John Locke, one of the enlightenment philosophers, posited in the 17th century that the fruits of an individual’s labor entitled that person to own and accumulate property, a God-given right. A person’s property, broadly interpreted to include everything from the material goods to personal aspirations, was his or hers and could not be relinquished without the owner’s consent.
Historically, the Maasai women of Ilbisil, Kenya have had limited to zero control over the money they earned. By the influences of their husbands, relatives, neighbors and friends, these women would labor to earn money, but it never seemed to belong to them and it never accumulated.
In March 2013, the Maasai Girls Education Fund (MGEF) offered the first of its Women’s Business Training Workshops. Recognizing the difficulty that the Maasai women faced in keeping and controlling their property, the workshops emphasized the importance of savings in the two days of classes. Since formal bank accounts were not an option – due to lack of sizeable deposits, ability to read and understand statements, and in some cases, no local banks – MGEF gave each woman a sealed tin with a slot in the top; consider it the Maasai woman’s version of a piggy bank. MGEF would then follow up with the group at various intervals over the year.
After the course, the women worked, sold, and earned their income. They also gathered together periodically for savings group meetings to help reinforce and support one another. Each week, the women placed a portion of the funds earned into their individual tins, marking the earnings as their individual property. The funds were now protected from being spent or frivolously lost to spousal or family-related alcohol, neighbor pressure, or any other peer usage. Since the program’s inception, only two tins have disappeared out of 120.
At the end of the first six months, the Maasai Business Women’s Savings group gathered to open their tins. The women suddenly realized that they, as individuals, had a net worth, and with it the capability to realize some of their dreams. Many keep the tins going in savings phases to accumulate enough for larger purchases.
For Maitei, the dream was to get out of a claustrophobic, mud-wall home. When she moved into a metal home with a concrete floor, she cried. If you visit, she won’t let you leave until you see the before and after.
Recently, Margaret Mereyian of MGEF took Pam and I to meet with 22 of the 30 members of the Ilbisil Masai Women’s Savings Group. All of them noted that all of their children were in school. All of them had business income. And, all of them had tins, dreams for the future, and a self identity through earned success.
What is happening in Ilbisil is heart-warming. Pam and I were honored to have had the opportunity to visit this project on our recent trip to Kenya.
Dave Straley is Founder and Treasurer of 3rd Creek Foundation. He is also the Founder and General Manager of 3rd Creek Investments, 3rd Creek Accounting, and 3rd Creek Ventures. He is an investment advisor representative and certified public accountant. Prior to founding 3rd Creek, Dave worked in the public sector at the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) as a Foreign Service Officer. While at USAID, he developed programs in land reform, infrastructure, HIV/AIDS prevention, small business development, community based land resource development, democracy, and governance. Dave also served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Nicaragua from 1974 to 1976, working on post earthquake reconstruction of Managua as an urban planner. Dave’s domestic experience includes 20 years in tax planning and preparation, small business consulting, and specialty work in health care accounting and reimbursement consulting. Dave completed his BA and MA in Economics at California State University at Long Beach.