How group savings (CoMSCA) can prime communities toward conservation

Community-Managed Savings and Credit Association (CoMSCA) is a project model that ORC adopted from World Vision. ORC believes that CoMSCA is a great tool to prime communities toward conservation. It helps buffer vulnerable communities from emergencies and risks, especially assisting farmers and fishers whose livelihoods are closely linked to the environment. At the same time, CoMSCA teaches by application the value of self-help, the role of community, and the discipline of financial accountability. Ultimately, it orients communities toward the wise, responsible use of resources, especially for the long-term--which is the raison d’etre of conservation.

The members of the Basic Ecclessial Community of Balagawan keep their group savings safe in a CoMSCA box. A CoMSCA box has three locks with three key keepers.

So what exactly is CoMSCA and how is it different from capital build-up (CBU) and the usual paluwagan system?

CoMSCA is a method for members of a group to weekly pool their personal savings into a box of common funds that can be loaned to its members.

Like paluwagan, COMSCA is a bayanihan way of savings, but unlike paluwagan, it integrates a simple yet highly procedural system for accountability and record-keeping. It then allows the group’s savings to grow over time based on agreed-upon loan service charge.

CoMSCA differs from an organization’s capital build-up (CBU) as it can stand without an existing organization. It can operate on its own and thus can easily be formed within a neighborhood. As long as a minimum of 10 people (maximum of 25) agree on the by-laws and procedures, a CoMSCA group can start immediately.

Unlike cooperatives or credit unions, CoMSCA focuses more on savings than on credit. COMSCA members are highly encouraged to save or contribute at least one share per week and can loan double of what they have saved on the first cycle and triple on the second cycle and onwards. This makes CoMSCA loans easily repayable. Also, CoMSCA members conduct collective monitoring and recording of transactions during their weekly meetings, which in a cooperative is difficult to do considering its large membership and complex accounting system.

Dugtong Dunong Teachers Association of Silago is now on their 2nd cycle of CoMSCA. As of March 1, 2018, ORC has established 13 CoMSCA groups in Silago and 3 in Hinunanangan, Southern Leyte.

Naturally, like any financial service, CoMSCA has its own limitations. It certainly cannot address all financial situations of a member (e.g. access to huge capital investments); however, CoMSCA, along with other similar group savings methods, has been known to especially help people under the following circumstances:

  • having little or no access to savings and loan facilities such as banks;

  • having unstable sources of income, especially those that depend on stressed or degraded natural environments;

  • being highly exposed to risks--environmental, health, socio-political, etc;

  • coping with unexpected life events and personal and/or family emergencies; and

  • starting small enterprises or investments.

But in the long run CoMSCA aims to teach its members valuable life principles and habits that go beyond money matters. Because CoMSCA trains people to become good stewards of their own resources, CoMSCA can actually instill values that support conservation. It can do so in the following ways:

1) When members commit to save or contribute at least one share every week, their minds become set for the long-term. This introduces them to the principle of sustainability, making the concept of conservation highly appreciated and understood.

2) As a self-help savings group, COMSCA allows members the experience of helping themselves without outside funding. In the process of building self-reliance, they learn disciplines essential to environmental stewardship such as taking a realistic assessment of what they have, pooling their resources, and living off only on what they have or what they can easily give back.

3) COMSCA applies the age-old “strength in numbers” principle. It highlights the value and contributions of a group that include sharing of resources, finding support and partners in accountability, establishing check-and-balance, and forming stronger bonds and synergies. All these help make members resilient especially during tough times. The same principle also applies in conservation. One of the main goals of conservation is to restore habitats and resources especially by making them “whole” (not fragmented), abundant and diverse so organisms can form partnerships, relationships and synergies that allow for growth and resilience.

4) CoMSCA’s weekly collective record-keeping and monitoring puts members in the habit of reporting and the discipline of accountability and transparency, much like that of conservation management. To properly protect and manage environmental resources, we need to know the status of our environment, monitor the rate of environmental decline and/or progress, and hold people accountable for their actions.

What makes CoMSCA relevant to conservation is the value of stewardship and accountability that it tries to instill in members. While CoMSCA does not automatically make members environmentally responsible, it can be geared towards boosting conservation in communities. In the very near future, ORC intends to further integrate conservation in the 16 ComSCA groups that ORC has established in Southern Leyte.

Thank you World Vision Philippines, Schmitz-Stiftungen Foundation and Waray Empowerment, Inc for your support! Special thanks also to ORC's CoMSCA facilators--Rosa Aling, Jill Oracion, Villa Tagget and Tata Dasig. For more information about CoMSCA, visit www.worldvision.org.ph and www.comsca.org.

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