Small Change, Big Deal
Money as if people mattered
As we consider the plight of our consumer-driven economy, it is easy to forget that money is about relationship: between individuals and between communities. In our current financial mess, it is worth reminding ourselves of community-based alternatives, and to look closely at microcredit, a model of peer lending to enable people to move out of poverty. From Bangladesh, from South Africa, from Ghana, and from the East End of London, we are given a worm s eye view of small scale work, of personal transformation, and the building of community. Small and local is still beautiful, and has much to teach us.
Money is about relationship: between individuals and between communities. Small is still beautiful - as microcredit shows.
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
- Microcredit and the history and principles of the Grameen Bank were unknown to me when I began this book. It gave me insight into a new view and put forward the ludicrous notion, which drives most lending, that the poor cannot borrow the money to help them out of poverty as they are too poor to repay the loans. The Grameen way of working lends small amounts to help individuals, through small business ideas, supported by a group of women (since women change the world) who are usually from the same area and help each other. Ms Kavanagh talks about the ‘soft skills’, such as education and shared child care developed through the programmes described in the book and the vital need for this to happen if poor people are to be helped to move on.
The subject is addressed with warmth, humanity and love, but is never over sentimental. Ms Kavanagh is honest about the less successful work done (but applauds the development of other strengths through these ‘failures’) She writes passionately, but objectively, about how the current use of the word ‘microcredit’ does not reflect the original concepts, but falls back into the trap of interest on loans being the only driver in the lending, seen by financial organizations as yet another way to simply make money.
An example of a woman being given money to set up a shop in her home, resonated with me as this was exactly what my great grandmother in Leicester did, making it possible for my grandfather to become a grocer and my family to become professional people instead of the millworkers they had been prior to her initiative.
The book is a timely reminder that money used to generate more money is a far cry from money being used to buy and sell real things and to benefit each and every person on the planet. If, like me, you have been appalled at the way the gap between rich and poor is widening and the consequent crises for people across the world then read this book! It will give you hope. ~ Meggie Latham - Thame, New Books magazine
- Tony Weekes considers a valuable insight into the world of microcredit
Jennifer Kavanagh has taken on a worthwhile challenge in Small Change, Big Deal: Money as if people mattered and given us something more.
This is a valuable little book. It seeks to demystify microcredit, but – in doing so – sheds light on a range of more familiar issues: ‘the economy’; financial services; money, debt and interest. These are topics that dominate our lives, yet seem difficult to understand beyond the superficial.
Many people feel overwhelmed when words like ‘finance’, ‘economics’ and ‘the economy’ are mentioned, and Jennifer’s opening chapter offers an explanation of the roots of this reaction. She reminds us of some of the late economist EF Schumacher’s words in his book Small is Beautiful: ‘…if [economic thinking] cannot make contact with the human realities of poverty, frustration, alienation… ugliness and spiritual death, then let us scrap economics and start again’.
Schumacher is correct. The present discipline, and the policies it promotes, are ugly. They lead to widespread poverty and despair. But we cannot leave it at that. Active citizenship requires us to have some knowledge of how these ideas affect our lives. It also requires us to accept that the present system is a human creation that can be changed. This book contributes to that requirement.
Mohammed Yunus, a former academic economist, is someone whose thinking and work has achieved positive change. In 1974 his experiment with small scale lending led to the foundation of a financial service for the poor and excluded: the concept of microcredit and its practice through the Grameen Bank and similar institutions that have followed.
A description of his work and of microcredit requires understanding of some basic concepts, and Jennifer begins by providing this. The chapter entitled ‘Money: a moral tale’ offers explanations of some of the vocabulary of finance: credit, debt, interest (and others). These are set in a moral as well as an historical and present day context, and are valuable independently of what is to follow. The chapter ends with a survey of the origins and consequences of the present financial crisis, leaving us with much on which to reflect in these present, strange, times.
The third chapter – ‘Community finance’ – surveys the principles and practices of the cooperative movement and some alternatives to the orthodox financial system: credit unions, LETS, local currencies and informal savings groups. More preparation for what is to come – but also useful in itself.
We are now ready for an explanation and evaluation of microcredit. The next twelve short chapters set out the principles and practice, illustrated with case studies. By the end, it is clear that microcredit is about far more than finance. It’s about people: releasing and developing their skills and inner resourcefulness; relieving poverty and enforced idleness; building trust, hope and self-confidence. The case studies describe microcredit schemes in Bangladesh, on a Native American Reservation in South Dakota, in Africa, and in east London. They are written in an attractive, narrative style.
The book ends with an account of how the original idea of microcredit is in danger of being degraded. Large financial institutions see it as another ‘business opportunity’, which ignores the social and human implications of the original, simple idea and subsequent practice. But the author ends on an optimistic note: the human factor is important in financial affairs. And small is – still! – beautiful.
In our Advices & queries (33) we are encouraged to work for ‘…a just and compassionate society which allows everyone to develop their capacities…’ This book is about some steps to that end.
I am pleased to recommend it.
~ Tony Weekes, The Friend
- Do you remember when you first heard about the Grameen Bank? The excitement that this alternative approach could be such a success? The admiration for its founder, confident and concerned enough to go against the economic grain? A community based, peer group model of lending and enterprise training.
If your memory does not go back that far, it is not a problem, there is plenty of background information in this text as you join Jennifer Kavanagh on her own inspiring journey with micro credit.
This book illustrates how an empowering process can be adapted to meet need in many different places. It tells the stories of individuals, communities and projects. It illustrates the way micro-credit loans can be used to build and enrich small community groups and encourage personal growth and gives the reader an understanding of the power of peer support.
The various difficulties that Jennifer has encountered on this journey are included, as is her growing fund of knowledge of what are the ingredients for a successful outcome and the ways in which outcome can be measured. There is much more than a loan well used and repaid, that she looks for in these transactions. This all adds to our understanding of the demands and rewards of this sort of community work.
In her final chapter Jennifer explains the way in which banks and financial institutions, aware of its successes have made a bid to take over micro-credit and to reconstruct it as a for profit model. The loan shark has re-emerged, and there is reasoned argument given as to why this path destroys much of the attendant value that micro-credit loans bring with them. This section of the book sets out to put right the misconceptions and poor regard that has resulted for the original micro-credit concept in some places.
Jennifer Kavanagh has an informative and easy style of writing, drawing one in to a journey as student and then practitioner of micro-credit. Her patience, trust and thoughtful approach as she adapts, develops and uses this tool to enrich the lives of the people she has worked with makes this thought-provoking reading. ~ Mary Cundy, Quaker Voices
- Jennifer Kavanagh's book is eminently readable and most enjoyable! She marshals her intellectual grasp, actual experience and imaginative compassion. These qualities solidly underpin the call to enable the least powerful people of the world to enrich their own lives and so enrich the world we all inhabit. These principles of re-humanising our relationship with money are relevant to all our financial transactions. Small Change, Big Deal: Money as If People MatteredI was left with a much greater understanding and, what is more, hope! ~ Annique Seddon, Amazon
- In this short and engrossing book, Small change big deal, Jennifer Kavanagh explores some of the major themes in recent spiritually- and ethically-based thinking about the problematic nature of our current financial systems. She does this through writing about a very specific area: the microcredit schemes developed by Mohammed Yunus (Grameen Bank), and her own work with microcredit.
As with many of her other books, history and other narratives are interwoven with personal experience: her own of working with poor and excluded women in different countries to develop local microcredit networks, and theirs of being part of that process. In that, it speaks to me very powerfully as a Friend: this she knows experimentally. It is also entirely consistent with her main message, which is that money is above all else a relational exchange and entity. Throughout the book, factual, analytical and case study chapters are interspersed with chapters on aspects of human relating essential to the working of microcredit: trust, impact and self-belief.
Her introduction examines the story of the Beauty and the Beast as a metaphor for our relationship to money, and how “attempting to take the human out of our financial system has been its downfall… [and] released the monster”. In this, she echoes (among others) the 2009 Reith lectures given by Michael Sandel on Markets and Morality. In the next chapter, she outlines a moral history of money that considers currency, debt, interest and banking. It finally identifies the three main attributes of the Beast, as we have created money to be by making it an end in itself rather than the tool it rightly is: exclusion of the many, separation of financial transactions from human relationships, and making money the sole definition and measure of wealth. She then examines alternative models of community finance such as co-operatives and credit unions, which retain the personal, before looking in more depth at microcredit and the form of it developed by Mohammed Yunus. Within this she explains why groups have almost exclusively been set up for women – I’ll leave you to read more about this.
At one point she describes Cynthia, the first woman employed locally to develop the Masambe! microcredit programme in South Africa, as someone with the right mix of “heart and discipline”. This mix seems to me to be the essence of faith in action. Her examination of the schemes that she helped to start up successfully or less so reflects the necessity of getting the balance of these two elements right for microcredit to take off and become a source of self-discovery and community-building for the women participating in it.
Heart is in knowing the local context and relationships, the importance of the microcredit groups, the meaning and power of local language and the names the groups give themselves, the development of skills and self-belief, and the importance of staff members believing in the creativity, integrity and resourcefulness of the women they are working with, thinking about what the local community actually needs from new trade, the power and generosity of relationships developed in the groups, the shock and joy for group members of rediscovering and having witnessed a denigrated or ignored skill.
Discipline is in the emphasis on preparation to receive a microcredit loan, researching the local market and what is needed, finding possible buyers + orders with deposits, transport links, regular attending and accounting to the local microcredit group as a condition for receiving a loan, early and regular repayments, the limited loan amounts and low (non-compound) interest, the clearly set-out and practical action sheets for group members to use in charting their own progress, the expectation for women to move into mainstream finance once they have the capacity (this last is Jennifer’s preferred model and not the Grameen model).
The stories of hope – Street Cred in London, Masambe! (Lets’ Get Going!) in South Africa and Yen Daakye (Our Future) in Ghana – and those of stumbling – Jacaranda in Madagascar and Pine Ridge in South Dakota – show how this balance can be differently expressed in different contexts. Jennifer’s heart is in her conviction of and respect for the capacity in every woman she may work with to find their own seed of creativity and resource, and her adherence to the discipline of only visiting if asked by local people on the ground, and only in order to train local people to run their own programmes. I appreciated the honesty of her writing about mistakes along the way and what she learnt from them, much as this honesty about mistakes and their benefits inspired me in Wangari Maathai’s autobiography (Unbowed). ~ Julia Lim, nayler.org
- Jennifer Kavanagh's book is eminently readable and most enjoyable! She marshals her intellectual grasp, actual experience and imaginative compassion. These qualities solidly underpin the call to enable the least powerful people of the world to enrich their own lives and so enrich the world we all inhabit. These principles of re-humanising our relationship with money are relevant to all our financial transactions. Small Change, Big Deal: Money as If People MatteredI was left with a much greater understanding and, what is more, hope! ~ aes, Amazon
- This is a superb and timely book. Thoroughly researched, Jennifer Kavanagh enlivens the insights from data with real-world examples of persons who are bridging the current abyss between "money and relationship," to create new forms of personal and social wealth. In a period of lingering economic crisis, when many people in developed countries are slipping out of the middle class and into poverty, Kavanaghs book provides remedies that are practical, tested, and most of all, empowering. Money works as an asset, not an end: more than a mere exchange of value, money at its core represents the mutual commitment to values that is the basis for trust. By recovering the moral core of economics, Kavanagh has unleashed that most subversive of revolutions in which society achieves the very transformation it originally intended. ~ John Dalla Costa, Founding Director, Centre for Ethical Orientation Author of The Ethical Imperative: Why Moral Leadership is Good Business
- This book is the true starting point for considering what should be the deepest, most fundamental principles underlying appropriate financial services for the poor, just as jurisprudence, which deals with justice, ethics, morality and right vs. wrong, must similarly be the starting point for the legal profession. Through the many client stories Jennifer relates as well as the narrative of her own journey of discovery, this book is a personal "diary" and a lyrical, uplifting, enriching and thought-provoking kaleidoscope of issues that practitioners in the field of micro-finance, community development and economic empowerment wrestle with every day. ~ Rosalind Copisarow, Managing Director, Oikocredit
- With a rich background as a microcredit practitioner, Jennifer Kavanagh weaves personal experience, analysis and a wider social perspective that make the book of strong general interest. Indeed, the book is not only a great resource for activists in the microfinance sector, researchers and students but also food for thought for those concerned about how we manage our financial affairs. I hope that the book will help educate people about microcredit and evaluate its worth in reaching its full potential. ~ Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate, and founder of the Grameen bank
- The jury is most certainly out on micro-finance, but this is a passionate defence based upon many years of practitioner experience in developed and developing countries. Written in an engaging style with thoughtful reflections on the nature of money and credit, this book will provide food for thought for a wide audience, whatever their pre-conceptions.
~ Josh Ryan-Collins, Senior Researcher nef (the new economics foundation) Lead author, Where Does Money Come From? A guide to the UK Monetary and Banking System
- Jennifer's book provides a very necessary look at the alternatives to big bank lending. Full of examples and intriguing facts, Jennifer engages you with a fascinating tale of money and microcredit. Recommended. ~ Jeremy Renals, accountant, lecturer, and writer