Cowrywise Saving Circles: An African Story

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The Cowrywise Savings Circle is a new feature that allows for group savings and investment through collections and challenges.

Not the regular story.

There is an African story that doesn’t invite the gods from the sky or the spirits from under the earth; one that is incessantly retold across various cultures without losing its essence. The story of how we made sense of little cowries and how we still achieve great feats from the compounding of little. This is the story of saving circles.

A story with power.

As humans and social beings, we have always lived in families, clans, and tribes. We began sitting in circles around fires for protection, shelter from the elements. The circle is both an image and a metaphor of completeness and equality. There is both protection and democracy within its confines as people face each other without the visual hierarchy. This facilitates intimacy- Linda Lenzke.

Beyond protection and democracy within the confines of circles, we also find both continuity and support. Through circles, we have been provided with bonding threads that have helped us stitch together fabrics of sustainable growth. The story of circles provides evidence for the truth of little drops making up the glittery and ever-refreshing Nile, and many other little steps that amount to unimaginable greatness.

Here’s how it has been told.

In the eastern parts of Africa, where the finest herbs and tea are grown, the story is told under the title, Harambee (not the baboon 😊). In Swahili, it means “all pull together”. Harambee is deeply rooted in the fabric of the Kenyan culture that it even sits as the motto on the nation’s coat of arms. It is a culture that invokes the spirit of self-help amongst Kenyans. Under Harambee, they come together to raise funds for development activities, making the path towards community goals more feasible.

If we move on to the glorious safaris of southern Africa, we get to hear the same tale with a different title — Ubuntu. The Ubuntu tale is quite an interesting one.

An anthropologist bought lots of candy and sweets in the city. He put everything in a basket with a beautiful ribbon attached. He placed it under a solitary tree, and then he called some African kids together. He drew a line on the ground and explained that they should wait behind the line for his signal. And that when he said “Go!” they should rush over to the basket, and the first to arrive there would win all the candies.

When he said “Go!” they all unexpectedly held each other’s hands and ran off towards the tree as a group. Once there, they simply shared the candy with each other and happily ate it.
He asked them why they all went together, especially if the first one to arrive at the tree could have won everything in the basket — all the sweets. A young girl simply replied: “How can one of us be happy if all the others are sad?” (Source: The Spirit of Ubuntu)

In this tale, we find the most beautiful impact of togetherness. It has the ability to democratise access to happiness, and in happiness we find the peace to make progress as a society.

Bringing it back home, we have told this story under the titles of Ajo, Esusu and the likes. These saving circles have helped pool funds for Nigerians, and with these pools, many have been able to attain financial goals that seemed quite impossible. Here, we see the power of circles unlock doors to experiences that would have stayed locked if we tried as individuals.

Here’s how we are retelling the story.

As a team committed to rewriting Africa’s wealth story, by bridging the wealth gap, we always employ strategies that work for Africans. Hence, when we started work on creating a new story for circles that will help people build wealth together, we set our minds on telling a complete story. A story that tells experiences of democratized wealth, group motivation, shared happiness and above all a secure and rewarding growth.

Taking these into consideration, we designed the Cowrywise Circles, a group savings and investments feature; one that will allow for collections and challenges. The choice to break it down into these two paths is in line with the earlier choice to tell a complete story.

Sticking to challenges alone would have told the story of motivation, where people come together to save and invest and then withdraw funds back into their bank accounts. A great story but that wasn’t enough for us. The collections path served as the best paragraph to finish the story.

With collections, people get the opportunity to access experiences that might have been impossible if they tried as individuals. For example, we have a number of poor homes across Africa that we would love to support as individuals, but the impact we would love to create can only be felt if we gather our cowries with those of others.
Collections provide the perfect answer to making this happen securely and rewardingly. With collections, we can create saving circles that will help people invest in various projects that will help rewrite the wealth story of many households.

With Circles, we can all be part of something bigger whether we have large or little funds. How else do you think Circles can be used? Drop a comment with your ideas below.

To join our story today, you can simply download the app. If you need more information on how to set up your group savings and investments plan, you should check out our guide here.

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