Peer learning key to financial literacy at BoP

Jane* a 36 year old mother of two lives in a rural town in Central Kenya on an eighth of an acre.  She farms coffee beans for sale.  Depending with the season, she plants either maize, beans or potatoes just enough for consumption at home.  She also does casual jobs in the neighbourhood where the pay ranges from 2-3 dollars a day.  She’s done this for the last 9 years since she got married in that homestead.  The only way Jane acquires new information is through listening to the radio – talk shows or advertisements – or discussions with her friends – peer learning.  They started a peer investment group with thirteen of her friends and contribute 4 dollars per week then give a lumpsum to each member per month.  The members can also get emergency loans from this investment group.  The lumpsum is mostly used for consumption purposes such as buying utencils or household items.

One challenging aspect of upgrading the standards of living at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) is changing ingrained habits that have been acquired over time.  People live from hand to mouth under deplorable conditions which never seem to change.  Majority of interventions done at BoP rarely stick due to the habit loop.  Seth Godin’s in his book Tribes defines religion as a mantra, a set of rules – humans overlay ontop of their faith – that supports the status quo encouraging us to fit in.  As much as religion is supposed to propel our faith, at its worst it reinforces the status quo, often at the expense of our faith/ new information.  At BoP, people rarely step out of the daily routine.

Peer learning is learning with and from each other, exchanging knowledge and experience with each other stemming from a place of trust and commitment.  Its a way of leveraging new information, experience and best practices from people with similar interests or challenges.  There’s a lot of mistrust and judgement of formal financial systems at BoP and peer learning gives new information a familiar face.  It also allows for accountability amongst the peers as “we” are in ‘it’ together and in our familiar social habits.

When new information is introduced to people using a familiar face or role-modelling someone they already know and trust in their circles; its highly likely that people will adapt and accept it.  Each and everyone of us takes financial issues seriously and for someone who’s financial resources are limited, they would like to counter check before committing their funds on a service like insurance.  They would want to verify that insurance works and having their neighbours or peers confirm the same builds confidence in the product.

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