Posted on 17 December 2019 by Juan Ocampo
In this post, I want to share some of the insights from my last couple of weeks doing fieldwork in Kenya. This journey started while looking for unexpected ideas. In one of the labyrinths that are Lund libraries, there was a book that caught my eye: “Designing Freedom” by Stafford Beer, the father of Management Cybernetics. Even though written in the 1970s, Beer´s idea of how institutions invest more resources to keep their status quo rather than in creating solutions for the problems that societies have troubled my mind. This concept got me reflecting on the financial inclusion discussion we have had through the last posts: if money is the way to empower people, why is this agenda being set by actors that are not necessarily representative or even know the people for whom they are setting the agenda? Is this just a way in which powerful actors are (re)producing themselves instead of focusing in people’s needs? It was with these ideas in mind that I caught my flight to Nairobi.
Fulfilling my role as a researcher (or trying at least), I found myself following and questioning people through rivers and mountains of Kenya. To my surprise, I encountered a new perspective to the institutional ideas that I was still wrestling with. In the most vulnerable regions of the Kenya, communities are designing their own financial freedom. Through trust, respect, and communing, financial inclusion was being achieved.
In Kenya, communities have been developing (or adapting) different kinds of practices that work as financial inclusion mechanisms. Here I will mention two of them but please be in touch in the comment section if you would like to hear more. The first one is called merry-go-round. In this financial mechanism, people meet every week, collect some fixed amount of money as a group and each week one member gets the pot as a gift, no need for paying back. The second financial mechanism, is called table banking. In these groups, (usually) women gather to save money, put together emergency funds, and offer loans to the group members. It is quite amazing how these grassroot initiatives are transforming social structures and developing innovations in local communities. These are real grassroot financial inclusion mechanisms. No need for high interest rates, contracts, or collaterals, just shared values and community trust.
Paraphrasing Ester Barinaga, whom I had the opportunity to travel with: There are no perfect solutions, just a group of good solutions working for a better purpose. As useful as these table banking groups are for local communities, they are not flawless and one of the key problems is that not every member has a stable income. As a consequence, there is a problem of access, but not to bank accounts or high interest loans, but to money. And this is where Complementary Currencies as grassroot financial innovations are disrupting the “Game”. Communities are using cryptocurrencies to trade inside and amongst their groups. Yes, they are using the blockchain, but more on this next year.
If you are interested in Financial Inclusion, want to know more about Complementary Currencies or just find these topics interesting don’t hesitate to comment or get in touch. It is always fun to talk about money 😉
Juan Ocampo is a PhD candidate within the Agenda 2030 Graduate School at LUSEM – Lund University