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Saving money (and souls?) at religious centers

Wouldn't it be revolutionary if we could use the trust and authority of religious spaces for financial inclusion?

Photo of Scott St Marie
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Who does this idea benefit, who are the main players and what's in it for them?

Religion is a powerful force in that it can be universal, but may also target those excluded by financial institutions. I was recently in Nepal and noticed that the religious sites there were often used by those identified in the research phase as being particularly in need of financial empowerment (e.g., women, those without salaried employment). Further, religious networks may extend further than other forms of authority (e.g., government services) be able to include the most remote.

How is your idea specifically using the power of communities to improve financial opportunities and resources?

Shared faith creates communities with strong internal ties. Religion can inspire its members to be charitable to their co-religionists in ways that for-profit financial institutions may not. In many contexts religious leaders have a great deal of trust and authority among their constituents and may be powerful as financial educators or example-setters. Some religions create physical spaces which members visit regularly. These could be powerful locations for reaching many people efficiently.

What early, lightweight experiment can you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We could organize a short-term loan program at a local church to see if local parishioners would be willing to lend money to a member of the congregation. We could also compare this to willingness to do the same for people outside of the congregational community. We could survey to see how much religious figures are trusted versus other forms of authority (e.g., friends, family, gov't officials, celebrity), though this will definitely vary by region!

What skills, input or guidance might you be seeking from the OpenIDEO community to help you build out or refine your idea further?

Because religious practice is so varied by location, thoughts from OpenIDEO users around the world as to whether this would work in their cultural context would be really important. Perhaps a community member knows of a particularly successful program executed in a community near them?

This idea emerged from:

  • An individual

The focus of this idea is to tap into existing religious communities to use them as a means for create greater financial inclusion.  Rather than creating new communities to provide financial services or education we could use a pre-existing (and potentially powerful!) local community.

Religious practice is a regular habit for many which provides a pattern of physical behavior and thought that could potentially be re-purposed (enhanced?) toward financial inclusion.

One of the major challenges identified in the research phase was that poverty is a "mindset" driven by short-term thinking.  Inserting financial education into a religious context, when users may be more likely to think of their long-term (eternal?) condition, may be a way to circumvent this.

One obstacle with using religion is that it varies so much from location to location.  Therefore, what works in one context may not work in another.  Some preliminary ideas for how this idea might be expressed are below, but ideas from OpenIDEO members around the world would be necessary to help refine it!

  • Using a religious building (and staff?) as a "savings and loan" for members of the faith community who don't have access to a bank and savings accounts;

  • Low-cost loans for members of a religious community to one another;

  • Using the regularity and frequency of religious meetings/ceremonies as a a touch-point for financial services;

  • Resources for religious leaders to include financial education in their interactions with believers;

  • Using major gatherings such as religious festivals as a time/location for financial education.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Julie Siwicki

Scott - Have you considered fusing religious networks with savings groups? Mission Asset Fund works with immigrants in the U.S. and their informal savings groups to successfully build assets and credit scores. What if we could extend the same model to people born in the U.S. who have similar needs?

The problem is that most Americans without an immigrant background are unfamiliar with the idea of savings groups. In fact, I think many would approach it with suspicion and distrust. A solution could be to introduce groups through existing religious networks where folks are already bound by beliefs/morals and social ties - and that, like you say, already create physical spaces for people to come together.

Like Nicole, I know of at least one church where I could see this type of program working. I've thought about it a lot and would be interested to talk more, maybe collaborate. Good luck. Be in touch!


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