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Experiences of NGO capacity building on microfinance: Zimbabwean life histories.

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This qualitative study explored poor rural women’s experiences of the Internal Savings and Lending (ISaL) scheme promoted by CARE International in Zimbabwe. Data in this interpretivist, life history study were generated through focus group discussions with twelve former and twelve current members of the Tabudirira ISaL group in Ward 10, Masvingo District, followed by in-depth interviews with six former and six current members. The River of Life method proved particularly powerful in generating rich data. Indepth interviews were conducted with CARE staff . Poverty, patriarchy, death and loss, broken families and disrupted childhoods, and also, resilience and perseverance, emerged inductively as significant themes from the participant’s life stories through thematic content analysis. The sustainable livelihoods framework (SLF) was used to explore how women’s participation in ISaL impacted their livelihoods, whilst communities of practice (CoP) theory helped towards understanding the group’s learning processes. The study revealed that women engaged in a variety of activities and strategies, before and after joining ISaL, to improve their livelihoods and livelihood outcomes, including membership in multiple microfinance groups. Access to different capitals was important for the women to benefit from participating in ISaL; participation enhanced capitals, but did not entirely reduce vulnerability. Social capital proved to be critical to the women, who described the group as family, commenting that “we have our own CARE”. The women found ways to continue practices of saving and the spirit of togetherness even when members dropped out. There was evidence of reasonable peripheral involvement in the induction of new members by the old members. However, only three of the five stages in the development of a CoP could be discerned. Core to the practice of this group was survival in the face of ongoing shocks and stresses; this is significantly different to the typical craft and organisational practices discussed in much CoP literature. Aligned to this, new powerful identities became apparent, such as the entrepreneur, the survivor and the ‘sister-in-struggle’. The study proposes a holistic model, combining insights from SLF and CoP, and Ubuntu, both for developing microfinance programmes and for assessing such groups. This combination allows for a rich holistic account of lives, livelihoods and learning, providing an inclusive and robust lens for adult education and development studies in community-based and African settings.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.