Jipange Sasa - A little heaven of local savings, hot technologies and formal finance
Kibera, a slum-city located wholly within the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, is home to a more than a million people.
In the rainy season, its roads dissolve into brown glue, slowing the daily travel of residents who, even in good weather, live hours from their places of work or from the markets they rotate among to sell what they have to sell. In the dry season, its roads harden and buckle, redirecting the course of sullage that sometimes passes for water in Kibera. In the violent season, during political elections, its roads lead desperate families out of the slum and into hiding up-country.
Kibera has no public system of toilets, roads, schools, or sewage. It has no police. Residents must purchase the water they drink.
Imagine yourself in Kibera. As you plod along its lanes, edged by a cookie-dough of human waste, taking in the rot of the streets, breathing its decay, you might not dare to image that a few people are beginning to hoist themselves out of Kibera. But, in fact, that is exactly what is happening.
The man making this possible is Lukas Alube: educator, firebrand, and financial engineer. He has spliced together a grid of real and virtual money served up by the market, the hottest technologies available, and unstinting volunteerism.
The result: Those who were once considered some of the poorest residents of Kibera now save regularly, self-insure against the death of a family member, and invest in securities flowing through the Nairobi Stock Exchange. This fresh breed of investors is able to fund its daily consumption of food and water, set aside money for household emergencies, and plan - against all odds but not, as we shall learn, not against all hope – for a future beyond Kibera.
This article is about how savings groups start slowly, growing out of local savings and burial practices. When trust among members is firm, groups evolve into village savings and lending associations (often called VSLAs). As money circulates in the associations, members begin to improve the efficiency of their financial self-service. With the help of Jipange Sasa, the organization formed by Alube, associations graft their simple practices onto a telecommunications and banking platform unique to Kenya. They use the platform to speed up bookkeeping and deposit-making; increase the amount saved in group funds and in the bank; and invest, surprisingly, in the Kenyan stock market.