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Personal Finance 101: What Did You Learn at Home? – Part 1

Last week, I was facilitating a personal financial and entrepreneurship training for women community based organizations (CBO) leaders in one of the rural counties. During one of the discussions, I floated a question in regard to why there were no men in the forum to which a participant responded by saying that there were no male members, leave alone leaders in the CBOs.  This prompted me to make further enquiries about whether there are men CBOs and/or some CBOs with male members. I also enquired why men in the county found it hard to join CBOs. The response was unbelievable since the women leaders clearly stated that men considered groups “childish.”  Upon enquiring why men in the county considered groups “childish,” I was informed that in the culture of the local community, a man is supposed to be strong. Strength, according to the women leaders, is measured by among other things, the amount of wealth a man has personally accumulated. In my understanding, a man’s personal achievement is a more acceptable measure of success than group achievement. In other words, individualism is more valuable than cooperation. In addition, the perception that a man has to create the image of being “strong” is so entrenched in the culture that it overrides generally accepted principles of personal financial management such as exploitation of the power of group savings and investment vehicles such as cooperatives (SACCOs), rotating savings and credit associations (ROSCAs), Community Based Organizations amongst others.

During this discussion, I enquired how this perception has been imparted in the men and learnt, rather unsurprisingly, that there is no formal school, private or public forum where the male children or adults are taught about how to be “strong” by remaining individualistic. As I had expected, these values are imparted informally and mainly at home, playground, social events etc.

When I requested the women leaders for examples of rich persons in the county, they gave me 5 men – including the county’s former governor – all of whom have no link or history in cooperative movement or other group based savings and investment. This is despite the fact that the county’s current female governor is both wealthy and influential. Could the perception that wealth is male and individualistic be so deeply entrenched because it has been reinforced through examples of rich male individuals in the community who have no history of engaging in group or communal economic activities? Probably yes. No wonder,  all examples of financially successful people given by the women leaders were the so called self-made businessmen and no women.

Numbers relating to the county’s co-operative movement brought interesting findings. Only 10.9% of it’s over 724,000 residents are members of deposit taking cooperatives. The sector boasts of KES 1.8 billion in net assets, KES 0.89 billion in deposits and 0.98 in loans. This compares poorly with a county with a county in a different region – and supposedly with a culture placing more emphasis on group achievement – where 39.6% of its over 693,000 residents are members of deposit taking cooperatives and boasts 9.1 billion in net assets, 5.7 billion in deposits and 5.6 billion in loans. The 2 counties have a development index of 0.5142 and 0.6410 respectively. During a similar exercise in the latter county, 2 out of 5 examples of rich and influential persons in the county were leaders in the co-operative movement.

The foregoing led me into the urge to ask followers of this blog about the values they have learnt in social forums – home, school, religious institutions etc. – that impact their personal and community financial and economic situations. Masculinity, individualism and cooperation are just three of them. What other values have you learnt and how do they impact you?

Weru Mwangi is the Lead Consultant at Ultimate Management Solutions, a firm specializing in Finance, Governance and Leadership Development.  He can be contacted on weru@theultimategroup.co.ke

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