In Trinidad and Tobago (and other islands), in addition to traditional banking, we have an informal, community-based form of saving called “sou-sou” where a group of family members, neighbors, friends or co-workers come together to pool their funds. In the French language, “sou” is used as slang for “a small coin of little value”. The phrase “sans le sou” is commonly used to mean “I’m broke” or “without money”. In French-speaking Canada, the Canadian cent is sometimes referred to as a “sou”. The word is used in these and other areas that were once colonized by the French. I heard about “sou-sou from my grandmother but it still exists today…there’s one running in my office right now!
The specific time for which the “sou-sou” will run is pre-determined. It can be weeks, months or a year, depending on the number of people in the group. The amount to be contributed by each person is also decided. At the end of each period, say the end of each month, all members pay their contribution to the person running the “sou-sou”. That person then pays the full amount to the member whose turn it is to receive the “hand”, that is, the total amount contributed by all members. So, let’s say there are twelve persons in the group and it has been agreed that they will each contribute $100 each month for twelve months. At the end of each month, one member will receive a “hand” of $1,200. The process continues until all members have received a “hand”. The sou-sou then comes to an end or the group can decide to begin again.
A sou-sou hand will generally be used for personal expenses for which the recipient has been saving, for example, purchasing school books, uniforms and supplies for their children at the start of the school year; buying small appliances for the home; holiday travel; Christmas shopping or car repairs.
The idea of a “sou-sou” is in many ways related to community banking. When I became an online volunteer for the Kitega Community Centre in Uganda, and read about their Village Community Banking (VICOBA) program, it stirred memories of my participation in a sou-sou. My “hand” helped me pay tuition for a course I was pursuing at the time; a significant contribution to my personal development.
VICOBA can do so much more. Kitega’s VICOBA program allows community members to pool their savings into a community bank, which then makes loans to fund promising micro-enterprises such as brick-layering; piggery, poultry and other forms of animal husbandry; crafts, jewelry and food stalls. VICOBA members then use their earnings to realize their dreams, whether it be sending their kids to school or making home improvements.
Kitega Centre is currently seeking lenders for VICOBA. Providing the banks with more capital makes it possible to expand the number of persons who are able to borrow and start up businesses. You can also make a donation to support VICOBA training. Learn more
The VICOBA program has already contributed to the development of a savings culture among the members of the Kitega Community and it has fostered many skills among participants including business planning, teamwork, budgeting, record keeping and creation of business ideas. Many have also noted the impact VICOBA has on improving their family situation.
I can only attest to the personal benefits of community banking through my own experience but I can surely appreciate the value of pooling resources to build a community. Learn more about Kitega Community Centre’s VICOBA program at kitegacc.org
Natasha Corbie Daley,
Kitega Community Centre Online Volunteer