We did an internal qualitative study of three SHGs – Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore. The objective was to consolidate learning from SHGs and share it back to SHGs, especially new ones. Here are the main lessons:
1. Continuity : Number of participants will NOT keep on growing up since stammering is a variable phenomena and pws do benefit from a variety of factors (besides SHG) in their life. They may participate for 6 months, improve and then move on. Old members get replaced by new ones. Sometime there is a GAP between old members leaving and new ones joining. During this period of discontinuity - organizational skills, structure and processes may get totally lost / disrupted. A new-comer may have to start all over again, from a scratch!The new coordinator may not get the chance to meet the previous SHG coordinators at all. There may not be a proper “hand-over, take-over” between them at all. This appears to be one of the biggest dangers. Solution is easy: Identify your second line (Assistant Coordinator) at the earliest- at least six to eight months before life-events may take you away from the shg.
2. SHG structure : Some SHGs did have formal elections for some roles, while nomination / consensus was a preferred mode for main posts, as these methods are less divisive and give a chance for the coordinator to use his/her discretion. Elections are useful to make sure that “shy” / young members are “forced” into some public roles within SHG. Playing these public roles can bring major changes in the new members: Time Keeper; Contribution collector (if renting a paid indoor hall etc.), Logistics supervisor, General Evaluator, database manager, Mentor (for the newbies) etc. Six monthly elections appear to be a good idea. We should stick with this mixed model.
3. Session outline / content: Some structured experience is appreciated by most members, especially the new-comers. Some SHGs have adapted Toastmaster style of conducting sessions with clearcut “projects” to pursue. Some evolved their own agenda, with new activities introduced every now and then. Some variety is important: a mix of indoor sessions and outdoor challenge; some “techniques” and some open ended sessions etc. This is fine if it meets the NEEDS of the shg members – as long as we remember that needs will EVOLVE over the months and will differ from member to member. Last item on the SHG session should be planning for the next meeting: 30 minutes or more should be given to who will do what or present what, next week? So that, a well executed session can be conducted every week.
Responsibility for session documentation should be given to a new member preferably each time and a brief report should be on the blog in 24 hours, with phone number of the writer at the bottom.
Members may wish to practice their preferred techniques or tools; this should be respected and encouraged. SHG should not promote one technique at the cost of all others. However, promotion of Paid services and questionable approaches (like blowing conch shell?) need to be discouraged- because we are following rational path of self-help. Acceptance should not be taught as a philosophy or dogma. Rather, it should be lived and practiced in our behavior and the activities of the SHG: open stammering, frequent use of techniques like Vol. Stammering etc. If someone is stammering, we should desist from interrupting and suggesting a technique. This would show what acceptance looks like in practice.
4. Time and venue : Fixed time and venue can be a big advantage. It leaves no doubt in the minds of the participants. Even if the coordinator is late, members will get together and begin some activity. This is the big advantage of a fixed time and venue. Venue can be a park too, as in case of Bangalore SHG. While looking for an indoor venue, YMCA and other social organizations should be approached. A small contribution for that purpose is fine. Collection and utilization should be put in a blog post, to assure transparency.
5. Member database : Having some basic details (name, phone, email) of every member who ever attended SHG can be of big help; it can be maintained as a Google or yahoo group, whatsapp group or any other convenient form. (Numbers or IDs of WWS should not be shared in public forum). This database helps us to announce special events or intimate changes in plans to members promptly and efficiently. In Bangalore Whatsapp group, everyone is ADMIN, so that they can add their friends or anyone they want to.
6 Content: Coordinators, asst coordinators and even the general members should get training on facilitation skills, content generation and group management, because during an emergency any member may have to coordinate or lead the group for sometime. Also, coordination takes considerable effort and hard work. One person can not be expected to go on doing it for ever, even if s/he is around. Asst Coordinators should be elected and given a free hand for 6 month or so – to pick up and practice these skills.
7. Mentoring Second line: It is important that asst coordinators are nurtured by delegating responsibilities to them, co-facilitation, giving them positive feedback, supporting them in public etc.
8. On-line sessions: Google hangouts, Skype conferences, Whatsapp groups etc. can be a very useful parallel channel. It can increase the outreach of a SHG many folds. Again, this need not be done by the SHG coordinator. It can be a training ground for other SHG members.
9. Extra attention to Newbies: They stand the highest risk of dropping out in the first few weeks. Some older members should share their stories with them and make it a point to spend some time with them, follow them up on phone and encourage them to continue. They may initially be helped through pick up and drop by other members living close by.
10. Beyond SHG : When members visit other SHGs, participate in regional or national events, they return with a better understanding of self-help and their own role in SHG. This benefits SHGs since they have more volunteers to chose from. Therefore members should be encouraged to visit other SHGs, NCs, Comm WS and such events.
11. Self - Motivation : Every SHG is the manifestation of a handful of motivated pws, whom Life brought on the scene at the right moment; who were able to see beyond their own suffering and problems; who were intelligent enough to realize that complaining & waiting is not going to help; who were resourceful; who did not wait for “right” time or “intuition” etc. They jumped in and did whatever they could- quite substantial in retrospect.
But after sometime, our motivation may start dipping or we may even get fed up and end up as a “burn out” case*. We must cultivate “insight” so that we will be alert to such changes in ourselves and take timely action: delegating, asking for help, restructure and redefine our role in SHG/TISA, withdrawing a little and pursuing other goals like Vipassana etc. - to regain balance in life. Instead of being driven by unconscious forces, we should have better understanding of who we are and why we are doing, what we are doing. Then, we may be able to keep our motivation high over a long period of time and last in this kind of volunteer work (“sewa”) for sometime.
(*Burnout – see : http://career-advice.monster.com/in-the-office/work-life-balance/fight-burnout-in-social-work/article.aspx )
Many thanks to Dinesh, Dhruv and Vishal (– and all your colleagues in Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi-) for your insights and exemplary work. New SHGs should feel free to get in touch with these and other old SHGs for help and guidance.
Dr Satyendra Srivastava
14th June 2015