Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

Money is commonly defined as medium that can be exchanged for goods and services and is used as a measure of their value on the market. Money makes it easier to trade, borrow, save, invest, and compare the value of goods and services.

Money has value only because we, humans have dictated that. A piece of colored paper with the picture of another (usually dead) human being has no value in itself. Money does not create inequality - humans do. Sound reasonable doesn’t it? So why that adage money is the root of all evil… or is it evil is the root of all money? Do we need to get rid of money and introduce a different way to trade for goods and services?

In the Aberdares, a small group of villagers got fed up with waiting for the government’s electrification programme to reach them and decided to take matters into their own hands. They formed an electricity company, the Gatiki Electrical Company, in which they had bought shares of 10,000/- each. The seven thousand villagers will all have their households lit up, where they will pay between a mere $ 0.65 and $1.25 for their electrical usage – a minute fraction of what most Kenya Power and Lighting Company customers have to pay. This is a classic case of the power of micro-credit (commonly called chaama) in Kenya.


Martin is a shoe-maker in Kibera, an informal settlement outside central Nairobi. He has set up a small stall along one of main entries into Kibera where he sells and repairs shoes to earn his “daily bread”. Martin lives alone in Kibera. His 2 wives and 8 children live in his rural home in Western Kenya. A large segment of his earnings is sent back home to his family on a weekly bi-weekly, basis via mPesa. With mPesa, funds can go directly from mobile phone to mobile phone, there is need to travel distances to bank for cash and no need to even open bank account

Chemutai is one of the many Kenyan’s who own a
Nak**att’s CyberCash card, a shopping smart card that comes with benefits. Smart Card customers acc**ulate points on every item purchased from any Nak**att Supermarket in the region. These points can then be used to pay for various things including school fees.

At the shores of Africa’s largest lake (Lake Victoria which is also the source of the River Nile), HIV/AIDS is rampant. The lack of jobs and money has forced many women to sell themselves to feed their families in a trend known locally as “sex-for-fish”. We have community health workers who exchange their services for community good will. We have social innovators who may achieve outcomes that have no direct pecuniary benefit.

Clearly there are many, many forms of money operating across the economy – cashless, chaama, barter trade. I see this as a model that should be scaled up and replicated in different economies. Different forms of money to suit the different needs of different people at different times.

Views: 28

Comment by Julio Cesar Corona Ortega on April 8, 2010 at 7:53am
Great post.

Sadly, however, I think evil is the root of all money. The same problems we see today with currency will still be there with barter or any other system. The problem really is not with the system, but with the players who will do anything to come on top.
Comment by Samuel Freilich on April 8, 2010 at 4:40pm
Money does enhance greed in two significant ways. First, it distances economic transactions from the sorts of social context a barter system provides. Second, it allows the acc**ulation of vast quantities of wealth, beyond the ability of even the wealthiest to consume. You don't even have to go to the trouble of storing your riches in some sort of money vault like Scrooge McDuck.

Still, you're right that its not all about money. The greed of elites was powerful enough to spark the Neolithic Revolution, way before all but the most primitive forms of currency.

Micro-credit can allow the poor to gain access to efficiencies of scale (buying in bulk) or of capital (owning your own machinery). (Being poor is expensive, and not just in the US.) But it also provides new opportunities to sink themselves into debt. People can still be exploited in a barter system, but lower costs of coordination can also allow non-economic relationships to strengthen communities. Etc.
Comment by Comelia Tang on April 9, 2010 at 8:22am
Money as a tool for the ugly side of Human Nature. Greed. Thank you for the insight on cashless transaction methods. +KS
Comment by Patricio Buenrostro-Gilhuys on April 13, 2010 at 5:27am
I agree with everyone here 100% very insightful thoughts.

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