hank”, said that VSRA intended to leap ahead of traditional distribution and group management methods being promoted by international NGOs. “Rather than imitate the West, we have re-invented village finance, using our own entrepreneurial creativity. Our goal is to form new groups of high quality at a cost-per-member of five yuan, or about eighty US cents.”

    Hua described several innovations that he believes will make VSRA the clear industry leader. The company will use a share system, similar to what is used by other approaches, but passbooks have been replaced by small electronic counters called SnowCranes. “The snow crane is a perfect symbol for this initiative,” said Hua. “This rare bird has the longest migration patterns of any crane, and is a sacred bird associated with sun, spring and kind celestial spirits.” 

    The SnowCrane, made of chromed steel with an attractive decal image of a snow crane, shows the number of shares purchased at each meeting, and the total number of shares ever purchased, on a simple LCD readout. Record keepers can increase or decrease the number of shares purchased by moving one to six levers up, one lever for each share purchase; the counter only records savings when the saver herself touches the “count” button. This button has low-cost biometric circuitry that assures that no one other than the saver can validate the amount that the record keeper has recorded. Allowing six shares instead of the more widespread practice of allowing only five shares will permit members to save 20% more, according to Hua.

    The SnowCranes, along with any spare cash, are kept in a transparent plastic lock box with a single integrated lock. Hua says that the new boxes will be manufactured in Shenzhen and imported in container loads of about eight thousand boxes, with each box containing an entire kit including 35 SnowCranes and a profusely illustrated one-meter-square instruction sheet, that graphically shows even non-literate people how to save. The instruction sheet is supplemented by a solar powered radio, also included in the kit, which is pre-tuned to capture signals from China’s “African Riches” communication satellite, now in geosynchronous orbit centered over the Easter region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

    The satellite will broadcast instructions on forming and managing a group in 120 African languages, as well as Mandarin. Hua explained, “We are broadcasting in Mandarin so that our citizens now residing in Africa can learn how to manage savings groups themselves and serve as resources for their African sisters and brothers.” Hua continued, “This will speed the introduction of Mandarin as a lingua franca in Africa”. Hua added, “Although English, French, Portuguese, Swahili and Arabic have all gained acceptance in different parts of the African continent, Mandarin is the only language which is widely spoken in every Africa country, and therefore it has a legitimate claim to be adopted as the unique continental language. Please call me ‘Hank’”. The broadcasts will offset some of the costs of group formation by including advertising for Chinese manufactured products of particular interest to African villagers, including soap, lighting equipment, and school supplies.

    The boxes have embedded RFID chips, which will enable police departments to help recover any stolen boxes using radio trackers that China is supplying to many African countries as part of trade and mineral agreements. Hua says that micro-chips can also be embedded under the skin of group treasurers, usually behind the right ear. VSRA considers this practice optional. 

    The cash boxes included in the kits are made of transparent polycarbonate, symbolizing the transparency of the group, and also allowing potential thieves to see that there is very little cash kept in the boxes, thus reducing theft.

    VSRA has its own approach to managing a group. Hua said that they had conducted a number of focus groups, and had determined that most groups did not care about proportional share-out, and were happy with “flat distribution”, that is, returning each member’s savings to her or him at the time of share out, while dividing the interest equally among all group members. “Flat distribution is acceptable to most groups,” said Hua. “It is also consistent with the principles of Chinese Socialism.”

    Phase One of the project will involve forming the groups and reaching the initial target of 100 million members. VSRA has planned a second phase in which it will introduce income generating activities (IGAs) into groups. Some of the IGAs imagined include mining coltan and assembling televisions, laptops and tablet computers.

    VSRA asserts that it can sell a kit at retail in villages around the continent for USD 24, which will enable it to attain the goal of 80 cents CPM with an average group size of thirty members. That retail price is somewhat below the company’s real costs, but the consortium plans to make up the difference through sales of replacement parts, advertising, mineral rights, and other business deals developed during Phase Two of the project.

    Oh - just to be clear, this entire post is an April Fools Joke. Not one word is true. I’m pointing this out because we did something similar last year, and a few people took it seriously. I wouldn’t want the same thing to happen this time. I hope you enjoyed it. Now let’s all get back to work.

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    Reader Comments (7)


    Sat, March 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHua Lin

    Like any good joke Paul, it contains nuggets of wisdom. Firstly, the issue of scale. Don't we all struggle with the question of how the best initiatives can grow and spread in order to have an impact at a statistically meaningful level of any national population? Umpteen million lockboxes isn't so far-fetched!

    Secondly, technology. At this very moment I have with me a small widget from a bank that I must use whenever I wish to authorise a value transaction via internet access. It may only generate a random number, but it's a tiny step from this to storing one's personal balances. (And it looks scarily similar to the Snow Crane.) So whether it's oriental birds or mobile phones, we all know technology will be a critical element of 'the solution'.

    Finally, as China morphs from being a 'lesser developed country' and expands it's ODA activities, why shouldn't we begin to see it become more active in this type of socioeconomic development? The currently visible emphasis may be on dams and other macro resource-linked interventions, but I'm sure there are plenty of conversations in China about the extent to which a range of 'softer' activities should be added to their repertoire.

    Sat, March 31, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGreg Pirie

    I am honored that Mr. Hua responded so quickly, though cryptically.

    I am confident I speak for many readers in saying, 谢谢。 我许诺不显露您的其他身分。

    Sun, April 1, 2012 | Registered CommenterPaul Rippey

    谢谢。 我许诺不显露您的其他身分 Paul, you had me fooled until I saw Mr. Lin

    Sun, April 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterC. Musoke

    Good one Pau!!! Like Jeff, I was you mean the Chinese have beaten us to it???

    Mon, April 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKuria


    You had me fooled completely until the photo of "Hank" and embedding a chip behind the treasurer's ear. This was brilliant on your part. My heart sunk. Here we are just starting to think about going digital and the Chinese beat us. I loved the concept and the snow crane counter, what a cool way of dealing with connectivity issues – In noticed that it had six prongs. The flat interest payment is emerging in SfC in Cambodia as a simpler option to payout complexities.

    It's quite similar (with a digital twist) to some of the ideas that Patrick McAllister had when he was at Gates. Patrick suggested that the forms and instruction should be easily available from local school supply stores and that SGs should be promoted by the private sector and volunteers. (We were able to convince Gates to go the INGO in 2008 but ultimately we were sidestepped because what we have been doing was too expensive, too small scale and not connected.

    Of course the focus for the new Gates strategic paper for Financial Services for the Poor - which you have doubtlessly seen – is entirely digital. It would be a useful challenge for us to go down the digital route without throwing out the group concept (as your bogus Chinese outfit proposed.) Worth some more thought.


    Tue, April 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeff Ashe

    haha! Love it!

    Fri, April 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGareth Evans

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