Rarely in development work do you see an intervention that sprouts its own two legs and starts running across the country without donor funds. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has done just that with their Savings and Internal Lending Communities (SILC) model. We've been seeing it spreading across Kenya before we even knew CRS was involved - it has grown so viral that many people don't even know where it came from.
What's happening? CRS has found a way to turn community savings groups into their own banks with several loaning products and sustainable finances.
Here is the CRS 'SILC Field Agent Guide 5.0: https://www.crs.org/our-work-overseas/research-publications/silc-field-agent-guide-50
Groups of roughly 25 (mostly women) come together and save weekly and loan out their savings in different forms to each other, and redistribute all the funds (fees and interest) to those same members at the end of each year. They have a great governance model and sharing practices that help train the next community group.
What's wrong with SILCs? Well nothing - but there simply isn't enough money to save. What if these groups could issue credit?
So far 21 SILC groups have taken up Community Currencies as an alternative to saving their SILC funds in a metal box or using expensive bank or MPESA accounts. But more importantly we are learning how they are using Community Currencies as a way to leverage their savings into a local credit. This means that these SILCs which are already like small community 'banks' are actually able to do something that generally only banks can - that is leverage their reserves to create their own credit.
Using a variable exchange rate (via Bonding curves) their credit (in their own unique community currency) gains exchange value to the Kenyan shilling the more they save and visa versa, giving them an incentive to maintain the value of their credits and to make something like a bank-run impossible. In essence they are investing in the value of their own local currency which is also backed by local goods and services. The better their economy does the better their investment does.
These 21 SILC groups using Community Currencies have selected Trainers of Trainers to be trained by CRS to go out and create more SILC groups. We're so appreciative of CRS for bringing this to Kenya and really excited to see how these groups take Community Currencies as a tool in their already thriving kit.