Odowa Cluster has ten groups, whose membership is capped at forty members each. The groups meet fortnightly, with five groups meeting one Wednesday afternoon, and another five meeting the following week. CARE’s Community Based Trainer had left service after forming three groups in the cluster; the members have continued to add new groups to the cluster, and also have traveled to train two new groups “over the hill” from the village.
The meetings I observed was disciplined and well-attended. All the groups use passbooks, and have metal lockboxes. The groups have a common social fund reserved for funerals; each group keeps its social fund, but they all contribute to the costs of funerals when any member of any group has a funeral. Members pay KShs 20 every fortnight, or USD 6.23 per person per year, into the social fund.
The cluster has a committee of five volunteers – four managers and a gatekeeper – who come to all meetings, help groups that need help, and train new groups. They have no salary, although groups usually give them some money at the time of share-out. I asked Walter Otieno Aouko, one of the managers, why he donated his time. “Many people around here are poor,” he said. “The groups help them get out of poverty.”
CARE has also been encouraging post-project expansion and support by converting their trainers into “village agents” who work on a fee-for-service basis. I had a chance to talk to six or seven of them. Most reported that they had trouble getting groups to pay the requested fee, and most were working for less than the requested amount of 200 shillings (about two and a half dollars) per person, for the total training cycle. One young trainer, Veronique, was still supported by the active committee of the Catholic Church, and said that all the ten groups she had trained had paid in full. I asked a group of village agents what they thought of their prospects? There was a long pause. One responded cryptically, “There was life before the project came. There will be life after the project.”
Since the project’s first phase ended in June 2010, CARE says that 168 fee-for-service groups have been formed with about 5000 members; CARE also says they know of about 3000 members of spontaneous groups, though there is no easy or systematic way to track them, and CARE suspects that the spontaneous groups have more members than the fee-for-service groups.
Which approach – volunteerism or fee-for-service – is better? I asked the village agents, and they argued that the quality of their training was better than the volunteer groups; perhaps that is true, although Odowa cluster seemed as well trained and disciplined as any groups I have seen anywhere.
Financial Sector Deepening Trust in Kenya is carrying out research to attempt to compare the quality of groups formed by the two channels. Oxfam has examined the question also in a very different context in Mali. There may not be a unique answer to this important question.
Do any readers think we already know the answer? Leave us your comments…