Building livelihoods: An identity perspective (Part 3)

August 2nd, 2018

The role of community-based facilitators (CBFs) is to encourage participation in savings groups, ensure groups function effectively, and provide training on basic financial and business skills, as well as prepare participants for formal loans.

He advises and encourages us to be active in the group and the group activities and also to work hard to grow our businesses. We like it because what he’s teaching us is very helpful. The knowledge that we have gained has helped us improve our livelihoods. He has enlightened us because even a child goes to school to gain knowledge from the teachers, so he’s our group teacher.”

Rasian, a participant of FSD Kenya’s Building Livelihoods programme in Northern Kenya, is describing the community-based facilitator (CBF) who works with her savings group. The role of the CBFs is to encourage participation in savings groups, ensure groups function effectively, and provide training on basic financial and business skills, as well as prepare participants for formal loans. CBFs have a minimum level of education and live within the communities they serve, which are predominantly illiterate. The identities they hold as educated community members and teachers earn them respect among participants and enable them to fulfill their role in the programme. As one participant explained:

“They are our kids. They taught us everything that’s important to us, they are educated more than us, we respect them and know that they are… they are sharing the knowledge they have with us so that we can get some lights and move on.”

Most of the 50 participants I have been studying for the past two years refer to the CBFs in a similar way, as their teachers. Teachers and students are a pair of role identities that have certain meanings and expectations associated with them. For example, a teacher may be expected to help students learn new things, correct errors, and enforce the rules of the classroom. Students conversely, may be expected to attend class, do their homework, and follow the guidance of teachers.

While there is no formal classroom in this case, the CBFs have taken on the identity of teachers, and participants have taken on the counter identity of students. They both therefore enact the meanings and expectations they associate with these roles. This is helpful not only when encouraging learning, but also when new savings groups are forming and they are not yet valued by participants. As highlighted in Part 2 of this blog series, CBFs can help keep groups functioning effectively while group identification and value are developing. If participants do not identify with the group or value it initially, they may not attend group meetings or follow the rules of the group unless enforced by the ‘teacher’. As one participant explained:

 “If we should meet on Wednesday, he will be there. Yes, women may say he is not around and miss the meetings, but when he is around they are afraid that the fine will be on them. Unless people see him around, many are reluctant to attend.”

Even though the savings groups have leaders in addition to the CBF, such as the chairperson, secretary and treasurer who are appointed by the group members, participants do not always value these roles the same way as the role of the teacher. In a community where illiteracy is high and education has become a priority, the teacher is seen as someone who brings new knowledge and enables progress. As a female participant explained:

“They lead the way for us, if one doesn’t have a teacher what will you do on your own? The teachers are important. It will not progress [without them] because there are a lot of things to be done. The women are in the group and all have something to do, but if they hear that it is the teacher that called for the meeting, they will all avail themselves. If the chairlady calls a meeting, just because they stay with them in the village, very few will turn up, because we all think that they don’t have anything new for us. But if it is the teacher then they will, because he has a book and can read and write.”

When I last visited Marsabit County in March 2018, as part of my three year study, most of the savings groups had shared out their annual group savings for the first time. Participants had therefore experienced additional value from the groups beyond group loaning and learning. Some participants told me they could now function effectively without a teacher because they understand how the group works and are united as a group. However, the majority expressed strong concerns about the possibility of not having a teacher. The chairman of one savings group explained that while members do listen to him and he can enforce the rules of the group, he feels the group is still at an early stage and they still need a teacher. As he explained:

“The group cannot continue [without the teacher] because even normally when the teachers teach the pupils they are promoted to the next class which always has a teacher, there is no class without a teacher. They are promoted to class one, then two, each having a teacher. We don’t want the teachers to be taken from us. The group can fail, they always need to see the teacher.”

The role of the CBF has therefore proven to be a vital component of the Building Livelihoods programme, not only for participant education, but also to drive behaviour change. The question is whether, like a formal school programme, there is a point where participants ‘graduate’ and no longer require a ‘teacher’. While some groups have reached a stage where they feel confident to progress on their own, the majority feel they cannot yet proceed without a teacher. The challenge therefore lies in determining how to effectively phase out, replace or maintain these roles beyond the duration of the programme, which FSD Kenya and implementing partner CARE Kenya are currently examining.

In Part 4 of this blog series I will examine another key identity in the Building Livelihoods programme, which is the identity of ‘business person’. In particular, I will discuss how participants balance what it means to be a business person with what it means to be a member of the community.


Notes & References

Building livelihoods: An identity perspective (Part 4)



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