Today’s Revolutionary:  Mike Nichols


Mike Nichols, shown here with his comedy partner Elaine May, was an American comedian, playwright, actor, and director, and one of the few people who in his career won an Emmy award (for television), a Grammy (music), an Oscar (movies), and a Tony Award (Broadway). He is best known to many of us for directing some memorable movies including The Graduate, Catch 22 and  Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf - but I first heard of him when he and Elaine May were doing improvisational comedy gigs in small clubs. They would ask an audience member to give them a first line to a skit, and another to give them the last, and then, with no rehearsal or prior conversation, would act out a short play that began with the first line, ended with the second, and - sort of - made sense! They became very popular and raised the bar for improvisation. Nichols just passed away, a few days after his 83 birthday.  

Catch up on over 200 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.

    In Their Own Hands - Discussion, photos, and blog postings inspired by the new book by Jeff Ashe and Kyla Jagger Neilan. Jeff Ashe has done more different things well in bringing financial services for the poor than anyone I can think of, and this rich experience is reflected in the book. Totally recommended.

    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.


    New CRS PSP manual

    Catholic Relief Services, as many readers know, has developed a particular approach to savings groups involving fee-for-service trainers called Private Service Providers (PSPs) who continue to form groups and expand their networks after any funding is over. I have written favorably about this approach on Savings Revolution here.

    I’m very grateful that Guy Vanmeenen, CRS’s Senior Technical Advisor for Microfinance in Africa (see picture) has generously made this brand new version of the CRS PSP Implemenation Guide available to the world. Even if you aren’t going to adopt the entire PSP system, you will find inspiration here. In particular, you will admire and hopefully emulate the carefully thought out strategy for post-project growth and expansion. 

    Click to read more ...


    Retro Status Quo

    Dear Paul - Please don’t keep your promise about solar women and their special bond to lighting. It takes us back to the promise of the 1950s - women and vacuum cleaners: “I promise in the next two weeks to write about women vacuuming their homes.” Yes, the vacuum removed dust and did all kinds of nice things for the family but that women were tasked with such efforts was less than liberating.

    In case today’s revolutionary disappears, here is what it says:

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    Paul buys a dumb phone

    As a traveling American, I face the insane roaming costs of the US telephone companies, and so I use the work-around of having a local phone and swapping SIM cards in each country I visit. It’s inconvenient for me and for anyone who wants to talk to me, but it’s affordable. A few months ago, when my old traveling phone was getting tired, I tried to buy a new low cost traveling phone - that is, an inexpensive phone that I could just make local calls with. 

    I went into the Safaricom shop in the Westgate Mall in Nairobi - the mall that would be the site of a tragic terrorist attack

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    Why Academics Mustn't Control Research

    Two problems plague academic research: nimbleness and quality. The upshot is that research is not all that relevant to the decisions practitioners need to make on an ongoing basis.

    I found myself considering the limits of academia at a conference at MIT. Alex Counts, CEO of Grameen Foundation challenged a panelist about calling RCTs - randomized contronl trials - the gold standard of research. Alex suggested I take a look at his blog post of last fall, which my inspired my response below. 

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    You Have to Ask "Why"

    For today’s class (I teach at a university) students were to view this very nice video produced by CGAP. It’s really good so do spend the time, if you can, to watch it.

    I asked the class what they thought of the video. One student reported that he watched it with his wife (who knows zero about financial inclusion) and the first thing she said was, “why would you want to get those people into banks, what they are doing seems fine?” Another student, a Mexcan

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    What is a savings revolutionary meant to believe?

    Revolutions germinate from a core set of powerful higher-level ideas/ideals expressed vividly. So what fires up the savings revolutionary? Shouldn´t we be putting our core beliefs accountably on the table, much as we are expecting people to place their money on banking tables?

    No select group should be deciding those core beliefs, but hopefully we can offer a starting point for a discussion within this forum. How about this:

    • There´s a conviction that people can regularly achieve goals by saving, in a value-accruing way, rather than necessarily by tying themselves to a costly debt-mast.

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    Savings Revolution's 2013

    Here’s a brief summary of what this site did in 2014.

    We had a satisfying year in terms of readership. The number of readers rose almost every month, and went from under 2000 in January, to over 4000 in December. When we started four years ago, we were happy to have 20 or 30 visits a day; now we regularly get over a hundred, and often we have 200.

    Click to read more ...


    Excellence, Part 1

    Some recent research (more on this in subsequent posts) showed that in a large sample of savings groups, about 5% of members said they had had their money “lost or stolen”. That’s one out of twenty members.

    Now, quick, before you read further, please take a moment to answer this question to yourself: Do you think this is a good statistic, or a bad one? That is, do you think it shows that savings groups are a good place to save because only 5% of members lost money, or do you think that shows they are a bad place to save because so many people say they have lost money?

    I think the way we answer that question will largely determine whether the Savings Group movement grows and makes a contribution in resilience, autonomy and empowerment to the lives of hundreds of millions of people, or whether the savings groups will fade away, becoming another interesting development fad, like Cooperatives or Integrated Rural Development. And your answer also indicates how committed you are to the possibility of Excellence in Savings Groups.


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    Contribute to "In their own hands..."

    Jeffrey Ashe and Kyla Neilan have been writing In Their Own Hands: How Savings Groups Are Revolutionizing Development. We are very pleased to be able to help Jeff and Kyla get feedback on their work by posting drafts of the chapters as they become ready for comment, an exclusive for Savings Revolution readers. 

    Click on the menu bar above on the In Their Own Hands tab - or click here - for the first two chapters of the book. I’ve read them, and they are great. I particularly liked the Guiding Principles in Chapter 2: a very concise set of principles for doing savings groups right, I think.

    Please do leave comments for Jeff and Kyla, even if all you say is, “Great book!”


    Unable But Willing to Pay

    Recently while visiting Naomi, a home brewer in Western Kenya, a customer came by to ask for Ksh 20 worth of liquor.  He quickly gulped down his brew and took out a Ksh 1000 note from his pocket to pay.  Naomi took the note and told him, “Go look for Ksh 20, then come back for this.”  When he left, she explained that many customers come with large bills and she often doesn’t have change.  They end up taking the liquor on credit and don’t pay their debts very quickly.  She’s learned that it’s better to hold the bills than to accept a promise of future payment. 

    This got me thinking:  In the world of low income Kenyans—a world in which

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    Buzzwords Then and Now

    Just when we thought we had cycled through all possible catchphrases, 2013 ushered in some new ones.

    A bit of ancient history

    In the 90s, buzzwords moved like molasses. On the practice side, it took a decade and a half to transition from microenterprise development to microfinance. During that time, we made the big switch from “serving beneficiaries” to “attracting clients”. Presumably, it was better to profit from the poor than to benefit them.

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    Five Best Savings Group Ideas of 2013

    Unlike the bad ideas that have been recycled year after year, the good ideas of 2013 are all new this year, which is quite exciting! We count down from five to one, towards the very best idea of 2013.

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    Five Worst Savings Group Ideas of 2013

    At the end of the year, it is traditional to make Best and Worst lists. Here’s my take on the five worst ideas I’ve seen this year. Many of them are old ideas that just won’t die. Maybe this will help! They go from 5 to 1, saving the worst for last… 

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    The mechanics of hype

    Being a relative newcomer to the field of microfinance, I have been a spectator to the microcredit boom and bust. I do wonder what made the notion of having poor people live in perpetual high-cost debt such an irresistible concept for so many people. How did it get so over-hyped? In a recent post in this blog, Paul Rippey feared this kind of triumphalist over-hyping taking over the sub-culture of savings groups, asking people to shut their marketing mouths, at least some of the time.

    Click to read more ...