Social Capital Credits, or SoCCs, is an ambitious model for promoting community-building while leveraging the multiplier effect of development dollars to alleviate poverty. It is an innovative community currency for social good that operates outside the money economy and that last year was among the top 10% of entrants for the Fuller Challenge, an annual competition sponsored by The Buckminster Fuller Institute that recognizes bold approaches to solving some of the world’s most complex problems.
Just as carbon credits encourage and reward environmental responsibility using market mechanisms, so SoCCs encourages social responsibility using market mechanisms that “price” contributions to a community. SoCCs are a form of economic empowerment that nurtures local leadership, makes invisible work visible, accelerates the benefits of micro-lending, and multiplies the impact of outside development aid.
Local SoCCs Managers are trained to work with groups of women (and men) to determine the value of work that is done to improve a community. The group then jointly creates customized SoCCs earning and spending menus. SoCCs can be earned for group tasks such as cleaning up a street or vacant lot, improving neighborhood safety, getting children vaccinated, helping students with tutoring or keeping adolescent girls in school. Earned SoCCs can then be redeemed for products and services such as health care, school scholarships, telephone talk-time, courses in skills-building, home improvement, small business development and more. SoCCs especially reward people who have much to contribute but are hampered when money is the only medium of exchange. SoCCs make the work women do for their communities, usually unrecognized, both recognized and rewarded.
Fifteen SoCCs projects in five countries are now underway in various phases of development, reaching 26,000 people. Four of these projects are through WomenStrong International Consortium members, working with urban women and girls in Madurai, India, Kumasi, Ghana, and Kisumu, Kenya and Washington, D.C., USA.
WomenStrong International’s Approach in Ghana and Kenya
In Kisumu, Kenya, women already involved in an active Group Savings and Loan program formed a SoCCs group to focus on environmental clean-up and waste collection, a long-neglected priority in their community of Manyatta, the city’s largest slum. Among their projects was the removal of unsightly, unhealthy garbage from a vacant lot. The landowner was so pleased with the clean-up that he granted the group’s request to plant a community garden on the plot. Fruit, vegetables and herbs grown in the garden helped feed the womens’ families, and the surplus was sold in the market. The women’s group then redeemed SoCCs points earned from the clean-up for dozens of plastic chairs that they now rent out for weddings and other social functions within the community – converting SoCCs into a revenue-producing small business for the group.
Last year, also in Kenya, a group of local women initially interested in restoring their community to the way they remembered it from childhood wound up using SoCCs to set up a waste collection business. The small enterprise received support from Kisumu County Government and now is generating income for 35 successful female entrepreneurs. The initiative was entirely the brainchild and sweat of the women themselves and did not require support from WomenStrong or any other organizations.
In Madurai, India, a community SoCCs program is being customized to incentivize women to improve the public spaces and shared amenities in their neighborhood. In southeast Washington, DC, women are choosing to earn SoCCs by improving their literacy and feeding the homeless, since many of the women were once homeless themselves and say they understand how to help.
One of the most successful SoCCs programs is in Kumasi, Ghana, where 320 women vendors in the downtown Bantama market earned SoCCs points by performing tasks they selected from a menu of choices that included getting themselves health screenings, vaccinating their children and keeping the market where they work clean. Initially, SoCCs were redeemable only for telephone talk time, school fees and family health care, but SoCCs now are being used to secure microloans. The SoCCs program has substantially expanded to other communities around Kumasi that heard about and asked for the program. Earning menus for these additional communities grant SoCCs for tasks such as helping to build a community center, rehabilitating community gardens and collecting garbage.
Each project starts with training sessions on group formation and leadership, budgeting, investments and business management. Women who earn more than 250 SoCCs are eligible for micro-credit from a revolving loan program that lends at 13% annual interest, compared to 43% interest offered commercially. As of 2015, disbursements have been made of GHC 171,939 ($40,000 U.S.), with no defaults. Girls in Ghana also are taking advantage of SoCCs. Teens in Girls’ Clubs supported by WomenStrong earn SoCCs points for staying in school and avoiding pregnancy, then trade the points for tutoring, field trips and social events – generating much enthusiasm.
SoCCs programs are underway or under development in the following locations in partnership with these organizations:
• Kumasi, Ghana: Women’s Health to Wealth
• Accra, Mangyea: Ghana African Youth Guild
• Kisumu, Kenya: Alice Visionary Foundation Project
• Washington DC, USA: Bread for the City SE
• Chennai, India: M. S. Swaminathan Foundation
• Kotputli, India: Oxigen
• Dharavi, Mumbai, India: www.dharavimarket.com
• Chinatown, Kolkota, India: Cha Project
• Curridabat, Costa Rica: Curridabat City Council
• Portland, Oregon, USA: Portland Summers
• Ahmedabad, India: SEWA Ahmedabad Center for Development
• Delhi, India: Ruaab, SEWA Bharat
• Pune, India: Ashta No Kai
• Madurai, India: DHAN Foundation, Earth Celebrations
• Bori Sinh, India: Save Indian Farmers