Small Change, Big Deal: Money as if people mattered

John Hunt Publishing (Business Books) 


It’s time to re-humanise money.

As we consider the plight of our consumer-driven economy , it is easy to forget that money is about relationship: between individuals and between communities. In our current financial mess, it  is worth reminding ourselves of community-based alternatives, and to look closely at microcredit, a model of peer lending to enable people to move out of poverty. From Bangladesh, from South Africa, from Ghana, and from the East End of London, we are given a worm’s eye view of small-scale work, of personal transformation, and the building of community. Small and local is still beautiful, and has much to teach us.

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With a rich background as a microcredit practitioner, Jennifer Kavanagh weaves personal experience, analysis and a wider social perspective that make the book of strong general interest. Indeed, the book is not only a great resource for activists in the microfinance sector, researchers and students but also food for thought for those concerned about how we manage our financial affairs. I hope that the book will help educate people about microcredit and evaluate its worth in reaching its full potential. Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Laureate, and founder of the Grameen bank

This book is the true starting point for considering what should be the deepest, most fundamental principles underlying appropriate financial services for the poor, just as jurisprudence, which deals with justice, ethics, morality and right vs. wrong, must similarly be the starting point for the legal profession. Through the many client stories Jennifer relates as well as the narrative of her own journey of discovery, this book is a personal ‘diary’ and a lyrical, uplifting, enriching and thought-provoking kaleidoscope of  issues that practitioners in the field of micro-finance, community development and economic empowerment wrestle with everyday. Rosalind Copisarow, Managing Director of Oikocredit

This is a superb and timely book. Thoroughly researched, Jennifer Kavanagh enlivens the insights from data with real-world examples of persons who are bridging the current abyss between “money and relationship,” to create new forms of personal and social wealth. In a period of lingering economic  crisis, when many people in developed countries are slipping out of the middle class and into poverty, Kavanagh’s book provides remedies that are practical, tested, and most of all, empowering. Money works as an asset, not an end: more than a mere exchange of value, money at its core  represents the mutual commitment to values that is the basis for trust. By recovering the moral core of economics, Kavanagh has unleashed that most subversive of revolutions in which society achieves the very transformation it originally intended. John Dalla Costa, Founding Director, Centre for Ethical Orientation, Author of  The Ethical Imperative: Why Moral Leadership is Good Business

Jennifer’s book provides a very necessary look at the alternatives to big bank lending. Full of examples and intriguing facts, Jennifer engages you with a fascinating tale of money and microcredit. Recommended. Jeremy Renals, accountant and university lecturer.

The jury is most certainly out on micro-finance, but this is a passionate defence based upon many years of practitioner experience in developed and developing countries. Written in an engaging style with thoughtful reflections on the nature of money and credit, this book will provide food for thought for a wide audience, whatever their pre-conceptions. ~ Josh Ryan-Collins, Senior Researcher nef (the new economics foundation) Lead author, Where Does Money Come From? A guide to the UK Monetary and Banking System

Jennifer Kavanagh has an informative and easy style of writing, drawing one in to a journey as student and then practitioner of micro-credit. Her patience, trust and thoughtful approach as she adapts, develops and uses this tool to enrich the lives of the people she has worked with makes this thought-provoking reading.  Mary Cundy,  Quaker Voices

Jennifer Kavanagh’s book is eminently readable and most enjoyable! She marshals her intellectual grasp, actual experience and imaginative compassion. These qualities solidly underpin the call to enable the least powerful people of the world to enrich their own lives and so enrich the world we all inhabit. These principles of re-humanising our relationship with money are relevant to all our financial transactions. Small Change, Big Deal: Money as If People MatteredI was left with a much greater understanding and, what is more, hope! Annique Seddon, Amazon

In this short and engrossing book, Small change big deal, Jennifer Kavanagh explores some of the major themes in recent spiritually- and ethically-based thinking about the problematic nature of our current financial systems. She does this through writing about a very specific area: the microcredit schemes developed by Mohammed Yunus (Grameen Bank), and her own work with microcredit.

As with many of her other books, history and other narratives are interwoven with personal experience: her own of working with poor and excluded women in different countries to develop local microcredit networks, and theirs of being part of that process. In that, it speaks to me very powerfully as a Friend: this she knows experimentally. It is also entirely consistent with her main message, which is that money is above all else a relational exchange and entity. Throughout the book, factual, analytical and case study chapters are interspersed with chapters on aspects of human relating essential to the working of microcredit: trust, impact and self-belief.

Her introduction examines the story of the Beauty and the Beast as a metaphor for our relationship to money, and how “attempting to take the human out of our financial system has been its downfall… [and] released the monster”. In this, she echoes (among others) the 2009 Reith lectures given by Michael Sandel on Markets and Morality. In the next chapter, she outlines a moral history of money that considers currency, debt, interest and banking. It finally identifies the three main attributes of the Beast, as we have created money to be by making it an end in itself rather than the tool it rightly is: exclusion of the many, separation of financial transactions from human relationships, and making money the sole definition and measure of wealth. She then examines alternative models of community finance such as co-operatives and credit unions, which retain the personal, before looking in more depth at microcredit and the form of it developed by Mohammed Yunus. Within this she explains why groups have almost exclusively been set up for women – I’ll leave you to read more about this.

At one point she describes Cynthia, the first woman employed locally to develop the Masambe! microcredit programme in South Africa, as someone with the right mix of “heart and discipline”. This mix seems to me to be the essence of faith in action. Her examination of the schemes that she helped to start up successfully or less so reflects the necessity of getting the balance of these two elements right for microcredit to take off and become a source of self-discovery and community-building for the women participating in it.

Heart is in knowing the local context and relationships, the importance of the microcredit groups, the meaning and power of local language and the names the groups give themselves, the development of skills and self-belief, and the importance of staff members believing in the creativity, integrity and resourcefulness of the women they are working with, thinking about what the local community actually needs from new trade, the power and generosity of relationships developed in the groups, the shock and joy for group members of rediscovering and having witnessed a denigrated or ignored skill.

Discipline is in the emphasis on preparation to receive a microcredit loan, researching the local market and what is needed, finding possible buyers + orders with deposits, transport links, regular attending and accounting to the local microcredit group as a condition for receiving a loan, early and regular repayments, the limited loan amounts and low (non-compound) interest, the clearly set-out and practical action sheets for group members to use in charting their own progress, the expectation for women to move into mainstream finance once they have the capacity (this last is Jennifer’s preferred model and not the Grameen model).

The stories of hope – Street Cred in London, Masambe! (Let’s Get Going!) in South Africa and Yen Daakye (Our Future) in Ghana – and those of stumbling – Jacaranda in Madagascar and Pine Ridge in South Dakota – show how this balance can be differently expressed in different contexts. Jennifer’s heart is in her conviction of and respect for the capacity in every woman she may work with to find their own seed of creativity and resource, and her adherence to the discipline of only visiting if asked by local people on the ground, and only in order to train local people to run their own programmes. I appreciated the honesty of her writing about mistakes along the way and what she learnt from them.

Julia Lim,