In the closing session, we asked ourselves what would we say to our colleagues back home, what did the India trip say that was relevant to people interested in improving human flourishing in Scotland, England and Wales?
The women in the Self-Reliant Groups set out their case above. Here is a list of things that stand out for me.
- This is relational work. It is an exemplar of relational social policy. It starts with what people do well to resolve their own challenges. It depends on relational outcomes such as trust and belonging. It sees relationships for what they are, dynamic and persistently difficult, not nice and cosy.
- Agency is at the heart of the project. The Groups release women’s agency. The groups reflect a collective agency. The women are the movement. They own the movement.
- This is about informal groups, not constituted groups like NGOs. (Most civil society organisation in the U.K. is informal, and un-constituted. There are 1.3 million groups, with 12 million members, but they receive hardly any attention). This is about citizens, not civil society organisations (c.f. Civil Society Future’s report).
- This is not issue based. It isn’t about improving mental health (although it probably does), or tackling domestic violence (although it might). It provides a context for women to support each other to tackle whatever bothers them over extended periods of time.
- Ergo, nobody said the word ‘poverty’ all week. The Self-help Affinity Groups clearly reduce poverty -this was visible- but nobody set out to reduce poverty.
- Ergo, this wasn’t about system reform. The women are the system. They are changing their world. Public institutions, e.g. banking, adapt to the women’s system.
- There were no ‘poor me’ or ‘rags to riches’ stories. Michael was an alcoholic. He went to an SRG. Now he is going to Cambridge University. The stories are about the world as it is, a constant back and forth between challenge and opportunity, success and failure, the stories of each and every one of us on the study tour.
- Learning is at the heart of this story. Not an add on. Learning is at the heart of the enterprise. MYRADA reminded me of Gates in that respect. A recognition that without learning nothing can happen. Acknowledging that progress was built from failure.
- The social impact is implicit. The groups naturally lead people to think about how they can improve their communities. The women become mindful, about how they can invest in their family, how they can change the world around them, how they can protect the planet.