Just finished reading Roodman’s book that aims to critically assess seemingly all we know about microfinance and the myths too. The book is excellent and its writing probably overdue. Two discussions I particularly valued were first of all the review of social dynamics of group lending, and the negatives associated with this, puncturing the myth of the model’s perceived inherent democratic ways, and highlighting the consequences of veritable power inequities. Secondly, the discussion of microfinance services in terms of credit vs. saving vs. insurance confirms my belief that “the poor” would be better served with more of the latter two. Roodman reminds the reader that financial services largely allow us to do something mundane: accumulating small sums into large ones. And then have access to the large ones when you need to. He poignantly argues that providing credit is the easy way to do this, while offering functional saving and insurance services is hard, but potentially less harmful to its users. I’d agree.
Before I get to the actual point of this post, I want to share how surprised I was when googling images for the word “immersion”. So much immersion, and one picture just dominates the internet when it comes to immersion. Google it to see for yourself.
Not the point I wanted to make however.
I just read up on my favorite blog, From Poverty to Power, the one blog I check every day. Today’s topic was on the idea of immersion experiences in the development sector as a way for NGO staff and others to better understand the circumstances in which the people they serve, live. As I read it, I was uncomfortably reminded of my own past intentions to immerse myself in the way described in the post:
“Immersions can take many forms, but an almost universal feature is staying in a poor community, as a person, living with a host family, helping with tasks and sharing in their life. The overnight stay is vital for relationships, experience, and relaxed conversations after dark and talking into the night.”
I have said to myself – and maybe just a few other people – in the past that I’d like to stay the night once in Mtakuja, just so I could see for myself what it would be like. I have also said that I would like to spend one day with the Masai boys from Remiti and follow them around as they herd their cattle and whatever else they do during the day. I have done neither! I haven’t had to make any excuses for not doing them so far, as I had not told enough people about my intentions, the lack of the public commitment has led to too little accountability. So herewith, I renew my intention for an immersion experience!
So why haven’t I don’t it at this point? Of course I have real questions about the value and if I will be imposing on someone. Whoever likes the guest who invites himself to stay? And yes, I felt that I was always quite immersed anyway, spent days upon days in the village, spoke at length with lots of people, I had “relaxing conversations”, sometimes even after dark, and sometimes with a warm beer in hand. But I can’t deny their is something uncomfortable about it and it is certainly easier not to do it at all!
Duncan Green, the author of the blog (From Poverty to Power) observes in the comment section of his blog, that many of the other commenters seem to throw up all kinds of criticisms of immersions as no good, or an insufficient tool. He wonders why all those reservations? It is not too hard – I think – to sense his feeling that people are not being truthful with themselves. I’d agree, immersions are uncomfortable, perceived or real, and there’s gotta be a dose of simple fear here that drives the defensiveness in the comments.
A very interesting article from the New York Times on the Marikana mine tragedy:
THE 34 miners killed by the police earlier this month in a wildcat strike at a Marikana platinum mine, in northern South Africa, were immediately engaged as bit players in various morality tales. Marikana reminded some of the 1960 police massacre at Sharpeville; suggested to others that poverty and division had survived apartheid; or foretold a sharp confrontation between capital and labor. To many, it either predicted or confirmed the political and moral disintegration of the ruling party, the African National Congress.