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Case Study on Learning Conversations

Case Study on Learning Conversations

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THE “PROMISING PRACTICES” CASE STUDY SERIES:
PROGRAMS, PRODUCTS AND SERVICES SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED TO REACH VERY POOR PEOPLE

LEARNING CONVERSATIONS

For discussion Please visit us at: http://seepcommunity.com/group/povertyoutreach
THE “PROMISING PRACTICES” CASE STUDY SERIES:
PROGRAMS, PRODUCTS AND SERVICES SPECIFICALLY DESIGNED TO REACH VERY POOR PEOPLE

LEARNING CONVERSATIONS

For discussion Please visit us at: http://seepcommunity.com/group/povertyoutreach

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Published by: Poverty Outreach Working Group (POWG) on Sep 09, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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09/13/2010

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T
HE
PROMISING
 
PRACTICES
CASE
 
STUDY
 
SERIES
:
PROGRAMS
,
PRODUCTS
 
AND
 
SERVICES
 
SPECIFICALLY
 
DESIGNED
 
TO
 
REACH
 
VERY
 
POOR 
 
PEOPLE
 L
EARNING
C
ONVERSATIONS
Many of us learn through stories—in fact, some of our best learning moments stay long in our memories because we experienced them through a story shared by a friend, a teacher or a favoriterelative. These stories provoked our thinking. They were relevant to our lives. Through them, we sawthe world differently. Some of us may have even changed our actions because of a few good stories.Learning Conversations are stories. They are short parables with many right answers. LearningConversations are enjoyable to facilitate. They prompt discussion and inspire action, opening newvistas for villagers to help themselves.Learning Conversations are simple, 30-minute group discussions.
1
A trained facilitator uses a 2- to 3- page Learning Conversation Guide to introduce thought-provoking ideas to a group on a specific topicrelevant to the lives of its members. The Learning Conversation Guides contain a brief story or activity about a problem to solve. The group hears the problem and discusses possible solutions. Thegroup then discusses how to apply the solutions to similar problems faced by their own members. Atthe end of the discussion, the members are encouraged to make a commitment to action.However, more than addressing any one specific issue, Learning Conversations present the group a problem-solving process that allows them to explore any issue they choose to address. The process of identifying a problem or issue of concern, reflecting on its causes and consequences, considering possible solutions and motivating to action, can be applied to whatever question is brought to or raised by the group. Members own the process and, thus, employ it to address evolving needs and concernsspecific to their local context and experience. Because of the Learning Conversation methodology’ssimplicity, flexibility, and replicability, it is an excellent tool for institutions seeking to support their clients in behavior change.Learning Conversations offer a number of benefits to organizations that use them:
They represent a multipurpose tool that is easily disseminated at low cost.
The process used to facilitate activities and discussions with groups is relevant to a variety of settings.
They can be used with any group that comes together on a regular basis for a specific purpose.
They can be used to help organizations reach poor clients to which they normally might not haveaccess.
They build the confidence levels of the women that participate in them and help them become better consumers of financial and non-financial services.This case study will further present how Learning Conversations were developed and disseminatedwith Freedom from Hunger’s partner—Catholic Relief Services India—and the potential they hold for Self-Help Groups not only in India, but worldwide.
1
Freedom from Hunger and CRS India applied years of experience in adult education, group-based learning, and credit and savingssystems to develop simple tools that would help local organizations foster self-help among the SHGs.
 
I. C
ONTEXT
 
It could be said that the goal for development is simple: “Villagers solve their own problems,exercise their rights and attract financial and social resources. Peace, justice and economicdevelopment follow. Barring this are divisions among castes and tribes, limited information onrights and resources, and a wholesale lack of self-confidence on the part of women.” Yet,throughout many developing countries there is organic development occurring at the grassrootslevel that is catalyzing people to remove these barriers to change. Self-Help Groups (
hereafter 
:SHGs) represent one of the most important phenomena to surface in decades, given their scale asa platform for poor people’s development.
A. S
OCIOECONOMIC
O
VERVIEW
SHGs are self-formed groups of between 15 and 20 individuals, usually women, who cometogether for a shared purpose. Most commonly, SHGs form to pool small sums of money and, inturn, lend these savings to group members. The women normally live in rural areas, areilliterate, and have very little formal education.According to the latest Demographic and Health Survey (1998–1999), approximately 73 percentof Indian women live in rural locations. 58 percent of them are illiterate, and only 14 percent of them have completed high school. Only 51 percent of women are involved in decisions abouttheir own health. Almost 60 percent have control over some money. The percentage of the population living below the poverty line is 36 percent.
2
 In the state of Uttar Pradesh alone, where the number of SHGs is flourishing, almost 80 percentof the households are rural. Uttar Pradesh is the largest populated state in India, contributing toalmost 17 percent of the national population. 75 percent of the workforce works in agricultureand agricultural activities. Rural poverty is approximately 47 percent. One percent areextremely poor, 12 percent are very poor, and 18 percent are moderately poor. Forty millionrural people live below the poverty line.
3
Despite the socioeconomic challenges faced by many SHG members, some SHGs have maturedinto independent, strong, self-managed groups capable of accessing rural or cooperative bank services and starting new SHGs in their communities. They have helped women succeed in localelections and attract resources to their communities. Many have tackled social problems in their villages, such as dowry abuse, rape, and alcoholism.
B. P
URPOSE
 
OF
I
NTERVENTION
Support organizations, including non-governmental organizations, community-basedorganizations, and local governmental bodies, now recognize the enormous potential SHGs
2
“India: National Family Health Survey, 1998-99.” October 2000 International Institute for Population Sciencesand ORC MACRO.
3
“Development Uttar Pradesh 2005: A Conclave on Investment in Social Development Sector.”
 
represent in the development of a community. These organizations devote significant efforts toforming groups and building their capacities. Catholic Relief Services (
hereafter 
: CRS) aloneestimated in September 2004 that its network of 2,500 partners across India is working withapproximately 30,700 SHGs, which represent at a minimum 430,000 members. In addition,government support to SHGs over the past decade has emphasized progressive outreach to vastnumbers of poor, rural women across India. The National Bank for Agriculture and RuralDevelopment (
hereafter 
: NABARD)
4
 has a mandate to support SHG members and link them torural banks and appropriate financial services.Though much can be said of the spontaneous development of SHGs and their abilities to self-manage and reach out to other poor women and build new SHGs, a variety of limitations existfor the SHG support organizations, the animators, and SHG members:
1. Many SHG support organizations can lack internal capacity or appropriate resources toeffectively and efficiently support their SHGs.
 
Many SHG support organizations are located inremote, hard-to-reach areas. However, the tools and training available for SHGs in India areoften calibrated to classroom-educated, rural development workers. Consequently, organizationsare unable to hire trained field staff to work with SHGs. Yet, even qualified field staff faceresource deficits as these formal tools and methods are often complex and less effective andefficient in the SHG context.Because of this reality, CRS also wanted to build the capacity of the SHGs, irrespective of theleaders and support organizations, to enable them to support themselves and help build other SHGs (thus, enabling a “ripple effect”).
2. Animators lack resources and training to be effective service delivery mechanisms.
 
Becausefield staff may not be adequately prepared to work with SHGs, they can often be an obstacle toSHG success. In assessments conducted by CRS, they discovered that some animators have been gatekeepers of information and that they micromanage their SHG groups’ activities. Muchof this can be explained by the SHG’s over-reliance on the animator, but the animator may nothave been providing the SHG with opportunities for growth and gaining confidence.
3. SHG members often become over-reliant on the SHG support organization or the animatorsthat support their groups. Consequently, the underlying rationale for SHG— learning to think and act for oneself—is challenged.
Additionally, well-meaning animators who have a lot of community trust can often put their groups at financial risk by identifying incorrect businessopportunities for their SHGs. As one animator put it, “the animator is king” because of his/her knowledge and skill base compared to that of the SHG members. For example, some animatorshave been able to convince SHG groups to commit all of their efforts and resources in one product, and when that product fails, the SHG is left with failure and debt. Finally, becauseanimators feel the need to micromanage their groups or feel the need to be deeply involved inSHG activities, they exhaust their time with few SHGs, limiting their breadth of outreach toother possible SHGs. In turn, the SHG support organizations also find themselves playing amuch larger role in the development of a group than originally anticipated. As a result, the cost
4
NABARD, while an apex financial institution, is part of the Indian Government. It coordinates the development of SHG-bank linkages with state-owned rural and cooperative banks across the country.
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