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.


    How does that game work?

    By the time my daughter Sayer was six years old, she had learned how to play games on our old Apple computer. Once when I had brought some work home from my office on my laptop, Sayer came up and looked at my screen. “What’s the name of that game, Daddy”, she asked? 
    I smiled, and said, “Excel”. Sayer asked how you played it, and I showed her how to add three and three. I never told her that most people don’t consider Excel a game
    I thought of that incident when I visited a savings group in in Caimito Dominican Republic today. The group was made up of young people, led by the President, Adelarissa, aged nine. The group is in its third

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    If you care about health, read this

    If you work in savings groups and at the same time you are working to reduce the impact of malaria (like Savings for Change in Mali) or of HIV (like many USAID programmes) or to improve maternal and child health (like the Aga Khan Chitral Child Survival project in Pakistan), read on…

    A new World Health Organisation report says that air pollution causes 7 million premature deaths a year. Most of these are due to indoor air pollution, from primitive lighting (like the open flame kerosene lantern in the picture at the left) or from inefficient ways of burning charcoal or firewood. That is more deaths than HIV and malaria combined - that’s hard to believe, I know. 

    And when people don’t die, they are often injured. Carbon monoxide weakens immune systems. Kerosene spills and burns children. Houses catch on fire. 

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    President for life

    I keep thinking about the question of group quality. What leads to group failure and members losing money? Sometimes it’s not-so-good training, but sometimes, even if we do a great job training, we may train people in the wrong practices.

    One of the practices that I am suspicious of is annual elections. What message does it send to group members to tell them to elect leaders for a year? In particular, what message does that send to group members in countries where elected officials regularly abuse their power and become wealthy? Many groups end up with presidents-for-life, a practice that works about as well in savings groups as it does in politics. 

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    Take this survey. Just do it.

    Dear Readers,

    This is a chance to communicate your opinions and thoughts on innovations in savings groups, including but not limited to all the e-gadgets you keep hearing about.

    Please click here, and that will take you to the survey. The survey has six questions only and won’t take you very long to complete. The results will be processed and included in a study that MicroSave is carrying out for the MasterCard Foundation. They really do want to hear from YOU, so don’t be shy. Your participation makes a difference.

    I took the survey myself, it was quick, and the questions made me think - always a good thing!




    Savings Revolution sold to Barclays Bank

    —For those who took this seriously - seriously? - This is an April Fools Joke—

    Kim Wilson and Paul Rippey announced yesterday that the Savings Revolution website has been sold to Barclays Bank for undisclosed considerations. Kim and Paul started Savings Revolution in 2010 to be an independent voice for community-managed, savings-led groups. The site has been a labor of love for them, financed out of their own resources. In announcing the sale, the founders thank everyone who has contributed to Savings Revolution, and express their hope that the readers will continue their loyalty to the site under the new ownership and management.

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    It's like banking

    What is a person’s worth? It used to be about reputation in the community, the loyalty exhibited to friends and employer, the people you could count on in case of need. With increasing development and the broader reach of markets came the need to impersonalize economic transactions, and with that the increasing monetization of most aspects of our lives. Money has become the measure of all things.

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    153 million dollars available to form SGs in Nigeria




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    Unprecedented Savings Group promotion in India


    In a surprising policy shift, India’s National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, NABARD, traditionally the chief promotor of Self Help Groups (SHGs) in India, has decided to drop the SHG model in favor of self managed groups following traditional SG approaches. NABARD through its partners has formed over 2.2 million SHGs with about 33,000,000 members, and wants to reorient all of them to the SG model over the next 18 months. In order to reach that many people, NABARD is planning to rely on a “Bollywood” themed series of short films to be shown on TV, in movie houses, and through portable media shows going from village to village. The short clip above is an example, designed to sensitize viewers to the role of the fee-for-service trainer. 

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    Analog Groups - Going the Way of the Dodo?

    If we are to believe the investment itch to fund all things digital, savings groups go the way of vacuum tubes, i.e. they will become ancient history. Accion through its Venture Labs is investing part of its $10 million capital base into Emoneypool, a digital platform for Savings Circles (aka savings groups). The investment will somehow need to pay off and at this stage it seems like a 5% service fee will be the key. Time will tell. Until then get rid of those rusty locks and heavy boxes. Help - albeit extre expensive help - is on the way. 

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    E-Recording Reaches Rwanda! (Part 1)

    World Relief decided to start piloting the e-Recording app in Rwanda. It is an Android smart phone app, developed by FSD Kenya, designed to eliminate the traditional ledger and passbook system, moving savings into the digital age. The app performs all the record keeping and calculation functions of the group, including recording attendance, savings, issuing loans and loan repayments, and social fund contributions. It also instantly calculates share-out amounts for each member. All information is saved both locally on the phone as well as in the Cloud allowing the data to be accessed remotely. It certainly has its

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    New CRS PSP manual

    Catholic Relief Services, as many readers know, has developed a particular approach to savings groups involving fee-for-service trainers called Private Service Providers (PSPs) who continue to form groups and expand their networks after any funding is over. I have written favorably about this approach on Savings Revolution here.

    I’m very grateful that Guy Vanmeenen, CRS’s Senior Technical Advisor for Microfinance in Africa (see picture) has generously made this brand new version of the CRS PSP Implemenation Guide available to the world. Even if you aren’t going to adopt the entire PSP system, you will find inspiration here. In particular, you will admire and hopefully emulate the carefully thought out strategy for post-project growth and expansion. 

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    Retro Status Quo

    Dear Paul - Please don’t keep your promise about solar women and their special bond to lighting. It takes us back to the promise of the 1950s - women and vacuum cleaners: “I promise in the next two weeks to write about women vacuuming their homes.” Yes, the vacuum removed dust and did all kinds of nice things for the family but that women were tasked with such efforts was less than liberating.

    In case today’s revolutionary disappears, here is what it says:

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    Paul buys a dumb phone

    As a traveling American, I face the insane roaming costs of the US telephone companies, and so I use the work-around of having a local phone and swapping SIM cards in each country I visit. It’s inconvenient for me and for anyone who wants to talk to me, but it’s affordable. A few months ago, when my old traveling phone was getting tired, I tried to buy a new low cost traveling phone - that is, an inexpensive phone that I could just make local calls with. 

    I went into the Safaricom shop in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi - the mall that would be the site of a tragic terrorist attack

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    Why Academics Mustn't Control Research

    Two problems plague academic research: nimbleness and quality. The upshot is that research is not all that relevant to the decisions practitioners need to make on an ongoing basis.

    I found myself considering the limits of academia at a conference at MIT. Alex Counts, CEO of Grameen Foundation challenged a panelist about calling RCTs - randomized contronl trials - the gold standard of research. Alex suggested I take a look at his blog post of last fall, which my inspired my response below. 

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