Building livelihoods: An identity perspective (Part 2)

July 31st, 2018

Where there is already a strong value associated with savings groups, people are likely to more rapidly join, participate more fully, and exemplify what it means to be a member of the group.

“It has really changed my life. I am not in a position I was before we get in a group that help us to run our business and give us ideas on how to run business. At the same time when we are doing business you still save something for yourself. Doing this business we make good money out of it…. I don’t still beg as I used to some years back, I just depend on my business.”

Nairemuno is a participant of FSD Kenya’s Building Livelihoods programme, which as described in Part 1 of this blog series, includes savings groups as one of its core components. For Nairemuno, her savings group changed her life because through it she learned new things about business and started doing business with her group. When I last met her in March 2018, she was involved in a group business of buying and selling livestock, in addition to running her own business selling sugar, rice, maize flour and washing powder.

While she speaks enthusiastically about the value of the savings group, she was previously reluctant to participate. She avoided savings groups because she did not want to be looked down upon by others if she wasn’t able to make the monthly contributions. This changed when she began receiving the cash stipend through the government Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP). As she explained:

“What made me to join the group is that we got this money, whereby we were all told that people who got the money must join the group. That is when I joined the group because now I have the money for contribution, but before I hated so much this issue of groups because do not want anyone to ask me about contribution while am just surviving to feed my children.”

Nairemuno joined the group because of her identity as an HSNP beneficiary. Not only because it gave her resources to feel comfortable to participate, but also because she was told what it means to be a beneficiary also includes being in a savings group. So she initially joined the group because she was told she had to; she did not yet attribute value to being a group member. When she started learning new things and benefitting from group business, she began to value her identity as a group member. She now talks about her sense of oneness with the group, as well as how as a group they have been more resilient during the last drought.

“We really co-operate to be in the same group. We do our task with respect and we also respect each other’s opinion and idea. That’s the good part of it…. We did a lot of stuff, though we were disabled by drought. It swept away all we had for the business, but the luck we had was we gave loans to some people who were to pay them back with a little interest. So we use that money to start again with business, the group business that is.”   

Feeling a sense of oneness with the group, or identifying with the group, is important for savings groups to function effectively and overcome problems that may arise. When someone identifies with a group, they embody what it means to be a member of that group, including values, attitudes and behaviours. Identification with a group is said to be based on three key factors, which are awareness of group membership, and value and emotional significance associated with group membership.

What I have found throughout my study over the past two years is that participants have different pathways to group identification and value. While some participants like Nairemuno join savings groups because they are told to, others want to join because they already have strong value associated with groups. Some have already experienced benefits through participation in another group, whereas others have witnessed the benefits experienced by members in the community. As one male participant explained:

“I have been in this town for long and I have observed many things, like those group who has taken loans and has helped individuals grow, and also I have seen those groups who has projects and it has helped them.”

Where there is already strong value associated with groups, people are likely to more rapidly join, participate more fully, and exemplify what it means to be a member of the group. However, while many participants emphasised the benefits of savings groups, previous experiences have not always been positive. Some participants explained they had been in groups before where members did not cooperate and in some cases members ran away with the group contributions. One female participant talked about her hesitation to join the savings group, choosing instead to monitor the group for two months until she was sure it was effective.

 “I didn’t have any idea about the group. I first observe them so that I can join them later. I first observe the flow of the group, the consistency, if they make money and if they are just dull…. If the group were the people who are joking with other people’s life, like I gave them money to invest on and they always fail, I could not have joined them.”

These examples of different pathways to savings group identification and value can help explain varied participant behaviour with respect to both joining and participating in groups. They are useful to consider when programmes seek to encourage and maintain these types of groups. In some cases facilitators, such as the community-based-facilitators (CBFs) in the Building Livelihoods programme, may be required to keep groups functioning effectively while identification and value develops. The important role of these CBFs will be discussed in more detail in Part 3 of this blog series.

Notes & references 

Tajfel, H. (1982). Social psychology of intergroup relations. Annual Review of Psychology33, 1–39.

Building livelihoods: An identity perspective (Part 3)



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