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Got Sou-Sou?

I've never been an avid supporter of reparations for slavery. One, you don't have to go as far back as slavery to find civil rights violations for which reparations should be paid and for which you can find identifiable victims. For example, the banking industry, complicit with the federal government, made sure that mortgage loans weren't made to black homebuyers in the 40's and 50's seeking to buy in white neighborhoods and, in many cases, in black neighborhoods, too. The wealth transfer that a home represents, or the failure to be able to transfer such wealth, makes a tremendous difference in economic advancement. For those who can prove that their grandparents or great-grantparents were denied home loans based on their race, it wouldn't be too far of a stretch for the federal government to pay reparations, as it would be relatively easy to determine the value of the intergenerational wealth transfer that might have happened had they been able to buy a home and pass that home or the equity in it down to subsequent generations.

That said, if I had my way, instead of reparations for race-based housing discrimination, I would support just giving those who can show that their generation was affected by this housing discrimination an 800 FICO score. Why? Because with the mortgage meltdown (and you're fooling yourself if you think it's only the subprime mortgages that are going into foreclosure), I predict two major economic shifts in the financial landscape of black folks: 1) Lower FICO scores; and 2) Reductions in net worth as a result of being upside-down on mortgages.

And, with the mortgage meltdown and ensuing credit crunch, black folks are going to have a harder time getting access to capital to start businesses, especially with damaged FICO scores.

That is, unless they're of Jamaican or Trinidadian ancestry. Because Jamaicans and Trinidadians know something that those of us with Southern roots might not know: The power of the sou-sou.

What's a sou-sou, you say? A sou-sou (the Trinidadian term, I'm told) or a partner (the Jamaican term, I'm told) is nothing more than a saving circle. Each person in the group contributes a fixed amount on a regular basis, with each person taking a turn at getting the entire proceeds contributed for that installment. For example, if you have four people contributing $250 weekly, each person take turns getting $1,000 each week until every person has had a turn getting the entire week's contribution. It's not a Ponzi scheme or "Friends Helping Friends" -- and don't act like you don't remember "Friends Helping Friends." I think I was the only black person living in Oakland in the 90's who wasn't in "Friends Helping Friends." Anyway, assuming everyone in your sou-sou or partner can be trusted, everyone should get the benefit of a large payout. A sou-sou is a common means of helping someone start a business or pay off debt. And we all know that businesses are the key to wealth accumulation.

The sou-sou, I'm told, has its origins in West Africa. And it may be the cultural alternative to banks in these hard times to come. Whether we were greedy or just ignorant, many of us got taken in during the housing bubble run-up and are paying for it with lowered FICO scores, depleted savings, depreciated assets, and no access to capital. We might have no choice but to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, remember that "a bought lesson is a learned lesson," and turn to each other for the capital needed to start over. We might just learn something from our West Indian and West African brothers and sisters.

Got Sou-Sou?

Comments

Anonymous said…
Thanks for this. I am going to start one with my group of friends and family.
PJ said…
Love the blog. Thanks for writing!

Anonymous...Would you let me know how it's going? I'm a business writer, and I've been trying to find folks who are in sou-sous for a story I'm doing. I'm at p.j.huffstutter@latimes.com
DNP said…
To the lady attorney: I just found this posting as I did a search on sou sous. I am astounded that you wrote this more than a year ago, and you were right on the money with your predictions! Absolutely, eerily prophetic. Forget "the smartest guys in the room" - someone should have spoken to you, and we might have been better prepared for the global financial meltdown that those "smart guys" foisted on us. To quote a line from one of the "Aliens" movies, "Put her in charge!"

I will check out more of your writing.

A New York Biz Woman
Anonymous said…
I'm a trinidadian living in the usa for hte past thirty-one years& and i've been (and still is) in sou-sou for over twenty- five. Its my saving , my vacation money , downpayment for my cars whatever ineed extra money for, icould not live without it , i pay my sou-sou before i pay my bills.
Marcia
Balto,md
Anonymous said…
This comment is for the trinidadian who has been in sou sou all her life. I've been looking for a sou sou. the last one I was end ended and the person who was in charge been sick so can you email me at francesca.aubry@hotmail.com I would like to join please.
Anonymous said…
I am in my 2nd sou sou in the Atlanta area. It had been very helpful in giving my daughter a wonderful wedding. Our treasurer did have a problem with a member (family member) that lost his job, but she luckily found someone to take his hand. It is true, you MUST have people you can rely on, because it is so easy that once you get your hand you can stop paying. I pay my sou sou first as I never want to disgrace myself and ruin the relationship.
Anonymous said…
I came across this while searching, too. Where I grew up, these are called tantas (a single one is a tanta). Koreans call them keh.

Because they were common around me growing up, I thought everyone knew about them! I worry that people will approach them trivially: the money isn't the big benefit of being part of a tanta.

A long-running stable tanta can be the core of a powerful business and social network. Most stories I'm finding about this kind of arrangment focus on the poor, but if your group of friends and family is honest and entrepreneurial and keeps the tanta going for decades, in a generation the tanta members will be doing well and in two generations they will be the elite.
Anonymous said…
I am a Jamaican woman who lives in New Jersey and has been looking for a "sou sou" or "partna" as us Jamaicans call it. My husband's mother used to manage one, but she's getting older now and decided not to commit to it any longer.

I need to save up some extra cash and was wondering where in the world I could find another sou sou..then it dawned on me! WHy not start one myself with family and friends?!! I just wanted some direction on how to get this started and BAM i found this blog!!

Thanks for sharing..this has been very helpful!
Anonymous said…
I am a Jamaican woman who lives in New Jersey and has been looking for a "sou sou" or "partna" as us Jamaicans call it. My husband's mother used to manage one, but she's getting older now and decided not to commit to it any longer.

I need to save up some extra cash and was wondering where in the world I could find another sou sou..then it dawned on me! WHy not start one myself with family and friends?!! I just wanted some direction on how to get this started and BAM i found this blog!!

Thanks for sharing..this has been very helpful!
Anonymous said…
In regards to using these funds...
I am a mortgage banker and have come across many people who contribute to these sorts of funds. I read a comment about paying your sous sous before paying your bills, smarten up. Second, if you are using these funds to purchase a home...remember you will need to source these funds. Remember that the fund manager should have paperwork which legitimizes this and the banks will ask for it.
Oh and please remember that there are things called savings accounts and self control, which seems like a safer method to saving money.
Indrani said…
RE: Mortgage Banker's comment.

Even though what you are saying is quite sensible and true. I would like for you to keep in mind that the "sou-sou" method of saving has been around for many years, perhaps longer than you have been a mortgage banker. It is tried and true, I am also of the opinion that it takes self control to pay your "sou sou" hand on time each period so your point on self control has little to do with anything in my view.

I am actually Trinidadian in my twenties and I was quite pleased when my mother told me on the just two days ago that it was her turn to receive her $10,000 "sou-sou" hand and she was using that to go enjoy herself on her vacation. Aint nothing there to 'smarten' up about cause she well smiling and all due to age ole lil sou-sou...doh knock it, maybe you might wanna try it! LOL
I am amazed that more than 2 years after I wrote this, it still continues to get comments! This is my most popular blog entry by far. Thanks to all of you for your insight and wisdom on this topic. Indrani, please wish your mother a wonderful vacation on my behalf and continued success to her sou-sou. And if you're in a sou-sou or started one, please feel free to post comments here on the success and challenges of your sou-sou.

Thanks so much,

Black Woman Blogging
Indrani said…
Thank you, and I most certainly will :)
Anonymous said…
Clever blog, thanks for posting! I'm a black American from the South, and I wasn't familiar with sou-sou until I moved to New York. Sounds really interesting, but I've never participated.

Question - Is there a fixed number of members in a sou-sou, or what happens when someone new joins (and the amount of cash grows)? Would there be conflict with older members who received a smaller payout? Anyone have insight on this?
Excellent questions! Okay, sou-sou community -- any answers?
Anonymous said…
emoneypool.com does these online.
Anonymous said…
Replying to the comment posted on 11/27/2010. I have seen sou-sous where there are a fixed number of members and some where others are let in even after it began. I am an example of the second instance. I am currently in a sou-sou with women from Cote d'Ivoire, Mali and Ghana. I am the only American. I joined a month or two after the first payout. That just means when I receive my payout next month, those I missed at the beginning do not owe anything for the month of February. I have not seen where it was a problem for anyone. Being a part of a sou-sou has taught me that I am able to set aside money for savings where I was wasting it on eating out/entertainment.
Anonymous said…
Well written article on Sou Sou. One of the things about this form of savings is that the group is usually one from your community so they provide a support system. This helps to maintain the "honor system". It is definitely harder to save on your own and not "dip" into it here and there, unless of course it is a pre tax deduction which is a completely different story when it comes to accessing the funds.
For shorter term uses - 6mths, 1yr, 2 yrs sou sou is definitely the way to go. Re those FICO scores, housing etc., I am starting a non profit agency to provide credit counseling and financial management for those who need to repair after the mortgage and housing disasters. One of the things I plan on is a sou sou savings plan for downpayment on future homes for participants.
America does not have all the world's answers.
@PJ - Hi! Trinidadian citizen here and a regular reader of the blog here. I love this particualr entry because yes, Sou-sou's DO work and work very well with the right kind of and amount of like-minded and trustworthy individuals. It's a bit of a secret we've kept across the Caribbean from our ancestors for a long time but as of late-we've started spreading the word to our brothers and sisters who seek a way out of their debt and seek an honest, community method to help one another and themselves at the same time.
@PJ - Hi and welcome! Regular silent reader of this blog and yes, I am a born-Trinidadian of 25 years and have been in a sou-sou myself for the past 3 years. Usually this was something 'of our parents' where as a child, you only heard of it and if you knew of it and grew up with it, you would hear your parents referring to their 'hand' (their turn to receive the payout) as the slang we know it as. And yes, a sou-sou DOES work and work well if you are with a group of like-minded and honest individuals who seek a way out of their debt but at the same time: help others as well as themselves. This well-kept secret of our ancestors over the years must be shared among those who are willing to follow in the tradition of COMMUNITY and brotherhood that our grandparents followed. Such a simple idea...which can do so much. :) Thank you for this entry. I will be recommending a read like this to all of my FB associates, esp. those I know who are on their struggle right now to cope and make ends meet. Hopefully they can put their pride aside, pick up the hand of fellowship and work together with others as one, like a community which a sou-sou depends on to make it work!
Hi Anthony,

Thanks for reading. I'm still amazed that this blog entry continues to generate comments and discussion. After I finish my book based on this blog, I'm considering writing a book on this topic because it seems that the Caribbean and other communities have a lot to teach the rest of us about sou-sous.

All the best,

Black Woman Blogging
ShaiEducator said…
Great post! I just joined a sou-sou yesterday with a group of people from my church and I am excited. We started small with $50 biweekly just to see how it would work for us, but we are all wanting to increase the hand next cycle. And the awesome thing is, the person who needed the money the most drew #1, so we were all equally excited for her and I drew #2 and I will get my pot just before I need to pay for a graduate class I need to take for my job! Thanks for the post and let us know when you book comes out!
Fatima said…
Great post!! I am from Guinea, and my mother and husband do it all the time and it does work!! Especially since everyone knows or knows of the people they are doing the sou-sou pool with. However what I noticed is that this is something done by the more recent immigrants or by the parents of the 2nd generation immigrants. However, I think more of the younger crowd should get involved, and perhaps the older generation may need to do more to encourage the youth to get involved.
Anonymous said…
I an interested in a su su I an From Nyc Please email me at sanabennett@Yahoo.com

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