By 2014 the innovative “SoCCs” (Social Capital Credits) program conceptualized by Geeta Mehta moved to the core of the AI program. The smaller projects AI supported in the past (postdating its work with the MSSRF microcredit program) had limited impact in terms of the number of individuals reached, long-term sustainability, and geographical extent. SoCCs offered us a universal application and appeal—with the potential of reaching many more people in multiple locations.
As of today, while AI’s core mission remains to help a woman rise, the SoCCs program supports that mission by creating a new platform, or mechanism, by which change will be effected for much larger segments of a given population.
So, what is SoCCs? It is an innovative model of social development designed to tackle the widespread issue of poverty while simultaneously promoting the building of communities. SoCCs constitute a new medium of exchange that rewards the socially relevant tasks that a community or individual undertakes (getting health screenings, getting children vaccinated, planting trees, managing waste, cleaning rivers). Once earned, these credits can be redeemed for critical products and services: e.g., courses in computer literacy, sewing lessons, telephone talk time, school fees, water filters, groceries, and so on.
Poor families spend the bulk of their earnings on basic amenities like food, clothing, and shelter, while any useful tasks they undertake toward creating social good largely remain unrewarded. If, however, members of a community can be rewarded for doing social good, and are able to exchange the rewards they receive for goods and services, a portion of their family income is freed up for spending on education. Savings go up. The overall well-being of the community improves, and social capital continues to build on itself. SoCCs have the potential to exercise a multiplier effect and act as a catalyst for development without reliance on money.
In Geeta’s words, “I was smitten by the idea of social capital as I saw so much community strength in our field sites! But there was no way to describe it, let alone leverage it. The idea of SoCCs sprang from that germ and evolved over time, in classes I taught and in discussions with my students. The big confidence booster came from a Holcim conference in India, where I described SoCCs to an audience that included bankers and business people. Their reception was so enthusiastic, I decided to present the concept to the board of AI, which gave its approval for running some early pilots.”
In two years, the number of pilots AI is managing, with the help of its local organizations, has grown from three to nine: in South Asia, Africa, Central America, North America. The projects in our portfolio today include:
To learn more about SoCCs, and to see how you might participate, join us Monday, October 12, for our annual gala at the New York Athletic Club. For tickets, please visit http://www.asiainitiativesgala.org.
And stay tuned for our next post to find out where the money goes!
-Anne Papantonio is a Board Member at Asia Initiatives