This philosophy drives Match Savings, a new World Council of Credit Unions campaign that encourages those living in poverty to save by providing them with a matching incentive from Internet donors. The Web site, www.matchsavings.org, has been up and operational since December, and without any official marketing effort, has already raised more than $2,000 in match funds.
The idea came from WOCCU's Gen Y employees, who introduced the suits to the power of social networks and projects like Kiva, in which individuals make loans to entrepreneurs on the organization's Web site.
"They said nobody else is doing it like this, and we think it would appeal to the young generation," said Brian Branch, WOCCU executive vice president and chief operating officer, "so, they're the ones leading the charge."
Heading up the effort to pound the pavement and select the first savings participants is Caja Yanga, a credit union in Cordoba, Mexico. According to the Match Savings Web site, Caja Yanga participates in a program with WOCCU and the Mexican government in which employees bring credit union services to rural, remote communities by motorcycle, boat or foot. These communities often have never had financial services. Caja Yanga serves 40,000 members.
"We feel a lot of attention goes to microfinance, and an easy way for a donor to get money to poor people is to provide loans," Branch said. "But, a lot of poor people aren't looking for loans; they're looking for a safe place to save, and this provides them with an incentive to join."
Ultimately, savings provides more stability for families because it helps them build assets, he added. Once assets are in place, micro credit programs are more appropriate.
Savings participants must commit to a six-month savings program and state a specific asset-building purpose for the funds. Credit union employees interview the applicants, record their stories and photograph them, posting their profiles online so donors can see where their money is going.
"It's often something like adding a room to the home, or perhaps plumbing or running water," Branch said. "We've also put together programs for people trying to save for vocational training programs or equipment for the self-employed."
A Kenyan credit union will be added to the program during 2009, Branch said. WOCCU has also experimented with the Match Savings concept in Afghanistan, but the group doesn't have a timetable for adding an Afghani credit union.
In additional to viral marketing, WOCCU hopes to partner with some stateside credit unions to promote both Match Savings and the credit union philosophy.