Dependency and its Virtues
Champions of savings groups seem hidebound to the idea that promoters who continue to visit groups beyond a pre-determined period are creating dependency.
In the field, I have heard promoters called lazy if they keep servicing their groups past the stage where groups ought to be self-managing. Or, that they enjoy the attention or respect supplied by groups a little too much and reject leaving such courtesy behind. Should promoters continue to coddle groups, for whatever reason, groups, so goes the thinking, will never be able to self-manage.
Some NGOs have solved this problem with a market solution - get groups to pay promoters – thus transforming the social relationship into a commercial one. This solves two connected problems in their thinking – the payment for services will help sustain promoter visits and where those services cannot be paid for, promoters will gladly sever their relationship with groups as they pursue more lucrative options. Either way, dependency dissolves.
To my mind these solutions may be appropriate, but miss something important. Allow me to draw on personal story. I volunteered in Boston years ago for Working Capital as an Enterprise Agent. In the evenings I would visit Roxbury and Dorchester, two of Boston’s hard-pressed urban neighborhoods, to form loan groups. Clusters of entrepreneurs would invite me into their cookie shops, artist studios, church basements and assorted holes-in-the-wall. I met their children, next-door neighbors and customers. Often a cup of coffee and a few laughs were involved. I would be sure to remember birthdays and bring small gifts purchased spontaneously before my evening forays into the housing projects. As time went on, these groups became fully capable of dealing directly with Working Capital’s loan department; some opened bank accounts and developed new relationships with a teller or account manager. They did not need me any more. We celebrated their independence.
I shifted my route from Dorchester and Roxbury to East Boston and Chelsea, which entailed metro travel in the opposite direction. My old Roxbury groups would call and complain – why was I no longer visiting them? Wouldn’t I come to the Treasurer’s graduation from community college? Might they drop by my place to discuss one member’s newest business plan? It became clear to me that despite the clinical tasks of assessing and distributing loans, my job was an intensely social one. Friendships had formed. To leave group members behind in search of fresh kill seemed impolite.
We all knew that I would eventually phase out of Roxbury, but were taken by surprise when the time came. I managed as best as I could, but not all parties could be attended nor all requests for help honored. Exasperated with my reduced trips to Roxbury, one group showed up on my doorstep after I had spent the better part of the evening in Chelsea: “if you won’t come to us, we’ll come to you.” They then spent three hours painting my new apartment.
I bring this up, not because graduating old groups and shifting to new ones is a silly idea – it is a smart one – but because the ties that bind are often misunderstood by experts as ties of dependency, as if dependency were a bad thing. Indeed, experts may be witnessing dependency, but expressed in the form of friendship, and friendship however it arrives, is always a good thing.
Practitioners could better research why promoters have trouble scaling to new groups. Armed with understanding of a promoter’s journey across multiple groups over time, trainers could insert a few emotional dilemmas into their practical sessions, thus preparing promoters for the transition that they and their groups will someday face. Such affirmation and planning could go a long way to putting a little soul back into savings groups.
Reader Comments (1)
Well said Kim! I often hear group members wondering why we no longer visit them...they sometimes feel as if we've 'abandoned' them. They say they miss us and often wonder how we are doing. As you said, they feel a bond of kinship! I still go back form time to time to our old groups just to say hi and pass on whatever news there is about Mpendulo and our staff.
Sat, December 22, 2012 | Jill Thompson