Collective action, innovation & wealth generation by Kenyan pastoral women

When people join to tackle problems of common interest, this is collective action – a phenomenon often observed among poorer residents of densely populated urban areas or farming systems but seldom in sparsely populated rangelands, where pastoralists are better known for their social independence and opportunistic behaviour. The article “Collective action, innovation, and wealth generation among settled pastoral women in northern Kenya” documents dynamic women’s collective-action groups in small settlements in northern Kenya, a pastoral region with high poverty rates, few public services, recurrent drought and ethnic conflict.

It shows that such groups emerged either spontaneously or after encouragement from local development agency staff. Founding members were exclusively women who were often illiterate and poor. Groups have elected leaders and are governed under constitutional frameworks with extensive bylaws. Groups form to improve living standards for members, and numerous success stories were noted. Groups undertake activities including microfinance, livelihood diversification and mitigation of drought effects; they also spearhead and fund community education and health initiatives.

Of 63 groups created over the previous 25 years, only two had collapsed, 47 were thriving and 14 were failing. Group failure was due mainly to poor leadership and negative interpersonal dynamics among members, but important external threats included drought, poverty, political incitement, illiteracy and agitation by men.

In a region facing huge challenges, such grassroots innovation can help fortify social, human and financial capital and this, in turn, can improve risk management and human wellbeing. Collective action should be recognised as a vital development process in Kenya’s rangelands and deserves more policy-level attention.

Posted on 12 June 2013 in Pastoralism & Gender, Pastoralism, Policy & Power, Pastoralist Livelihoods & Nutrition