How To Help Invest In The Future Of Guatemala

Friday, October 5, 2012

In the current presidential election there is a lot of talk about safety nets. Without being political, I’ll say that the most in the developed world have them, and they tend to be pretty effective overall.

In the third world, these nets often don’t exist, or are filled with human-sized holes. What this means is that when things go bad, they get worse and the sinking often doesn’t stop until things hit rock bottom. Rock bottom may mean homelessness, disease or, at the severest, loss of life. This is nothing new. The sick often become poor and the poor often get sick.

People at the bottom rung of the economic chain live day-to-day doing whatever they can to survive. On a bad day they might earn nothing; on a good day maybe they’ll earn $10. In my experience working with these populations, I’ve seen that the same family one month might earn $100 and the next month earn $300. What those two months have in common is how much is left over at the end of it: typically nothing.

The reason is often the result of lack of financial education. The poorest populations typically have little by way of experience handling finances. For many who are able to save,  money is likely to be stashed in a mattress where it is vulnerable to thieves. The poor, more than any other population, would benefit dramatically by having a meager savings to help them over rough months when they don’t earn enough to even properly feed themselves or provide for needed medicine or school supplies. I’ve encountered families who chose not to send their kids to school simply because they couldn’t afford $20 in school supplies.

In the development field, most would agree that for many poor people with some regular income, having a savings would benefit them greatly. The question that results is: How do you do that? How do you get people with no financial education to learn how to manage their finances?

In Guatemala The Integral Heart Foundation is currently micro-testing an answer to this question by implementing a pilot project called The Third World Savings Project. The project consists of three simple parts:

1) Teaching impoverished families who have had no formal education how a bank savings account works.

2) Pairing them up with a mentor (local Guatemala university students), who can help them understand their finances better and make better financial choices.

3) Opening a bank account with them and then offering them the following incentive: If they make a deposit of any amount every week for six weeks in a row, $50 will be deposited into their savings account.

The end goal of this project is to help participating individuals see the value of having the safety net of a savings account and continue to use their new account. Even if 10% of the families in the pilot program continue after the pilot period, the program could be considered a success.

So will it work? We’re not sure. But we’re excited to find out and to learn how this idea pans out in the real world.

And this grassroots program needs your help. We are looking for 10 sponsors to sponsors 10 families in order to fund the program. If you are able to be one of them, please click here to learn more and help rewrite the rules of the game for one poor family in Guatemala.

By Luke Maguire Armstrong

TheExpeditioner

About the Author

LukeArmstrongAfter setting out to hitchhike from Chile to Alaska, Luke Maguire Armstrong stopped in Guatemala where he spent four years directing the social service programs of the charity Nuestros Ahijados. He is the curator of the high energy humor site Rabble Rouse The World and his book of poetry, iPoems for the Dolphins to Click Home About (available for sale on Amazon.com) is especially enjoyed by people who “don’t read poetry.” Look for his next poetry book, “How We Are Human,” this fall, and his novel “How One Guitar To Save To World” whenever he finally finds an agent. 

(Follow Luke on Twitter: @lukespartacus). 

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