In Their Own Hands (Paperback)

How Savings Groups Are Revolutionizing Development

By Jeffrey Ashe, Kyla Jagger Neilan (Editor)

Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 9781626562189, 224pp.

Publication Date: September 15, 2014

List Price: 19.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


Two and a half billion people worldwide, most of them desperately poor villagers, need a better way to save and to borrow. Even the most innovative banking institutions can’t reach them; savings groups can.

In savings groups, members save what they can in a communal pot and loan their growing fund to each other for their short-term needs. Jeffrey Ashe and Kyla Neilan illustrate how these savings groups form and function and how little “outside” support is actually required for their success. Drawing on decades of Ashe’s personal experience, this book describes how he developed Saving for Change, which leveraged the wisdom and strength of group members to train and establish new groups. This model has impacted the lives of 680,000 people across five countries.

Savings groups are a “catalytic innovation” that bypasses subsidies, dependency, and high costs while effectively reducing chronic hunger, building assets, and empowering the community. Today, saving groups have 9 million members around the globe—with minimal support, membership could grow to ten times this number.

About the Author

Jeffrey Ashe is a microfinance pioneer and the founder of Working Capital, once the largest microfinance institution in the United States. President Clinton awarded Ashe the first Presidential Award for Excellence in Microfinance. He currently teaches at Columbia and Brandeis Universities.
Kyla Jagger Neilan holds a master’s of public administration from Cornell University and is currently an emergency and early-recovery program manager for Catholic Relief Services in the Central African Republic.

Praise For In Their Own Hands: How Savings Groups Are Revolutionizing Development

“Jeff Ashe gives us one of his biggest dreams yet. People living in poverty organizing and using their own capital to provide the savings and credit that help them withstand shocks and take advantage of opportunity. What’s more, Ashe and Neilan show us that this dream is being realized millions of times and spreading rapidly across the globe.”
—Larry Reed-Director, Microcredit Summit Campaign

“Most books on community finance are either anthologies or manuals. This one is neither. A radical departure from other works in the field, In Their Own Hands traces the long sweep of financial empowerment via histories viewed through the single lens of one author. The book is essential for any practitioner interested in helping the poor transform small amounts of money into meaningful ways of changing their lives.”
—Kim Wilson, Lecturer, International Business and Human Security, The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University

“Jeffrey Ashe and Kyla Neilan’s new book, In Their Own Hands, presents a stunningly simple, thoroughly tested, and visionary new way for the poor to save and borrow. In Mali, the outcome was dramatic: less hunger, ownership of more livestock, and more clout for village women. The remarkable difference with savings groups is how they are able to achieve scale—not through building financial institutions as microfinance has done but by catalyzing the problem-solving capacity of the poor. The ideas in this book have the potential to turn the development field on its head.”
—Paul Polak, coauthor of The Business Solution to Poverty and Chairman, Windhorse International

“I can think of two good reasons to read In Their Own Hands. One, if you give a damn about extreme poverty, here is another practical tool in the arsenal of financial inclusion. Two, amidst all the chatter about listening to and capturing the wisdom of impoverished communities and indigenous peoples, this book is a road map on how to do it. The author’s economic development career reveals a professional courage from which we can all learn.”
—Jonathan C. Lewis, founder and Chair, MCE Social Capital

“Since I met Jeff in Ecuador in the ’60s, he’s been turning conventional wisdom on its head. He does this now for the financial sec- tor and for the development community grown too comfortable with in-the-box thinking. The title of the book says it all—In Their Own Hands. Those of us who want to help need to break from the past, trust the impoverished, and get out of the way so that they can empower themselves to save and be agents of their own development.”
—John Hammock, former President, Accion International and Oxfam America

“I have known and admired Jeff Ashe for almost forty years. I consider him—along with Muhammad Yunus—one of the most innovative practitioners of the global microfinance movement. He was my principal mentor in developing the methodology of Village Banking. When in the year 2030 the world celebrates the end of severe poverty on our planet, Jeff’s tireless efforts to promote rural savings groups will be heralded as the single most effective, bottom-up strategy for ‘leaving nobody behind.’ And for the next generation of microfinance practitioners, In Their Own Hands will be justly recognized as the best end-poverty textbook ever written.”
—John Hatch, founder of FINCA International and cofounder of the Microcredit Summit

“Modern savings groups are an improvement on the self-help tools poor people have always used to manage their money. This short and clearly written book shows how over 100,000 villages in the developing world have come to use and value such groups and why it’s important to spread the message to millions more.”
—Stuart Rutherford, author of The Poor and Their Money, coauthor of Portfolios of the Poor, and founder of SafeSave

“Sometimes the most powerful ideas are the simplest. This book shows how a simple way for communities to accumulate savings has taken off—with no new technology nor costly microfinance infra- structure. In Their Own Hands turns upside down the most common assumptions about what poor households need and can accomplish.”
—Jonathan Morduch, Professor of Public Policy and Economics, Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University