Resilience Building in Rural Kenya

70 women representing 30 different savings groups participate in a 2-day training on agriculture, rain water harvesting, micro-gardening, and income generating activities.

70 women representing 30 different savings groups participate in a 2-day training on agriculture, rain water harvesting, micro-gardening, and income generating activities.

Resilience is one of those words that has been used so frequently in a wide array of contexts that it means just about anything to anyone. At Zawdisha, we're clear on what resilience means to us, and what we are doing to foster it. Resilience describes the ability of individuals, the community, and the environment to absorb disturbances, reorganize, and build the capacity for learning and adaptation. The goal is to thrive in the face of shocks and stresses. Resilience can be achieved by supporting the environmental, economic, and social systems within a community.

How do we achieve this? By applying the seven sources of resilience to both influence our design and the evaluation of our impact. The result is highly effective model that blends job creation for rural women, access to life-changing technology and products, and education.

Diversity: The quality or state of having many forms or types. With more forms/types, diversity increases. In which parts of the system is there little or no diversity, and does this make the system vulnerable?

Openness: Refers to the ease with which things like people, ideas, and species can move into and out of your system. Closed communities of people and society can become inbred, static, and fragile. What trends are occurring? Is there any evidence (social or ecological) that the system is becoming (or is) too closed?

Reserves: In general, more in reserve means greater resilience, and the trend to look for is often one of a loss of reserves— natural (e.g., habitat patches, seed banks), social (memory and local knowledge), and economic (levels of savings).

Tightness of Feedback: How long does it take to respond to threats and opportunities? As social- ecological systems develop, there is often a trend toward lengthening times for responses to signals, loosening the strength of feedback signals. Changing and weakening in any feedbacks (social, ecological, economic) can be of concern.

Modularity: A system that is fully connected will rapidly transmit all shocks (e.g., a disease, a wildfire, or a bad management practice) through the whole system. In a system with tightly interacting subcomponents that are loosely connected to each other (i.e., a modular system), parts of the system are able to reorganize in response to changes elsewhere in the system in time to avoid disaster.

Social Capital: What are the levels of trust within members of groups? Between groups? Is the system locked into one style of leadership, or can it change to suit the circumstances? What informal networks exist? What is the capacity of individuals and groups to act in making their own choices.

Capital Assets: The amount and quality of capital assets the system can draw on in response to a disturbance. These include natural capital, built capital, human capital, and financial capital.

Training a Workforce of Women

Take a close look at this photo. What do you see? These women know what they are looking for -- the amount of smoke that each stove is producing. The green stove on the left is a Zawadisha clean cook stove, and the large stove on the right is a traditional stove. Which one would you want inside of your home to cook three meals a day?

This demonstration is part of our Training of the Trainers initiative that we launched this year. Working with our Community Coordinators, we are identifying and hiring highly-motivated women with a knack for leadership. Every month they will come together to learn about a new skill or topic. These workshops equip our Trainers with new skills and information on topics such as saving, investing, and micro-enterprise development. Our Trainers then will return to their communities and teach other women what they have learned. Our goal is to develop an all-female rural workforce of Trainers who will reach approximately 1,000 women a year.

We realize that when you live in poverty, you are less likely to take risks. And spending a few month's salary on a new stove is as risky as it gets. What if it doesn’t boil your water quickly or cook your ugali well? Trainings like this—paired with information on the cost and health benefits of transitioning to a clean cook stove—help women make more informed decisions for their families. Armed with new knowledge, they are able to make the change in their homes required for their families to live more productive, healthy, and happy lives.

Financial Literacy Made Simple

If you were to get your hands on one of the many financial literacy workbooks out there, you'd be overwhelmed by the sheer number activities and amount of information. Although we find this these workbooks incredibly valuable, for the majority of the women we work with, they can't dedicate weeks to training. They have children and crops to care for, businesses to run. We knew that if we wanted to teach things like saving, budgeting, and negotiating, we'd have to find ways to make the information stick in a short amount of time. 

So we went to work simplifying and refining existing curricula to create short modules (one - two hours) that integrated the experiences of our members in real-world activities with easy to remember rules of thumb. We tested out our new curriculum with a group of 20 women from Eldoret and Kitale by asking them what they would do with 100,000 Kenyan shillings (about $1000). With that eye on the prize we worked backwards, and the results were incredible. For the first time, these women had a tangible savings goal for each month. They had never set goals; saving for something big, like a small plot of land or school fees, had always seemed out of reach. But when they saw that by saving just 100 shillings a month they could own land in two years, they were overjoyed. So much so that when we visited with them three months later, they brought the training materials to show us how they still were using them to work toward their savings goals. 

It was important to us to create trainings that were relevant, effective, and engaging. Rather than leaving the trainings feeling deflated and overwhelmed, we wanted our members to leave filled with hope and excitement. They now have simple strategies that can make a big difference in their lives.