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Quids in: The power of a pound

Today we’re launching two new funds to inspire people powered public services and get more people volunteering.

The million pound Savers Support Fund is especially close to my heart after a recent trip to Glasgow.

Visiting the innovations we back is one of my favourite parts of the job. It’s often inspiring. Often insightful. But this visit was also humbling.

I was meeting with Wevolution, a Nesta New Radical, one of the 50 radical-thinking individuals and organisations we highlighted as changing the UK for the better in 2016.

I spent much of the time chatting with a group of women living on benefits or very low incomes who had, for the last year, decided to form a ‘self-reliant group’ of 5-10 local women who agree to meet each week and save £1 into their group kitty and then to put these savings to work to try and make money.

The groups are a replication of a successful Indian model, where women in the poorest slums pool their resources (time and money) to create micro-industries and, in doing so, make money to improve their families' lives. Innovator, Noel Matthias, felt the model was just as relevant to Glasgow and brought it across in 2012.

One of the Glasgow groups I met with saved their weekly £1 until they had enough for a washer dryer, then started a laundry service on their estate to make money. Another started making food to cater for events. Another made and sold simple sewn crafts.

The result was transformative - women empowered by new skills, new friendships and new income.

Each of the groups had made enough from their micro-enterprise to send all group members home with some extra cash in their pockets for Christmas and had enough to make short term loans to members in a crisis (for example so they could get a new boiler without going to a loan shark or payday lender).

The power of a quid saved. It was genuinely humbling - how easily I might take saving £1 a week for granted, but how hard it had been for these women to find a spare £1 to save each week, and what a difference it had made to improving their lives and the lives of their families.

But what particularly impressed me about this model was that it promotes a habit of saving by encouraging groups of people to help one another with making sure the habit sticks.

This idea of people helping people or volunteering like this is a theme of much of our grant giving at Nesta. Today I’m delighted to launch our new fund - the £1m Savers Support Fund - because we want to see many more people giving their time to help one another:

  • To save and share, like Wevolution and sharing economy platforms like PeerBy which connects people with goods they only need occasionally with neighbours who want to borrow them;
  • To avoid debt, like Money Life by the Trussell Trust which helps people with weekly budgeting;
  • To learn the skills of good money management, like MyBNK whose volunteers give school children the skills of balancing the books by getting them to run mini-business projects for real and Tax Volunteers retired tax professionals who give advice to older people;
  • Or even to find innovative new ways to work together to make life cost less - like group bulk buying etc.  

Innovation in this field is needed more than ever.

16 million have less than £100 in savings - far too little to cope with ‘shocks’ of unexpected expenditure or job loss.

More too are in debt. On average we each owe nearly £4,000.

Part of the answer to this lies in better financial education at school, but there’s plenty more to be done now.

I’ve seen first hand what a spare quid put away each week can do to change lives. And I’m hungry for more examples.

If you’ve got a great innovation in this space that ought to be grown or replicated to help thousands more to learn money management skills or start a saving habit, then I’d love to hear from you.

The Savers Support Fund opens today with its sister fund - the Early Years Social Action Fund - and closes to applications at end of March. Apply now for £100-250k to scale the most promising social action innovations.

Image credit: Joe Anderson/Flickr

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Vicki Sellick

Vicki Sellick

Vicki Sellick

Executive Director of Programmes

Vicki is an Executive Director at Nesta, responsible for the foundation's grant making function.   She leads the Programmes Team who aim to support and scale innovation for the publi...

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