31 August 2023

A Right Sharing reunion, part two

Phanice Kenyorwa, Keyo Friends Women Group, Kenya (Right Sharing partners). Photo courtesy RSWR.

Of Phanice Kenyorwa's eight children, four are still living at home. She has 6 grandchildren also under her care. Phanice has a husband who is older and cannot work. He once worked as a butcher, but he became diabetic and can't work anymore. Reasons why she chose goat rearing for her business: Phanice ventured into goat rearing and selling because of advice from her husband as well as high demand of goat meat at the butchery where her husband once worked. Together with that, she does some farming of indigenous vegetables. She is so confident of her business because her own children help her to graze the goats and therefore it saves on labor.The business has helped Phanice to renovate their house which was leaking and also to put food on the table.

Grace Akaranga, chair lady of Keyo Friends
Women Group, in her village shop. Photo
courtesy RSWR.
Anne Jahenda at Kapkereri local market.
Photo courtesy RSWR.
Jackie Stillwell, general secretary, RSWR
(right), with Judy and me at Britain Yearly
Meeting 2023. Photo courtesy Jackie Stillwell.

It's very hard for me to believe it, but it has been thirty years since I ended my service with Right Sharing of World Resources. To all appearances, the program is flourishing. I can't help wanting to know, how has it changed over the decades?

This may not be the most important answer, but for one thing, it's an independent Quaker program. My service with Right Sharing (1986-1993) was part of my responsibilities as a field staffer with Friends World Committee for Consultation, Section of the Americas. 

When Right Sharing was a new vision for global economic justice via "right sharing" of our resources (at least "one percent more" from individuals and nations alike), that affiliation with FWCC provided a trustworthy anchor in the Quaker constellation of organizations, open to participation by all Friends of whatever location or theology. It was also an economical way of managing a program of its small size. However, as it grew to become one of the largest units of FWCC in terms of finances, it threatened to pull resources from the wider FWCC mission.

It was also a bit of a category mismatch. As Indianapolis First Friends pastor Lorton Heusel pointed out to me at the start of my service, Right Sharing was an action-oriented program devoted to development and economic justice, while FWCC as a whole was devoted to communication and consultation across the Quaker world. Wouldn't that confuse some audiences?

As the program became larger, some Right Sharing donors resented paying a small percentage toward FWCC's administrative costs, although without that administration, there would have been no program. All in all, when Right Sharing became independent a few years after my departure, the new arrangement made a lot of sense, and I very much enjoyed my term on the new trustees, with the late, much-missed Roland Kreager as the Right Sharing coordinator.

A couple of years ago, I reported on a reunion of Right Sharing trustees. That meeting answered a lot of my questions about what had changed and what had remained of the "old" Right Sharing. 

A few months ago Right Sharing held another such meeting of current and former trustees. Among the highlights this time was the addition of a fourth country—Guatemala—to the three countries where Right Sharing's partners were then located: India, Sierra Leone, Kenya. In each of these four countries there are Right Sharing coordinators and trainers. One of them, I'm delighted to say, was a familiar face from my time on the staff: Dr. R. Kannan. His work with local nongovernmental organizations and grassroots groups may have been Right Sharing's very first experiences with what is now standard practice: providing local assistance, training, and evaluation services for new and potential partner groups.

One of our romantic notions in the early years of Right Sharing was that somehow we could form meaningful partnerships simply based on informal visitations by Quaker travelers and Quaker volunteers in the Peace Corps, and similar improvisations. Also, somehow the groups we worked with would already know how to write an attractive proposal (without paying to copy someone else's successful proposal, and without feeling forced to parrot the jargon already proven to be attractive to Western donors), and would also, without further help, be able to receive and account for a chunk of new money. Kannan began to show how these relationships could be made more meaningful and secure, to the benefit of everyone involved.

What does all this look like in practice? I'm very thankful to Sarah Northrop, RSWR's program director, for telling me about one specific community partner, the Keyo Friends Women Group in Vihiga county, Kenya, as a case study of today's Right Sharing. Sarah writes:

Development of Keyo Friends Women Group and its partnership with Right Sharing of World Resources

In Kenya, it is common for women to come together as a group. There are church groups, groups of women who work together, community groups, groups formed around an interest, etc. In many of these groups, women practice “merry-go-round”. At each meeting, each woman puts a specified amount of money into a pot and it is given to one woman - usually the woman who is hosting the meeting that day. The person who receives the pot rotates through all of the members and then it starts over again. This practice of merry-go-round binds the women together and the money itself is useful to pay for big expenses such as school fees or holiday celebrations.

Keyo Friends Women Group was started as a United Society of Friends Women group of Keyo Friends Church in 2015. It was established as a prayer and support group, but they practiced merry-go-round banking also. As in much of rural Kenya, all of the women of Keyo Friends were struggling economically. Their main source of livelihood came from their small farming plots, but over the years, the plots had gotten smaller and smaller as they were divided among all the male heirs in a family, and much of land was sold to large tea and sugarcane farming enterprises. By 2015, the farm plots were no longer able to feed the families and women all over rural Kenya were looking for another way to support their families.

The Keyo group decided to invite a government Social Services officer to teach them how to do table banking so that they could establish a group revolving loan fund to support personal small businesses. Table Banking is similar to merry-go-round, but the money the women put in is not returned to them. It is kept in the group treasury and women who want to start a business can take a loan from the treasury to have capital for the businesses. When the loans are repaid with interest, the group table banking fund is further augmented. The government of Kenya, through their Social Service department, has a program that encourages women groups to start table banking and small-scale enterprises.

Sometime in 2016 or 2017, some of the women from the Keyo group went to a USFW conference where Samson Ababu made a presentation about Right Sharing of World Resources. The Right Sharing program offers women groups a much larger capital fund than they can save on their own and also provides training and support to the groups. The Keyo women asked Samson to come and speak more about RSWR to their group. Afterwards, they decided to become part of the Right Sharing program. They received training in group dynamics and were assisted to register their group and put into place procedures to ensure that the group was run fairly and democratically.

When they sent their application for a grant in the fall of 2018, the RSWR Country Coordinators ranked them highly and commented that the group was a mixture of many different tribes who were working well together and that they were actively trying to overcome the poverty that they found themselves in. Their grant was approved by the RSWR board and they received the funds in January of 2019. Since that time, the group has gone through many hardships and struggles, including Covid-19 and extremely high inflation in Kenya. However, they have stuck together and are still working hard to improve their lives. Their RSWR revolving loan fund is still intact and it continues to help them keep their businesses going and even grow the businesses which are now their main source of livelihood. All 30 of the original women are still active members and 5 new women have joined the group.

Sarah Northrop is the Program Director for Right Sharing of World Resources. A graduate of Earlham College and a member of West Richmond Friends in Richmond, Indiana, Sarah has worked at RSWR since 2007, first as Assistant to the Program Director and as Program Director since 2013. Sarah’s job includes liaising with RSWR Country Coordinators in our four countries, preparing information on projects and overseas partners for board, staff and donors, receiving and processing reports and other communications from our partner NGOs and women groups, and maintaining the database of RSWR past and present projects. Sarah works from her home in Chelem, in the state of Yucatán, Mexico.

When I was the Right Sharing coordinator, working from home in Richmond, Indiana, and then Wilmington, Ohio, with at most one part-time staffer working alongside me, and no permanent staff anywhere else, it was a point of pride (and of our fundraising!) that we operated a lean organization and could plow most income directly into grants to partners.

Actually, it was misplaced pride. A significant part of Right Sharing's budget now pays for training and preparation to make the partnerships more sustainable in the long run, and to make the relationships far more real. In my own time, I might have worried that donors wouldn't understand how important it was that this intermediary role be funded, but it seems as if donors do understand. Not only do those coordinators and trainers add integrity to the relationships, they also serve the goal of shifting the emphasis of Right Sharing from funders' decisionmaking in favor of partners' experience and initiative.

A selection of links to Right Sharing history (some of these were also in part one).

And for more recent history, Right Sharing newsletter archives back to 2016.

Jacob Meador on why Americans really stopped going to church.

The theologian Stanley Hauerwas captured the problem well when he said that “pastoral care has become obsessed with the personal wounds of people in advanced industrial societies who have discovered that their lives lack meaning.” The difficulty is that many of the wounds and aches provoked by our current order aren’t of a sort that can be managed or life-hacked away. They are resolved only by changing one’s life, by becoming a radically different sort of person belonging to a radically different sort of community.

Are churchgoers more likely to see life as exciting?

Pastor Sean Muldowny on pastoring in the Trump era. (Via Kristin Du Mez.)

Jeremy Morris considers what we're learning from the death of Yevgeny Prigozhin. "...[A]mbiguity over the sources and reasons for violence are useful to the Putin regime."

Beth Felker Jones offers a prayer for back to school.

Frida Berrigan on facing a world that has become an oven. In large ways and small, we need to reinvent ourselves.

Micah Bales on what happens when the Holy Spirit tweaks a sermon.

For blues dessert, here's a rerun especially sent out to our former students. Hans Theessink, "Walking the Dog."

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