In June 2018, six Greater Manchester residents went on a learning exchange visit to Muungano Wa Wanavijiji (the Kenyan Slum Dwellers Federation) in Nairobi as part of the Realising Just Cities project: ‘Community-led organising: Seeing the inner city from the South’. In the spirit of experience sharing and knowledge exchange, the Greater Manchester team decided they would like to share some extracts from their peer-to-peer interviews and a final joint reflection with a wider audience. Some background information precedes these reflections.

 “It has been a ritual, especially in Kenya, that we get knowledge from the West and we bring them to Africa so we can learn from them… So it is a good platform that we can now share our experiences and they can be taken back to the West as best practices…” Rashid Mutua, Chair of Muungano Wa Wanavijiji

Who is Muungano? 

Muungano wa Wanavijiji (‘Muungano’) is ‘the Kenyan federation of slum dwellers and urban poor people’. It is made up of groups of slum residents from cities and towns across the country. It is the Kenyan affiliate of an international social movement called Slum/Shack Dwellers International which joins together savings-based movements of low-income women in 32 countries across the Global South. As well as federating together savings groups in settlements and cities across Kenya, Muungano partners with the Akiba Mashinani Trust and a technical support agency called SDI Kenya. Together they make up the ‘Kenyan Alliance’.

Susan Wanjiru, Muungano Leader in Kambi Moto explains how savings prepares communities for collective projects: 

What is “savings” or “savings-based organising”? 

Local residents agree to begin saving together and follow the approaches used by affiliates of the international social movement Shack/Slum Dwellers International. This means that they agree to manage their own activities and set their own rules to ensure that anyone can participate regardless of income.

Savings scheme members save daily or weekly. For daily savings ‘collectors’ visit each member and savers can put any spare change they have into their savings account.  This daily visit means that they have the opportunity to save whenever they do have some change but also means members can find out about each other’s welfare and support each other.  These savings form a pool of money. Some savings groups also provide emergency and income-generation loans to their members.

As savings group members work together to gather and manage their funds, they increase their financial management skills and build trust between each other.  Over time, as they meet often, they talk about their problems and their needs. Together they begin to think about how they can address larger issues of housing and basic services. Savings schemes form Federations.  Federations are strengthened as their member savings groups visit other savings groups in their own city and then others in other settlements and cities – and also other nations.  These exchanges are inspirational and build capacity.

Working together, savings schemes can ‘enumerate’ their settlements – doing their own census as they map and survey their neighbourhoods.  They use this information to discuss their priorities. Backed by their savings and maps and household data from enumerations, savings schemes talk to the authorities about how they can address their need for land tenure, access to water and sanitation, improved housing, and many other issues.

Elizabeth, Community Mobiliser in Mukuru Special Planning Area explains savings and bottom-up neighbourhood planning:

Savings in Greater Manchester

In 2016 after an exchange in Manchester with the South African Alliance, a group of women linked to the United Estates of Wythenshawe gym decided “savings” would benefit their community and set up a new savings scheme. They also visited the South African Alliance in July 2017. They have since expanded from a small number of friends saving together to an initiative of 40 members which is now working together to renovate an old apartment into a shared community space for the neighbourhood. The “United Estates of Wythenshawe Savers” have begun reaching out to other neighbourhoods across Greater Manchester. Residents from Brinnington (Donna and Jeni), Lower Broughton (Sue), Collyhurst (John) and Benchill (Sharon and Mark) joined together to form a delegation for this latest learning exchange to Nairobi.

Reflections on the exchange

LISTEN: Anastascia Wairimu on savings mobilisation and international exchange – “with savings we can do wonders”

What reflections do you have about the exchange so far?

Mark: We’ve all seen African nations on TV… I really did think it was wrack and ruin… and what I found was, yeah, there’s tough conditions but they deal really well with it

Donna: I think it has been a really good experience to see a different community from what we’re used to, to see how people are living… all the people we’ve met have been absolutely lovely and really welcoming. They really want to show us this side of their community, they really want us to understand it, learn from it and it’s been really good… The way they save makes a difference…

Jeni: And you can see their changes

Donna: You can see they’re advancing

Are there ways in which being in Kenya and visiting these communities has changed your perceptions about life in the UK or about your own neighbourhood?

Sharon: I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no community left in England. The way these people work together… But I don’t think it would take much to bring it back… I think there are little snippets of communities out there.

Sue: It comes together when there is some kind of event… like when we got flooded, the community came together but it takes something like that to bring them together.

Jeni: Yeah, they don’t just do it like that, it takes something to happen.

Sharon: I think our communities could be brought back quite easily… I think it’s just going to take us to sit round and see how… Cos it is hard. They seem to find it so easy to get people mobilised.

[…]

Mark: When we get home from work we shut our front door… That’s the last thing that would happen over here… The civilisations that are deemed behind the Western White world if that’s the right phrase I mean no offence by it… instead of looking at us and saying ‘we want that’, what I think they should be doing is looking at us and going ‘we don’t want to make that same mistake’.

Donna: I just think there is a bit more sense of care over here. They seem to care about each other and care about what they want, you’ve not got that back in the UK. You’ve got a lot of people that stick to what they know and stick to who they know, and they don’t care about the wider community, they don’t care about their neighbours like they used to.

What similarities are there between your community and the communities that we have visited?

Donna: In our country and over here obviously right across the board there is a problem with housing. Although it is slightly different it’s still a problem with housing…we’ve got homelessness at home, they’ve got the slums here…settlements… that’s their option over here…it is poverty it’s just on a different level.

Mark: I think there’s loads. One, it’s obvious that generation to generation are trying to make a better start for their next generation. You want better for your kids. Which I think is the same in ours. I think the worry of having a roof over your head is exactly the same as ours.

Sharon: A lot of the time for us it’s, we’re worried about, where’s the next meal coming from? Where’s the next rent payment coming from? How are we going to pay the electric?

How has the exchange made you feel about your ability to do things in your own neighbourhood? If you are running or planning a savings scheme – what will be easy and what will be challenging?

John: I feel like I could do more, we could be more productive. Being over here has taught me that we can do more in our communities

Sharon: I think it’s going to be hard to get people motivated and involved… because people get an apathy… like ‘nothing’s happening’ and they will disappear again…so I think we are going to have to really think hard about keeping people interested.

Jeni:  I think the getting people together will be easy because I know plenty of people that as soon as you mention that to them they are going to be straight to it

John: It’s keeping them.

Jeni: Yeah its keeping them… we need to give them an incentive to keep coming…

Sue: I mean once you get them in and they do start that saving…

Jeni: Yeah, they might like to see it working first before they try…

Sharon: That’s an easy thing for me because ours is working.

Donna: I think we’ve kind of decided, we’re going to start off small and just try it…

Jeni: We just need to get it in place and see how it goes. If it works it works. If it doesn’t, well…then we’ll have to find something else… I don’t think it will be a problem I think people will come and they’ll stay I really do

Sharon: Just take it slow and don’t have any expectations… don’t think ‘Yes! This is going to take off and I’m gonna have 200 savers in a week. You know what I mean? Just take each week as it comes and let the word get around…

Mark: I always go back to sport…talking about savings is just like talking about boxing… it’s a tool you can use

Sharon: That’s what some people don’t get, they think we just want your money, whereas really we just want you to become part of the community…I quite often say to people, people who haven’t been for a while and I contact on social media or whatever …and they say oh I’ve not got any money, I say, you’ve not got to have any money, just come along to savings, you don’t have to save, just come along to join us!

If you would like to be in touch with any of the participants in the Nairobi exchange, or would like more information, contact Sophie King at the Urban Institute, University of Sheffield.