Me and My Sou-Sou: Cooperative Economics

By: Renee Joslyn

As a first generation American, I have the privilege of bridging two worlds. Outside of my home  I absorbed and melted into Black American culture, music and colloquialisms. At home my food, music and vernacular was very Caribbean. Sometimes they overlapped and sometimes they clashed, but I learned so much from both cultures and am grateful for how and by whom I was raised. 

My mom – who was my biggest critic and my most loyal fan, was very intentional about giving me the tools to make my own decisions while also providing me with loving support. I was her first child born in the United States, so she wrestled with my coming of age as a young Black woman in a country that was so different from her own. I have an older sister, but she was born and grew up in St. Vincent, like my mom, so she didn’t always understand my dual-identity growing pains. However, what all my siblings and I learned from my mom is the importance of leaning on community and traditions that make us stronger. This became clearer to me when I got my first job at twenty-two and set my sights on purchasing my first car. My tiny paycheck was not ready to handle such a big lift, but my ego told me that I needed a car to be truly seen as an adult. That was when my mom introduced me to the “Sou-Sou.” A Sou-Sou is a group savings club where people put in a predetermined amount of money for a predetermined set of time in multiple rounds for pooled savings. Every round, a member of the group receives the entire amount of money in the pool. They can use the money for whatever they want. The length of each round is determined by the group – but for my mother’s groups, it was usually every two weeks. Although called different names, Sou-Sous are a staple in many countries in Africa, the Caribbean, and throughout the diaspora. My mom had been in one (sometimes more than one at a time) for years to make big purchases, add to our savings, or give to others.

 

To get the money to purchase my car, my mother allowed me to participate in the Sou-Sou she was in with some of her friends. My contribution was $100 every two weeks, a small portion of her $600 bi-weekly contribution. When I received my portion of her lump sum – it was $3,000, which was more than enough to purchase my $2,500 red Nissan hatchback. It may not seem like much now, but it was a big deal for me then, and really set me up for my ongoing relationship with money and commitment to community. A Sou-Sou shows that when we work together we can help each other accomplish our goals – even when they are not the same. Also, it reinforces the importance of knowing and understanding our history and culture so we can keep doing the good stuff. 

We have so many rich systems and traditions that helped build civilization that we have lost or are losing because we think the new and next is better. I would argue that there are numerous old and seasoned ways built in love and community that feeds the soul and connects us to a heritage that is valuable and full. A Sou-Sou is just one example. 

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