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Gates Foundation

I went to a tiny village in Cambodia where the women were really smart with their money.

They handled their money in a way I've never seen before: together.


They don't have traditional banking in their village, so they've created their own way of banking.

You won't find traditional financial services in this area because they don't exist. And until recently, the idea of saving money didn't really exist either. No banking and no saving? It's the ultimate recipe to staying in poverty. But that's starting to change.

It's really neat how they're doing it.

All the things for their "banking" — besides people, of course.

The women meet every week, with one lockbox and three keys.

They sit together in a circle and take turns contributing to the group lockbox. It can be as little as a few cents!

Then they have the option to take money out of the box to pay for things like medical care, education expenses, more pigs for their farm, or even to start a business. They just gotta repay it with interest. ( Sounds like a loan ... because it is!)

A meeting in sped-up action.

It's all part of the village savings and loan association (VSLA) model, and it's helping these women lift themselves out of poverty.

VSLAs are where it's at in the developing world right now. A VSLA group consists of around 15-20 members (usually women) who learn how to save money together and allow each other to borrow funds from the savings. The impact is more than I could ever have imagined, especially when you see it all in action.

All the money is kept in the group lockbox, and it's one member's job to protect the box between meetings. Sounds like a lot of pressure, but don't worry: the box has three locks on it, and three different members are each responsible for a key. It helps build trust within the group and the community.

At the end of each year, the savings plus interest earnings are divided among the members based on the amount each member was able to save.

And then it starts over again. Members can remain in the group or leave, and new members can join. Elections are held to determine certain leadership roles, and a new year of saving starts. Cool idea, right? Here's more on how the VSLA model works.

VSLAs are opening doors that no one knew existed.

There are a lot of rural areas of the world that do not have access to traditional banking. When a VSLA begins operating in a community, it can help people start businesses, improve their health care options, and increase opportunities for their children. Those are all crucial steps to breaking the cycle of poverty.

It helped this woman pay for transportation to the nearest hospital so she could deliver her baby.

Deliver her BABY. Amazing. Imagine if she didn't have that resource.

The best part? Today there are millions of people participating in the VSLA model...

...in rural areas worldwide, with the help of numerous organizations and foreign-aid programs.

This video does a great job of showing the possibilities that VSLAs are opening up for women and families around the world: