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Today’s Revolutionary: Barcodes


 We all are familiar with the Universal Product Code, or UPC - that rectangle of white and black lines that adorn just about every product made and marketed anywhere. 

You might not know where the code came from, how it works, and what it’s impact is.

The present design was the result of a competition sponsored by the US National Association of Food Chains in 1971. Supermarkets had long dreamed of some sort of machine that could replace the laborious work of typing in prices of every item sold in a cash register. Finally, the technology caught up with the dream, and in 1972 bar codes were introduced in one supermarket in Cincinnatti in the US.

A laser swings its beam back and forth in the form of an “X”, and when the light bounces back from the barcode, a computer recognizes the pattern, and converts it to numbers, in binary code. I was surprised to learn that both the white spaces and the black spaces are conveying information: a think black line is “one”, a thicker black line is “one one”, and so on. Similarly, a think white space is “zero”, a thicker one is “zero zero”… The codes don’t carry any information about price or the product. All they do is tell the store’s computer where to look for information about the price and the product in its data base.

Depending on whether you sympathize with management or labor, you could say that bar codes enabled greater efficiency, more accuracy, and shorter waiting times - and all this is true. However, you could also point out that the bar codes put thousands of people out of work and downgraded the skills necessary for the checkers who remained (and thus the salary expectations too) - you could add that barcodes enabled people to consume more, more quickly, with less human interaction. I’ll leave it to you, Dear Reader, to decide if that is good thing or a bad thing.

Finally, before you pull out your credit card or your supermarket loyalty card the next time you buy bread and milk, you should realize that the barcodes allow the supermarket to know exactly what YOU bought, when, and what your buying patterns are over time. Basrcodes make Big Data possible, something else for you, the reader, to judge the merits of.


Catch up on the over 180 previous “Today’s Revolutionaries” here.


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Savings Groups are catching on in Europe and North America.

Follow this movement, and maybe get involved yourself.

Start by reading the Northern Lights page of Savings Revolution.

Then, if you like, contact us below, and we can talk about how you can form your own groups. We’ll put you in touch with someone who can help you do that!

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    Favorite Sites

    Here are some other sites that Kim and Paul read, that we think you might enjoy.

    The SEEP Savings Led Working Group site. Congratulations to SEEP for putting together this comprehensive, easily accessible go-to site on savings groups. Check out their library, their report on outreach by country, and lots of other goodies.

    Making the Road - a blog by Bill Maddocks. “Through honesty, courage and persistent inquiry we learn the way forward as development practitioners and human beings.” Bill brings rich experience not just with development work, but with life, to these discussions. 

    Village Finance Blog. Brett Hudson Matthew’s thoughtful posts are grounded in an understanding of oral cultures, history, and social dynamics. Recommended for anyone trying to understand what’s really happening in savings groups. 

    Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion at UC Irvine. “Its mission is to support research on money and technology among the world’s poorest people. We seek to create a community of practice and inquiry into the everyday uses and meanings of money, as well as … technological infrastructures”. ‘Nuff said.

    David Roodman’s Microfinance Open Book Blog. David Roodman combines intelligence, honesty, and a sense of humor. He attempts to bring intellectual rigor to the analysis of the impact of financial services, and isn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers in the process.

    Clean Air, Bright Light. This site by Savings Revolution co-founder Paul Rippey contains useful information about lessons learned in using savings groups to promote clean lighting. Still in development but check it out anyway!

    The Evidence Project. Chris Dunford was CEO of Freedom From Hunger for many years and probably more than anyone helped FFH earn a reputation of being willing to look closely at what they were doing, and whether they really were meeting people’s needs. Chris continues that role now as a blogger…

    Center for Financial Inclusion. CFI supports traditional microfinance to become more client friendly, more inclusive, and generally smarter. They have a long-term vision for the sector, and the blog attracts many good writers and thoughtful comments.








    Financial Promise for the Poor 

    Financial Promise for the Poor: How Groups Bulld Microsavings is your go-to book on savings groups. Its contributors are authors you often read in this blog. It covers current innovations in microsavings happening around the world.

    Also, don’t miss…

    Savings Groups at the Frontier, the book inspired by the 2011 Savings Group Summit!

    Buy in UK or US.

    Search Savings Revolution


    Over the last twenty years, many people have become interested in helping poor people around the world get good financial services. Mohammed Yunus and the institution he founded, the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, won a Noble Prize in 2006 for helping start a movement that has brought financial services to millions around the world. 

    Banks and microfinance institutions are one way to bring financial series to the poor. Savings Groups, managed by the members and based on savings rather than debt, are another solution. In fact, we think they’re such a good solution that they really are revolutionary.

    Savings Groups are self-selected groups of 15 to 30 women and men who get together to save and borrow. Rather than go into debt to an external institution, they manage their own savings through transparent procedures and all the money they earn through interest on loans stays in their village, and in their group.

    This seven-minute video is a great short introduction to savings groups:

    A number of international non-profit organizations work with local partners to train people in villages and cities in how to manage their own savings groups. There are now over five million savings group members in Africa alone, and the movement is also growing in Asia and Latin America. (There are even a few groups in Europe and North America).

    Savings Revolution is designed to help you learn more about Savings Groups, and to get involved with the most exciting new approach to bringing safe financial services to people around the world.


    « Self-Replication of Savings Groups in Western Kenya »

    FSD Kenya has just published a short study of savings groups created under the Community Savings and Loans (COSALO I) project, funded by FSD Kenya and implemented by CARE International in Kenya. The survey was conducted in September 2011 among 54 groups representatively selected from about 2,500 groups. 

    Among the key findings was that replication was the norm, with the average group creating nearly two additional groups in the 14 months since the project ended. Three quarters of all groups had replicated.

    The most important drivers of group creation in the sample were:


    • Members of existing groups creating new groups,often by upgrading an existing ROSCA.
    • Clusters of COSALO groups bringing new groups into their cluster.
    • CBTs creating new groups on a fee-for-service basis.


    Given that the number of groups far outweigh the number of CBTs, group- driven replication was by far the dominant mode of post-project group formation. For every group visited, more than 2 new groups had been formed by members. Although CBTs had also created new groups after the project ended, they were much less productive: in fact, they only created one new group for every 10 COSALO groups they had worked with during the project. The difference in productivity is enough to suggest the need to re-think the current SG model in relation to the post-project role of CBTs, in favor of appropriate tools for groups to drive the replication process through members as the primary channel of replication.

    There is much much more in the full study, which can be downloaded here. I invite you to read it and I look forward to your comments! 

    Please check out other FSD Kenya publications on our website.

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    Reader Comments (2)

    A few thoughts/observations or questions that went through my mind as i read the first few pages
    - sample size - isnt that too small a proportion
    - was it established if these were trully new groups with new mebership or old mebership in new groups?
    - what preparatory processes and structures were put in place when the project existed for either CBTs or groups to continue forming groups at the end of the project?
    - what challenges were faced by CBTs in productivity? and what incentives did groups have for the high productivity?
    - what aspects of group quality were reviewed if at all?
    - what implications would the project design and implementation have had on the results?
    - are there other areas with longer periods after end of project that have had similar or different experiences? and would there be other organizations with similar or different experiences?

    may be the naswers are in here will read and see

    Fri, March 23, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterundignified

    Thanks for your questions. I encourage you to read the detailed report as it contains answers to some of your questions. My responses are:
    1. Sample size - it might well be that it is small but it does give a pretty good indication of the reality on the ground. The groups were representatively selected and yielded the results in the report. As the report indicates, the results are not conclusive, but they are very indicative of the what is happening. The study also informed other studies that FSD Kenya is undertaking that will provide additional information in the future - so make sure you check out future updates.
    2. Yes it was established that these groups were NOT undertaking savings and credit activities before they interacted with the project trained groups. The longer report indicates that some members are also in the new Savings Groups (SGs) and some were doing something else and then started savings and credit once they interacted with the COSALO groups.
    3. There were no processes or structures in place to support post project replication - the longer study report has more on this. However, the CBTs were allowed to charge groups for their services towards the end of the project - this was not part of the project design.
    4. CBT productivity was hampered mainly by the fact that groups were previously used to free services and no preparatory work had prepared the community for fee-for-service. For groups, the incentive was mainly the model (and benefits of being in SGs) were very clear for those who were not in groups and so there was an attraction to join/form groups practising savings and loans.
    5. Group quality aspects - these are clearly outlined in the brief and detailed reports.
    6. Implication for project design and implementation - also addressed in the brief and detailed reports.
    7. Other areas with longer periods after end of project that have had similar or different experiences - I am not aware of other similar studies, projects or organizations that have undertaken a similar exercise - would be happy to be informed of some.

    Thanks once again for your interest in this.


    Fri, March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKuria

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