Financial services for resilience: Implementing innovative methodologies to measure resilience in Niger

Submitted by Sam Woor 10th September 2017 14:39
villagers in niger

Local people in Niger. ©BRACED

Introduction

Niger is a landlocked country prone to droughts, floods and locust infestations, and also suffers fro frequent political instability. In 2015, 81.3% of the population lived in rural areas and depended on agriculture and pastoral activities for their livelihoods. The country relies on agriculture for 40% of its gross domestic product (GDP). 

Among the most vulnerable communities, inequalities related to gender, ethnicity and religion mean that not all households and individuals are equally equipped to deal with the impacts of climate change. Women often do not benefit from equal access to and use of information and financial services, which potentially limits their influence over adaptation decisions. Additionally, in times of crisis, women tend to end up with greater economic responsibility for their household yet often have less control over assets such as land, credit, seeds and animals, owing to structural gender inequalities.

The BRACED PRESENCES project aims to enhance the resilience of women to shocks by strengthening their socioeconomic status. At the heart of PRESENCES’s activities are village savings and loans associations (VSLAs), which aim to play a key role in resilience-building.

This paper* assesses the role of VSLAs in building resilience to climate extremes and disasters and describes how two innovative approaches were implemented to assess how VSLAs contribute to resilience. The paper paves the way for further analysis of the role of VSLAs in building communities’ resilience by documenting the linkages between financial inclusion and resilience to climate extremes, and aims to stimulate the debate on new methodological trends to establish a relationship between financial inclusion and resilience-building.  

*Download the full paper from the right-hand column


Figure 1 from page 9 of the report: Conceptual framework for the impact of VSLAs. Adapted from 
Weingärtner et al. (2017) (see full text for details of references).

Innovative approaches to measuring resilience (abridged)

The paper presents two innovative approaches to measuring resilience. These approaches are briefly outlined as follows:

1) Financial diaries:

The financial diaries approach relies on a methodology presented by Collins et al. (2009). The diary approach can unveil a surprising degree of complexity in the financial lives of people. It also offers the opportunity to examine correlation among variables causally linked to the expected change. Diaries also make it possible to look at the role of VSLAs during climate shocks for both immediate and long-term response. For this reason, the diaries can gather longitudinal information to explore a range of coping strategies that strengthen adaptive and absorptive capacities. These insights can help determine the likely recurring trends in a context of climate change. 

The diary tool adopted in PRESENCES produces information by means of a self-reflective iterative process through continuous engagement with respondents. The approach aims to validate the underlining assumptions about the contribution of VSLAs towards enabling household strategies to cope with shocks. To get an accurate and meaningful understanding of circumstances on the ground, the diaries have been adapted using insights from the PRESENCES baseline and monitoring analysis. For example, researchers considered common learning questions such as how climate shocks are affecting access to resources and how respondents address the consequences of climate shocks through VSLAs.

2) Serious games:

Game-based methods are effective approaches to imparting information in a way that makes it relevant to and more readily retained by participants. They also help to understand people’s perceptions of risks, and their attitudes, behaviours and social interactions. The game in this research simulates a six-year period with different seasons and varying weather conditions in an agro-pastoralist context, and features idiosyncratic and covariate shocks such as sickness, social events, long dry periods or oods. The game allows for collaboration between participants through common storage and community water storage. Playing the game with different group compositions – women VSLA members, women non-members, men, women VSLA members and their husbands – provides insight into the dynamics of decision-making and gender relations. The game further returns information about investment and diversification, coping strategies and decisions on natural resource management. 

In PRESENCES, VSLA activities where designed to primarily target women. As such, the serious game pays particular attention to the effect of VSLA membership on women’s status and role in the community. The combination of the experimental game with research tools, both qualitative (participant observation, unstructured interviews) and quantitative (systematic data collection during the game), allowed for the triangulation of information and an overview of social dynamics within communities and VSLAs. 

Key Messages & Conclusions (abridged)

  • To date, observed changes reported are minimal, especially on gender empowerment and natural resource management. Moreover, the game and interviews suggest VSLAs amplify pre-existing structures in terms of social networks. Further investigation based on additional data collection through the diaries and the second round of the game should confirm or invalidate the few changes observed. Sampling in the implementation of the innovative tools is limited, so results need to be taken with caution.
  • The methods highlight the importance of assessing resilience using innovative approaches and the role that such methods can have in learning. They bring more depth to the dimension of meaningful interaction with data collection tools, in recognising the importance of behavioural changes that arise as a result of an activity/project, while collecting data for assessment. They also contribute to the ‘monitoring–evaluation–learning’ trinity by blending evaluation and learning.
  • Support mechanisms, including access to adequate financial resources, could be important for individuals and communities to better prepare for and cope with climate extremes. Village savings and loan associations (VSLAs) can be implemented as a means to support rural communities, address livelihood shocks and strengthen social capital but more work is needed to fully assess what changes take place.
  • Innovative research methods – such as financial diaries and serious games – can help support a better understanding of VSLAs’ contribution to climate resilience through revealing behavioural changes that help complete our understanding of how VSLAs can contribute to resilience-building in dimensions that are often unexplored, including:
    • (i) gender empowerment;
    • (ii) social trust; and
    • (iii) natural resource management.
  • These tools cannot replace quantitative surveys but can complement them or support cross-referencing with survey findings by focusing on broader aspects of resilience-building. Financial diaries complement the serious game by gathering data over time from a sample of VSLA members. In addition, the diaries highlight the issue of use of resources and climate change, and it can be considered an equally transformative tool in relation to self-reflection on resilient behaviours. The two approaches provide a solid foundation to further investigate the role of financial inclusion in climate change resilience by engaging participants in different ways, away from the more traditional survey approach. 
  • By boosting qualitative methods to help us understand climate change and the role of VSLA membership in addressing its consequences, there is a stronger case for designing the actual delivery of activities in alignment with a grassroots understanding of how these two components are linked. These two tools represent a decisive way forward to influence M&E, starting from learning about participants’ roles in defining and recognising the issues, before making assumptions on what can bring about the greatest impact. 

Further resources