All in one, One in All
How I learned the invaluable value of cooperation through “Loy Loy”, a board game for financial literacy
As a typical Millennial, I find that our generation is committed to finding sustainable solutions for poverty, except we don’t know where to start. While summer interning for the UCI Blum Center for Poverty Alleviation, I was given the opportunity to research and develop various poverty solutions for disadvantaged communities. One project in particular that was especially impactful was “Loy Loy — The Savings Game” –a financial education board game developed by UC Irvine’s Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion (IMTFI). It was developed at a workshop conducted by IMTFI [(you can see inception video here)]. This revolutionary game is educational, thrilling and has the potential to improve financial literacy across the globe. Even better, it was “aggressively fun” as described by my peers who tested the game!
This past spring, the Blum Center hosted their third annual Designing Solutions for Poverty Competition in which businesses and organizations alike propose the most innovative and cost efficient solutions to relieve inequality. This past year, IMTFI won 2nd place in the competition with a $5,000 award to further pursue their idea and initiate production. Through the unique and groundbreaking “Loy Loy” game (which means “Money Money” in Khmer) IMTFI modeled the ROSCA system, or Rotating Savings and Credit Association, a form of collective savings that is commonly found in developing economies. ROSCAs allow factory workers to informally save money without the pressures of a banking institution and invest in larger assets. Inspired by the cooperative nature between Cambodian garment factory workers, researcher Andrew Crawford created a Monopoly-style game that mirrored the credit market and savings groups in both developing and developed countries and debuted it at the Mekong Financial Inclusion Forum in Phnom Penh. The objective of the game is to collectively earn $5,000 within one hour in order to invest in a small business as a group, with one of the key rules being that no one person can go bankrupt, otherwise everyone loses and the game is over. While it was a test of savings,the true challenge was cooperation and trust amongst the team.
On a circular board, the players are met with colorful red, green, and blue squares that represent life events that could either bolster of hinder one’s finances. During each round, players roll a die to maneuver around the board landing on either red, green or blue squares. Mirroring the practical world for families in tight economic situations, life happens and players sometimes may land on red squares that make them draw expense cards, blue squares for event cards or green squares for asset cards. The expense and event cards can force players to pay bills such as groceries or emergency medical care (either in fixed amount or percentage of cash holdings) and the asset cards allow players to buy objects that then provide a return each month such as equipment or livestock. These cards test the player’s ability to foresee unexpected expenses while also committing to ROSCA cooperatives. Replicating the realities of life, disaster cards deduct a certain percentage from your personal finances, as seen in the blue diamond card here! Eventually players pass “Payday”, which is when players receive their monthly wage and “ROSCA Meeting Day” which is when members can “bid” for the collective fund by offering to pay higher rates of interest. While every player chips into the ROSCA pool, the player with the highest bid gets to receive all of the funds. One of the most unique aspects of this game is that there is no singular strategy to conquer the game; many have been tried but seldom complete the task. Ideas such as going rogue and splitting from the group to save up $5,000 alone and owning the factory alone is also a possibility, though not as easy.
Particularly in my test group, our strategy was speed and teamwork. Though we were selfish with our funds at beginning of the game, we quickly realized that time was dwindling and our personal money was worthless if we did not begin supporting one another. This also proved to be an integral part of our success because if one has lower personal savings, the event card cash holdings percentages taken away were less. For instance, if you had cash holdings, and the event card required 10% of your funds to go towards an unexpected occurrence, it would only cost $10, versus being burdened with $20 if you had $200 on hand. Without hesitation, we always assisted one another with costly bills to make sure nobody would go bankrupt. It was like “we were our own bank (…) and all the money remained in the system” as participants stated. In addition to this, we decided to earmark a separate pool of money from which nobody was allowed to borrow or take money in order to reach $5,000 quicker. Every time we passed “Payday”, half of the $100 we received would immediately go to the reserve. After the conclusion of one hour, we exceeded our goal of $5,000 and accumulated a total of $7,565, plus an additional $140 after selling our assets — we were the first test group to beat Loy Loy!
There was immediate gratification and a series of reflections recorded during and after the game to truly understand what we had just learned. This included the realization that, while everyone had his or her own personal money, all capital remained within the system and was not reliant on external lenders. Our focus shifted from creating revenue solely for oneself, to creating profit for everyone and gaining equal shares to the factory. Likewise, nobody cared that there was no singular “winner” to own the largest percentage over the factory, — a factor that I think that was imperative to our unique success. Unlike the game of Monopoly, teamwork benefits everyone. However, it is important to note that our victory was an idealistic demonstration of a ROSCA cooperative because it does not take into account the corruption and greed that typically occurs.
College students and factory workers alike can learn from this finance game. While our team learned that saving with one another, or “friend debt” could significantly benefit our lives, others across the world can also take away the significance of micro-financing investments together. As a fellow college student, saving money is impossible when it seemingly disappears week by week; likewise an imperative takeaway from Loy Loy was the desire to cumulatively save. One participant noted that: “it’s not even like, oh I should save more, it’s kind of like, no this is going to be really satisfying. Feeling like I have all this money at the end of the month where I didn’t spend on Taco Bell” — this common revelation amongst the participants proves that college kids could learn a valuable skill outside of the classroom!
The future of the game looks bright. While it is still in the testing phase it is getting closer to a finalized version that can be distributed to a wide audience as a financial education tool. Recently, the researcher behind the game, Andrew Crawford, has been accepted into the Clinton Global Initiative University conference at Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts from October 13–15, 2017. Here he will have the opportunity to engage with 1,000 other innovative leaders from college campuses around the world who aim to make a difference on CGI U’s five focus areas: Education, Environment and Climate Change, Peace and Human Rights, Poverty Alleviation, and Public Health. Through the CGI University Network and other opportunities, access to over $750,000 in funding will be available to select students to turn their unique ideas into action. Alongside the Blum Center funding and its related mentorship, Loy Loy may one day gain its place in giving Millennials solid steps by which their desire to alleviate poverty can be put into action.
About the UCI Blum Center and IMTFI:
The UCI Blum Center is just one of many centers across the University of California campuses whose mission is to enable a new generation of students and researchers to actively counteract poverty around the globe and in Orange County by posing critical question about economic development. Its main objectives are targeting our education, research and engagement on campus; whether it is about introducing pioneer, educational courses or partnering with local organizations, the Blum Center is integral to changing the conversation surrounding poverty on college campuses.
The Institute for Money, Technology and Financial Inclusion was established in 2008 in order to support research on money and technology, particularly in developing countries. By monitoring the ecology of money, IMTFI is able to alter financial services available to countries with minimal access to formal institutions. In October 2011, IMTFI received a $4.17 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to sustain research on financial technology and banking abroad to improve conditions.