Box-hand. Susu. Esusu. Meeting Turn. Sol. Lodge. Partner. These are some of the vernacular names for systems of banking co-operatives that Caribbean people have been doing for more than a century—these systems are known by academics as rotating savings and credit associations, or ROSCAs for short.
ROSCAs aren’t new to many of us with Caribbean born parents living in the diaspora. My great-grandmother, Maude Gittens, was a street caterer who lived in Sangre Grande, Trinidad. But she was also a well-known Susu “Banker Lady.” Susu is a local name for a ROSCA. It’s the same name used in Ghana, West Africa — which in fact, is an original source for these co-ops. And Susu can be found among the diaspora outside of Africa and the Caribbean, so in your towns and cities.
For the past 14 years, I’ve been studying and writing on development, financial exclusion and co-operative economies specifically for the African diaspora. My own experience of seeing how people used Boxhand and Susu left an impression on the way I viewed localized development. And because of this experience I spent many years interviewing hundreds of women co-operators who call themselves the Banker Ladies—and they adhere to the same principles as other co-operatives. These co-operators actually represent thousands more, because each Banker Lady represents the members of her group, and normally these groups range between 10 to 80 members. Haiti’s Sol has some of the largest memberships I have seen in the Caribbean of more than 100 members.
Watch the documentary The Banker Ladies here