Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Dr. Naila Kabeer and Nijera Kori's work to develop political consciousness

We recently attended an event put on by Nijera Kori, an organization which we become more and more impressed with and excited about as we learn more about their work. At this event they presented the findings of three independent research groups which they had hired to do impact assessments of their work towards conscientization and mobilization of landless people. The seminar, entitled “Relevance and Impact of Conscientisation and Mobilisation as a Development Strategy in the 21st Century” addressed the impact of Nijera’s Kori’s strategy of raising the political consciousness of rural landless people as an alternative approach to development and poverty alleviation.

One of the highlights of this seminar was hearing the presentation of Dr. Naila Kabeer, a scholar whose work has been highly influential to our own understandings of microcredit, who had led one of the research teams. Similar to the other researchers, Dr. Kabeer found that Nijera Kori members were much more likely to show signs of high political conscientization, as well as other positive development indicators such as education for boys and girls and higher mobility of women. Nijera Kori members were also much more likely to own assets than non-members, which Dr. Kabeer told us indicates that this form of conscientization is also effective at reducing poverty.

The high levels of political activism found among Nijera Kori members were impressive and spoke to Nijera Kori’s success in mobilizing rural landless groups. The researchers found that 74% of Nijera Kori members had participated in some sort of political protest or movement at some point in the past two years, as opposed to only 3% of non-Nijera Kori members. Furthermore, they found that microcredit programs alone are not currently effectively mobilizing rural people: those who were active in microcredit programs and attended meetings regularly for these organizations were similarly unlikely (around 3%) to be politically active.

The primary precept underlying Nijera Kori’s work is a non-service based approach, meaning that while they do offer their members many things (skills, knowledge, information), they do not provide services which create a relationship of dependency between them and the people they serve. In this way, the organization itself is not the main focus; instead it is the landless organizations themselves and the people who constitute them.

A question that the seminar intended to address was: if Nijera Kori does not provide services, then why have so many people joined their groups? In their research, Dr. Kabeer and her colleagues found that many people are members of both Nijera Kori and microcredit organizations because they offer them very different things. These findings are interesting in light of many microcredit programs’ broad claims of empowerment potential, which very closely resemble the conscientization which is being found among Nijera Kori members.

For us, one of the most interesting aspects of hearing Dr. Kabeer discuss her assessment of Nijera Kori’s work is the fact that her approach to microcredit is very different from the approach taken by Nijera Kori. Dr. Kabeer has published many articles on microcredit which argue that while microcredit is not a panacea (nor does it automatically empower women), it has great potential for providing financial services to the poor. This analysis starkly contrasts with the position Nijera Kori has taken on microcredit (essentially, they are against it). Despite these differences, Dr. Kabeer explained that whether they agree or not about microcredit, the work that Nijera Kori is doing is absolutely essential, and microcredit participants who also participate in Nijera Kori programs will be immensely more equipped to establish successful enterprises and participate in the market because of their conscientization.

We look forward to learning more about these issues as we continue our research and our work with Nijera Kori, so that we might better understand not only what makes a successful microcredit program, but also what other programs can accompany microcredit to make it as successful as possible.

Click here to read an article about Naila Kabeer from The New Age, a local English daily newspaper.

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