Sep. 23, 2020 8:30 am

At Philly Tech Week, the example of a global nonprofit leveraging tech and human connection to eradicate poverty

CARE’s community-based financial solutions drive social equity and gender justice.

Chomoka is a start-up social enterprise that leverages digital innovation to benefit Village Savings and Loan Associations in Tanzania.

(Photo courtesy of CARE / @Karen Vandergaag)

“The only way our programs will achieve the scale we are shooting for is if we can figure out where technology can introduce efficiency, cost effectiveness, and deeper impacts — without forcing technology-driven solutions into places where they are destined to fail.”

Christian Pennotti, Global Director of Savings Groups at CARE, was explaining the 75-year old global nonprofit’s strategy to deliver sustainable poverty solutions with a focus on aiding women and girls this Monday evening at the Philly Tech Week 2020 session titled “Innovations for Eradicating Global Poverty.”

Pennotti and Lauren Brockett, director of the Community Lending Circles program through the Global Atlanta Innovation Hub at CARE USA, covered recent innovations related to CARE’s Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs). VSLAs are microsavings programs that CARE introduced in Niger 25 years ago, whose reach now includes eight million women and girls — 81% of VSLA members are female — who have saved nearly half a billion dollars.

VSLAs work as independent groups of 15-30 individuals who save money together, weekly or biweekly, for 9-12 months. The savings and any interest from loans disbursed from their common fund are distributed to members at the end of the cycle. Groups have used their funds to become an effective component of solutions to education, health, gender justice, food security, and, more recently, in adapting to the economic impacts of COVID-19.

However, the analog nature of the community funds — kept in a lockbox with three keyholders within the group — can limit groups. Chomoka, a start-up social enterprise that leverages digital innovation to benefit savings group members — of which Pennotti is founder and CEO — is changing this landscape.

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Screen capture of a slide from the CARE presentation at Philly Tech Week 2020 on September 22. (Imagecourtesy of CARE / @Karen Vandergaag)

Chomoka is an Android application that creates digital financial profiles for groups, helping users access opportunities that were previously out of reach, such as using Chomoka data to secure group bank loans or discounts and farm-gate delivery of bulk purchases from agribusiness for food or income. Chomoka is currently live in Tanzania with 7,000 members and will be expanding next year.

According to Pennotti, CARE is on track to reach a target 62 million VSLA members by 2030 through their support of governments in more effectively helping community financial service groups, and their work with agribusinesses to increase economic security in the communities where they work.

More recently, CARE has added a focus on working in the United States.

The Innovation Hub launched a pilot domestic VSLA program in the fall of 2019 in Atlanta — CARE’s first application of overseas programs stateside.

In 2019, CARE established the Global Atlanta Innovation Hub to leverage the infrastructure of their headquarters as a space for coworking and collaboration for Atlanta-based community organizations. The Innovation Hub hosts events and experiential learning, with the goal of “elevating and highlighting local grassroots efforts and encouraging cross-functional knowledge transfer by connecting global and local practitioners,” Brockett said.

The Innovation Hub launched a pilot domestic VSLA program in the fall of 2019 in Atlanta — CARE’s first application of overseas programs stateside.

By partnering with organizations that have deep-rooted trust within their communities, the team implemented a train-the-trainer model to help the organizations form community savings groups and share facilitation tools for group leaders to sustain the cycle.

In group meetings, members can share their experiences and get advice from their peers. Rather than using a physical lockbox and keys, five of six groups in the pilot are using PayPal’s money pool to deposit funds into one digital account with members keeping different parts of the account login.

Another Innovation Hub initiative is the CARE package relief program, launched in April in response to the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic.

(The team) partnered with Lyft, DoorDash, and Task Rabbit to book food bank deliveries as fairly paid work.

The team identified areas where significant disruptions occurred between food banks and communities in need and partnered with Lyft, DoorDash, and Task Rabbit to book food bank deliveries as fairly paid work. Importantly, funds pass directly through the Innovation Hub to the community-based organizations to coordinate management of the gig economy workers participating in the program.

“We want to build alliances and partnerships with those who offer complementary approaches to scale effective solutions to fulfill community needs and see change toward reducing poverty,” Brockett said.

Whether around the world or “around the corner,” CARE is working to foster sustainable connections and technology platforms that outlive a concrete project by putting community trust and on-the-ground expertise first.


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