So I’ve had this AMAZING opportunity to participate in the first international IR-VICOBA training held in South Africa. Over the past ten days, I have come to know people from Kenya, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Burundi, South Africa, Botswana, Southern Sudan, Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique.
IR- Vicoba (Inter religious Village Community Banking) is a micro finance model which aims to mobilize savings and create business opportunities among African people living in rural villages. The program began in Niger in 1991 based on the system of “Upatu” (merry go round); a group collects money and gives it to one person at a time until all members have benefited.
IR-VICOBA groups consist of between 15-30 members who can be both men and women. Each IR-VICOBA group has a leadership committee: chairperson, secretary, treasurer, 2 counters, and 3 key holders. The bank is a metal box kept shut by three padlocks. Each key holder has the power to open one of the padlocks and the treasurer guards the box in his/her home. Inside of the bank (metal box) are three containers: share fund container, social welfare fund container, and fine container. The paper records and other supplies (pens, stamp, stamp pad, white-out) are kept inside.
An IR-VICOBA group works like this: For the first 12 weeks, members of the IR-VICOBA group buy shares. The members determine the value of a share and the number of shares each member can buy per meeting. For example, a share may be valued at 10 rand and a member may be able to buy one to five shares per meeting. After 12 weeks of consecutively buying shares, members begin the process of applying for loans. When a member applies for a loan, he or she completes a business proposal, which is then reviewed by 4 other members. If the 4 members approve, a loan may be issued. A member may take out a loan worth no more than 3X their shares and they must pay a 2% insurance fee. The 2% insurance fee is used to cover the amount owed by any member who may unexpectedly die during the VICOBA year. The fixed interest rate known as surplus income in VICOBA is determined at the beginning of the year by group members with longer loans incurring a higher fixed interest rate (surplus income).
Surplus income is essentially the same thing as an interest rate with a few minor differences. The biggest difference between interest rates and surplus income is that when a loan is taken from the bank, the bank profits from the interest paid on the loan. In VICOBA, the surplus income (interest rate) is still paid but it is re-distributed among members at the end of the year. The amount each person receives from the accumulated surplus income is determined by the number of shares owned. Another difference between interest rate and surplus income is that when someone fails to pay back a loan, the issue is taken to court under the law of contract and there is never a happy ending. In VICOBA, failure to repay the loan may result in loss of membership. However, the group will evaluate the circumstances and may try to find a solution to help the individual pay back his or her loan.
In addition to buying shares, the members also contribute to a social welfare fund and pay fines each week. The social welfare fund is used to help members with issues related to health and education. The main idea is that if a person needs a loan for a health or education problem (maybe they want to send their kids to school but don’t have the money), they borrow the money from this pool and pay it back without having to pay interest. Members establish rules and regulations and if someone breaks these rules or regulations they pay a fine. The fine fund is then used to buy materials the group may need to keep the bank running such as the bank tool kit.
Banking the VICOBA way is an empowering way to do banking. People come together as a community to enable each other to create small businesses, which the members and community support. People are seen as people. If someone is having financial problems, the group intervenes and tries to help the member. The meetings also become a forum for discussing other issues in the community. Certain rules of conduct are expected from members such as no domestic violence, children should be going to school, responsible consumers of alcohol…. Members can pressure one another to uphold these values and behaviors. Often times, money comes between people, but in the VICOBA sense, it strengthens relationships between people. We should all infuse a little more VICOBA into our financial lives. Everyone, not just Africa really needs it.