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.


    « Let's Look Before We Leap »

    I recently was asked to read a draft of an academic paper on the pitfalls of microcredit and the virtues of savings groups. The paper tidily summed up the false assumptions of microcredit, all in hindsight of course, which included: poor people use loans to build their businesses; poor people are entrepreneurial; credit is the key ingredient to micro-business growth. And so on.

    Then, the paper pivoted abruptly to highlight the merits of savings groups, comparing them to RoSCAs, SHGs and microcredit. The prose reminded me of the self-congratulatory hype that characterized decades of microcredit. While 6-7 well documented randomized control trials on SGs show the positive effects of living in a village with a few savings groups operating, we have no systematic studies on whether:

    • SGs are better than RoSCAs (from a household impact or efficiency standpoint, or both).
    • SGs are better than SHGs (for example, many SHGs in India are promoted in part by the Government of India. Less-than-stellar results may tell us more about the Indian Government than about SHGs.)
    • SGs are better than credit-based MFI groups (from a household impact perspective).

    There is a lot we don’t know and should find out before we continue plugging SGs as superior to other kinds of groups or to credit-led programs.

    In a paper, Let’s Look Before We Leap, co-written with Elke Jahns-Harms, we examined a few assumptions that shape the SG industry. Much of the debunking was inspired by Elke’s fieldwork in El Salvador. She found that while the industry was praising SGs for the model’s focus on annual share-outs, those share-outs did not tie to seasonal needs of groups, at least not in certain communities in El Salvador. In another paper I worked on with colleagues from Bankable Frontier Associates, we explored the idea that SGs offer members a relatively brief borrowing window, which rendered them somewhat ineffective in meeting seasonal or longer term needs. We also explosed the zero sum game of group membership, acknowledging that we don’t really know who walks away a winner or loser at the end of a cycle.

    The point of “Let’s Look Before We Leap” is not to diminish the giant strides taken by promoters of savings groups but to thoroughly question our assumptions so that years from now we don’t share the chagrin of the microcredit industry. We hope you like it and will add any assumptions we may have missed. 

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    Reader Comments (2)

    That's great, Kim. One of the activities at SG2015 will be to come up with a "research agenda" for SGs.

    Your post is a reminder to question everything. Very useful.


    Fri, July 24, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Rippey

    Yes I agree. And It would be interesting to see if anyone has looked into or gone further with one of the recommendations in the DAI report done for FSD Kenya in 2010; which was:

    "Entropic and informal practices, including those used by traditional savings groups, can be at odds with the demands of good governance, especially in the related areas of transparency and product quality/flexibility. Practitioners involved in scale-up should understand the logic and incentives that lead to entropy and/or fusion, perhaps through implementation of a systematic study of the practices of informal savings groups, and train CBTs and channel leaders to actively engage with leaders to show them, on their own terms, systematically and methodically, the value of necessary changes."

    We are seeing signs of this amongst our graduated groups of 3 or more years and so are some other SG practitioners in SA. I've seen signs also in Swaziland.

    I think what you point out Kim and what the above speaks to is the Savings Revolution's longevity and integrity. If it is true that entropy is an issue, then surely this could undermine our integrity if not addressed? Would we not be guilty of the same sin as the MFI industry if we simply ignore this and hope it goes away? Keep insisting that such entropy is 'no big deal'? Would it not then come back and bite us in the end?

    I look forward to reading your paper!


    Thu, August 13, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJill Thompson

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