Is A Sou-Sou Or Partner A Good Money Solution During The Pandemic?

Informal savings groups aren't new, but in a clutch, it's a consideration.


We all know it's been rough this past year, and even 2021 has started off with quite a bit of ruckus. And there's always that sense of wanting to do whatever we can to ensure we're financially stable and able to take on whatever other craziness might be to come. So, anything that will allow us to either make or save money is a good look. So when I recently heard about a family member getting involved in a sou-sou, I was intrigued.

This wouldn't be the first time I'd heard of the concept. A few of my Caribbean friends and family have participated in a form of it they call "partner" (or "paht-nuh" if ya know patois. Big up yaself!) But what is a sou-sou or partner, you ask? It's an informal savings club, typically run by a "banker," that allows you to deposit money into a "pot," and once the pot grows, you get a certain sum of money when your "turn" comes around.

It's been called the "poor man's savings club," and it's something that has been embraced by Latin, Caribbean and African communities for generations. And the reason for it makes sense. Some have traced the concept centuries back, when West Africans pooled their money via an "esusu." Others might credit their popularity to the fact that many people of color faced extreme racism in the banking industry and could not utilize the traditional options for building savings. Add to that the fact that many did not trust banks, thus a sou-sou or partner was ideal.

I decided to get some insights from a few women on their own experiences with these sort of savings clubs. Here's what they had to say:

A Cautious Participant

My family member who recently participated in a partner told me that she'd had a bad experience in a previous one. (By request, I'm going to leave her identity anonymous.) She and her husband put in $400 but by the time it was their turn to collect on the $4,000 pot, people had dropped out of the group. They ended up getting a refund. After that experience, she just didn't take the whole concept seriously. "I really don't have time or money to waste, and I don't like when there's any sort of mix up or confusion when dealing with money," she told me. "We were able to get our money back because the person we were dealing with was honest. Thank God for that."

Image via Giphy

This same family member decided to try again with a different group and a lower deposit. She knew another in-law who had already gotten her $4,000 share after putting in less than $200 three months earlier. "At least with this one, there's a clear system. They even have Zoom calls to explain things, and the leaders of it use a spreadsheet. There's a good number of people in the group to make the numbers make sense. The bankers also have rules, and when members of the group don't follow them, they are immediately refunded what they put in and removed. It's just $100 this time, so I decided to give it another try."

She added that while she has traditional bank accounts, participating in such a group has an allure because of the instant money available once your turn comes to cash in. "Who wouldn't want to get $4,000 after only investing a small sum? It's a nice bonus that can definitely come in handy."

Image via Giphy

Generational Money Moves

Gaynete Jones, a podcast host and founder of Best, Periodt, a femcare brand, is from Bermuda and has always been an enterprising self-starter. The concept of a partner was one she too was introduced to by family. "My grandmother runs a savings club with family and friends. I love doing it as it's a great way to keep her mind sharp," Jones said. "My husband and I both participate with two 'hands' of $50 each, so we pay $100 each a week, and twice a year [we] both receive $2,500 back ($5,000 each). It's by no means our only way to save, but it's a unique way to stack coins that we enjoy participating in."

Jones explained that participants "get in" what they pay out since the partner runs 50 of the 52 weeks a year. "We've never had any delays or nonpayments, and we've been participating for years. The key is to participate with a group that is run by someone dependable, who vets trustworthy members—no complaints over here."

She uses the funds to nurture her enterprise projects. "Currently, my new business is the lucky recipient. While the $5,000 is only a drop in the bucket when looking at the capital required to run the start up, every bit counts. If you can find a trust-worthy group with a great track record (and you're dependable yourself), it's worth checking out for sure. I've heard horror stories from others participating in other groups, so I would never blindy recommend them. As with everything, do your research and determine if it's the best fit for you."

Featured Image via Giphy

Meet the 'Banker'

Shana Cole, founder of The Shana Cole Collection and Soignee By Shana Cole, is another island girl with a knack for financial savvy that started at a young age. Jamaican-born, she led a partner as a teen. "I started sou-sou when I was in high school. It was a way of savings for me. I used to save to buy my outfits and things that my parents wouldn't buy me. I've been joining with credible people since then and I now run a couple which are all successful."

Cole said she's been able to buy a car, get inventory stock for her business, finance awesome vacations and pay off debts. "I'm about to pay off my student loan [with savings from] my current one. I've even seen people use it for a down payments on a house."

Cole warns that those interested in participating must understand risks like a shady "banker" running off with the money, and her concerns echo that of experts who advise consumers to avoiding scams, especially savings group advertisements that are sent from random Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter accounts.

Image via Giphy

So, should you join an informal savings group or "partner" to reach your financial goals during the pandemic? My verdict is to proceed with caution, do your research, and be sure you are comfortable handing your hard-earned money to the people involved. If you have doubts, just don't do it sis.

Financial literacy advocates have even said that some people looking to participate should instead invest in the usual options of interest-bearing savings accounts, stock market investments, small loans, or financial advisement from a certified professional to cultivate debt reduction plans. There are also a plethora of employment, housing, business, and other resources for people struggling financially due to the pandemic. (There are a few good ones here, here, here and here.)

All in all, as my Granny would say, "Don't write a check you can't cash, and don't get into a pickle you can't eat." If you're already in a financial bind, this definitely isn't a good option, and it really shouldn't be something you think of as a "get rich quick" solution. Traditional sou-sous do not focus on profit but on savings, so if you hear promises that you'll make a certain amount after a specific short period of time, you might have the making of a pyramid scheme on your hands and a great reason to just say no.

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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