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Posted on April 11, 2018

Light at the end of the tunnel: building livelihoods under tough conditions

Field notes from a visit to FSD’s building livelihoods pilot in Marsabit

“We have been working towards this moment for a long time. With the bank loans just a few weeks away we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. declared Mpison as she stood up to address the group and close the meeting in the Manyatta outside of Laisamis in Marsabit County.  We could not help but be impressed by this group leader, widow, mother of six and Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) recipient who spoke with such passion and poise despite barely being able to write her own name. Since the beginning of the FSD Kenya building livelihoods pilot, Mpison has grown and diversified her business of trading goats and foodstuffs, taken and repaid loans within the group, worked hard to educate two of her children, learned to count money and differentiate prices, and increased her confidence and leadership as she now serves as the group chair.  She now understands that “you don’t get credit to consume, you get credit to invest” and is eagerly awaiting her loan from Equity Bank to help expand her business. 

Like Mpison, FSD Kenya along with our partners, CARE and Equity Bank, can also see the light at the end of the tunnel of the pilot implementation and learning process.  We travelled to Marsabit last week to check-in on the progress. What began as a question, “How can we build on the ability of HSNP payments to smooth consumption to help households identify and develop sustainable livelihoods that will last after HSNP ends?”, is finally starting to be answered.  Inspired by the results from graduation initiatives around the world such as those spearheaded by BRAC in Bangladesh, FSD designed a pilot to test whether the main components could be delivered through a market systems development approach, allowing for greater scalability.  For example, rather than an asset transfer (in cash or kind), this pilot is testing whether participants can build up to bank loans through savings group engagement.

CARE is serving as the local implementation partner to organise groups, recruit community-based facilitators, facilitate training and skills development and establish linkages with relevant market actors.  The project all looked great on the Gantt chart at the beginning, but as is often the case, especially in challenging environments like Marsabit County, the reality of implementation has diverged from the original plan.  For example, to qualify groups for loans, Equity Bank required written records of transactions, a significant barrier given that most are illiterate and innumerate, as well as official registration with the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Services, which is not a difficult process but takes time.  Despite the many challenges, the CARE team is optimistic about the prospects for achieving sound results and meeting the learning objectives in the pilot.

Significant quantitative and qualitative research paired with benchmarking other graduation approaches went into the design of this pilot and the associated impact research.  FEG is conducting quantitative research to track the changes in the participants’ lives and businesses.  Jody Delichte is conducting a longitudinal study of fifty of the participants to dig more into the qualitative aspects of why and how these changes have occurred for her doctoral dissertation.  Since our visit coincided with her fourth round of interviews, we got a sneak peek into the qualitative insights emerging. Here are a few titbits backed up with quotes from participants. 

  • Illiteracy is a significant challenge but is starting to change meaning as participants realise it does not mean that they are less than other people or can’t progress: “I don’t know how much the HSNP payment is but my son goes to school, so he reads the receipt to us after we withdraw.” “We don’t understand calendars or dates so need someone to remind us when the meeting will be.” “I was in the dark [due to illiteracy] and now I am in the light [learning through the group].”
  • Wives and husbands are working together to build livelihoods: “My husband knows about my bank account. We make all of our decisions together.” “My husband always takes me with him to pick-up the HSNP payment because I manage the cash in our household.”

 Training from community-based facilitators is resulting in changes to business strategies, understanding and motivation. “We learned from Eric: Don’t be lazy; don’t just sit at home. Go out and do business.” “We learned not to just keep doing the same thing but to try new businesses and new markets for selling.” “I learned more about the going price for goats, so I can getter better prices at the market.”

 Goals help focus but may change over time. Participants are choosing more realistic goals and have plans in place to reach them: “Let me show you this picture of my new shop that I built with a loan from the Savings group.” “I wanted to start selling sugar but had to stop doing business after giving birth.”

This was a timely visit with a new project manager at CARE and a new branch manager in Equity Bank’s Marsabit branch.  Ten groups are in the final stages of accessing their first loans from Equity Bank in the next few weeks. We are eagerly awaiting the results of the first round of loans, repayments and increased investments in sustainable livelihoods.

Take a look at pictures from our visit in our gallery below. 

 

Picture gallery