The Banker Ladies

The Banker Ladies

The Banker Ladies is a new documentary that provides insights into the crucial role that savings groups and credit associations can play in the lives of women as they provide for their families and themselves.

Filmed in Toronto, the documentary introduces us to three ‘banker ladies,’ Mabinty Bangura, Asha Mohamed and Ginelle Skerritt.

Skerritt recalls how her grandmother used funds from susu (as the schemes are known in the Caribbean) to secure a deposit on a house, and to then furnish the house and pay for things such as her children’s school uniforms.

Skerritt describes susu as “an awesome powerful thing that allows things to become possible that you thought were not possible.”

Skerritt continues the tradition established by her grandmother and mother as the coordinator of a susu but she gives it a modern spin by using email to connect members from Canada and Trinidad.

For Skerritt, susu allows each individual member to set and reach their own goals in a context in which there is also “commitment to a group and being part of something that is bigger than yourself.”

When Bangura moved to Canada, life was a struggle and she relied on supports such as food banks, but once she started a small susu scheme things changed as this gave her independence and helped her to become, as she describes, “a strong woman, someone who can build a house, someone who can do anything.”

“It changes your life, you become independent. You are not dependent. You can get up and you can stand there and do something, and push yourself. And your children will see that and they will develop from that.”

Bangura describes susu as a banking system based on the crucial element of trust, “you know me, I know you, I trust you; if you don’t trust the bank you won’t put your money there.”

Based on her experiences from Somalia, Mohamed participates in a ayuuto (or hagbad) scheme in Canada, and this provides her the means to buy things such as clothing and shoes for her children and herself.

The film is based on the research of Associate Professor Caroline Shenaz Hossein, and Hossein says "these self-managed money cooperatives function at the intersection of the social and business, and are fundamentally anchored in reciprocity, trust and community development."

"This documentary was made to help show the crucial role that these cooperatives play in the lives of Black women in Canada. This group is one of the most excluded in the country and so they turn to each other for help and comradery."

The challenges that come from stigmatization and alienation are evident in the film when Hossein relates the experience of a Black man trying to bank a cheque in an account he had long held with a mainstream financial bank, and when Mohamed relates how the money she was putting aside from ayuuto was confiscated by police who could only believe, erroneously, that the precious bundle of cash came from drugs.

Hossein explains that even within the network of Canadian cooperatives, ROSCAs (Rotating Savings and Credit Associations) are undervalued and ignored because they operate on an informal basis: "It is because of this lack of education of ROSCAs that this film was created."

"There is a Black Social Economy in which ROSCAs are at its very core; though hidden in the social economy, ROSCAs contribute to Canada's legacy of mutual aid and economic cooperation."

The film was made by the Diverse Solidarity Economies Collective (DiSE Collective) with Esery Mondesir as Director.

Hossein's publications include The Black Social Economy in the Americas: Exploring Diverse Community-Based Markets and Politicized Microfinance: Money, Power and Violence in the Black Americas, winner of the 2019 Suraj Mal and Shyama Devi Argawal Book prize from the International Feminist Economics Association and co-winner of the 2018 Du Bois Distinguished Book Award.

On 24 July 2020, Hossein and Skerrit will be speaking (via Zoom) at the first of a series of online events being organised as part of the “Coordinate rigeneranti” project. Also speaking will be Common Wallet, a collective of nine people working in the performing arts who since 2018 share all their income in one bank account. For more information, click here.

Jenny Cameron