On the Road with NCBA: Cooperation, Women and Youth
Note: this post was delayed by a general telecommunications outage. No phones, no internet, no nothing. The lights are on.
Mozambique needs general economic growth. But that growth needs to be as broadly distributed as possible to have the maximum impact on quality of life. So we must pay attention to how development engages with the needs of women and young people, who are sometimes excluded from economic growth.
Today I met with two groups that are focused on these issues: a women’s savings cooperative, or caixa, and the organizers of more than 100 agricultural youth clubs.
Caixa is a Portuguese word corresponding to the Spanish caja and the French caisse. It literally means “case” or “box” and has a distinctly cooperative meaning in this context: All members put their money in the same container.
My meeting turned out to be with eight leaders from both governance and management, which was rather startling. Caixa das Mulheres de Nampula is a caixa for women in Nampula, a city of about a half-million that is also home to the national office of NCBA’s CLUSA International program.
The caixa’s nearly 2500 members have collectively saved over $215,000, and currently have more than $81,000 in outstanding loans. For perspective, Mozambican GDP per capita is $933, one of the lowest in the world.
Caixa Mulheres was started in 1994 as a rural women’s organization. They gave shared loans then to support women’s farming groups. The caixa’s focus shifted as members moved to town and urban interest spread. Now loans are now only granted to individuals.
The Mozambican business context seems to be more based on independent ownership. Even farmer associations are geared toward strengthening individual farmers, and there have been few if any urban examples of formal collaboration among urban entrepreneurs. I heard no sign of the concept of a worker co-op in our discussion.
Around 2002 the name was changed and rural members were encouraged to join other caixas, which are organized into a network of 45 caixas in more than half of Nampula province’s districts. Those caixas collectively have more than 11,000 members –women and men – with $675,000 in outstanding loans. Some other provinces have caixas, but my source at the network told me that specifically rural groups are rare. These groups have generally decided not to become cooperatives, preferring to focus on microfinance.
However, Caixa Mulheres is now working with CLUSA to become a modern co-op under the new law that CLUSA helped pass. They believe they have outgrown their current structure.
They are already thoroughly cooperative in practice. They have an annual general assembly, which is typically attended by 200-300 members. At this gathering, the members elect leaders to one-year terms on three bodies: In addition to the conseil de dirrecao (board of directors), they also directly elect a financial council and the “assembly table,” which is in charge of organizing and promoting the next general assembly. The general assembly even elects the officers of these bodies if I understood correctly, although I have a hard time picturing that process.
My second meeting was with two coordinators of youth clubs supported by CLUSA. Maria and Firoza each supervise the program in half of Nampula province’s 14 districts. The program, run through a multi-faceted USAID program called SCIP.
There are more than 3000 youths, aged 12 to 24, organized into 109 clubs. These are often linked with a farmer association that provides an advisor. Club members may join an association when they turn 18, but must then leave the youth club. The clubs teach conservation farming and association functions, as well as doing other activities like soccer and HIV education. Two members of each club are selected for doing more outreach, providing leadership development.
Each club farms a small common demonstration plot, usually about 100 square meters located near a school or other central location. The produce grown is sold at the local market, and profits are used to buy seeds for the next season.
Here is where it gets intriguing, at least to me: They are developing a process for selling produce to local schools and hospitals. I think it’s a pretty positive step to give youths a chance to feed their peers and those under medical care. It strikes me as a huge boost to self-esteem and a chance to tangibly tie education to the advancement of the whole community – community development through individual development.
Mozambique has the same essential problem as the United States. Family farm succession has broken down, so conscious efforts are needed to train and motivate young farmers. The consequences of this breakdown may be more pronounced in Mozambique, where hungry-looking kids roam around looking for odd jobs or handouts. But the same force can be seen in the U.S., where rural communities are collapsing and driving youths into cities.
I smell a potential youth exchange program.
One of the most inspiring parts of this trip has been discovering the common cause that is shared by Americans and Mozambicans. The details are certainly different, but I see shared themes of finding ways to cooperate and meet our needs. These needs are both individual – like entrepreneurs’ access to credit – and collective – like developing the next generation to keep society moving forward.
Maybe I’m stretching here, but that’s how I see it.