Running the association
Successful SFGAs serve the interests of all their members, not just those of their leaders. How can the members ensure that their leaders keep this always in mind? The best way is by making group representatives and SFGA officers answerable to their own group and to the total grass-roots membership.
As an SFGA matures, a communications gap sometimes develops between leaders and the members. The elected SFGA leaders may start protecting their personal interests, rather than those of the membership that elected them. If this happens, the groups will run the risk of losing control of their SFGA. How can we prevent this from happening?
There are a number of ways to encourage "bottom-up accountability":
"IF YOU CAN'T PROVIDE THE LEADERSHIP WE WANT, WE WILL FIND SOMEONEELSE..."
The best way to make sure leaders do their job properly is to ensure active participation of SFGA members in decision-making, at all levels of the SFGA - within the General Assembly of Members, the SFGA Board and Management Team, and within special committees, if any.
But a number of problems can reduce member participation in inter-group decision-making. An inter-group promoter (IGP) should learn to recognize and address these common problems. That way, he or she can help groups improve their decision-making and become successful, self-reliant bodies.
One of the biggest problems is the length of meetings. When meetings go on for too long, members become frustrated, impatient, and too tired or distracted to think clearly. If meetings always go on for too long, members may begin to show up late or not come at all. Long meetings, therefore, can reduce SFGA productivity by delaying decisions or causing members to make unwise decisions. Long meetings can also make the SFGA less democratic, because the SFGA members with more "staying power" can dominate the members who become tired more quickly.
ONLY PEOPLE WHO TALK TOO MUCH ENJOY LONG MEETINGS...
There are many methods for keeping meetings reasonably short. These include:
Equal participation and commitment by all members is vital if an SFGDU is to survive. Imposing fines on members for failing to pay dues may ensure equal financial contributions. But there is no simple way to encourage all members to put the same energy into all of the SFGA's activities.
When differences in member group involvement become extreme, many things can go wrong. The most active groups may begin to dominate SFGA meetings. The knowledge and energy of the more active members may intimidate other members. The least involved members might begin to resent, envy, or fear a more involved member.
Sometimes unequal member participation is due to the apathy of a few groups. But, in other cases, it is may be caused by one or two members getting too involved in - or trying to dominate - management of the SFGA. The SFGA members should decide on what amount of participation is too little and what amount is too much, and how to promote a proper balance. For instance, less committed members might increase their involvement if they were given clearer and more specific tasks and responsibilities. As for "over-involved" members, it may be necessary to delegate tasks more evenly among the groups, or establish new SFGA rules so that tasks are rotated more frequently.
Each culture has a unique understanding of conflict. Some cultures encourage emotional disputes. Others value strict politeness and frown on open disagreement. In any case, conflicts will always arise. The important thing is to make a distinction between productive and unproductive conflicts.
Productive conflicts are those that help the SFGA face up to difficult problems and choose a solution. Unproductive conflicts are those that cause only confusion, bad decisions, hurt feelings, anger, and possibly violence - they can lead to the breakup of the SFGA.
"HOW CAN WE COME TO AN AGREEMENT THAT SATISFIES YOU AND YOUR SFGA AS WELL?"
The best way to avoid unproductive conflict is to prevent it from happening. To do this, SFGA leaders and members should be encouraged to devote some of their time to building friendships and inter-group cooperation.
If conflicts arise, the way the IGP and the members react may depend on local rules and customs. Openly discussing the conflict may work in some societies. But in other settings, solving conflict may need to take place outside of regular SFGA meetings, either through a formal ceremony or through private discussion.
In most SFGAs, there will be different levels of literacy and communication skills. Some members will be better at reading, speaking in public, persuading others, listening, and thinking during meetings.
When only some of the SFGA members and leaders are literate and have experience with group discussions, they may tend to dominate discussions, withhold important information, or cause other members to leave the group.
The best solution is to help improve the literacy and communication skills levels of the less skilled SFGA members. Some of them may not have the time or willingness to learn full writing and reading skills. But they can become more adept at speaking, listening, and thinking during meetings. Another good idea is to encourage the more skilled SFGA members to set a good example, provide instruction if necessary and, most of all, offer reassurance and encouragement to other members.
When each SFGA member develops his or her skills, the SFGA will make better decisions and hold more efficient meetings. Communication skills can also benefit the SFGA in the village and in the marketplace, where a persuasive speaker can help make sales and obtain bargains. As each SFGA member becomes more skilled at participating in meetings and speaking with people, every member of the SFGA benefits.
Although every SFGA member may belong to the same culture, each may have different ways of communicating. This is especially so when an SFGA has both men and women members. Some people will be polite and shy, while others will interrupt and speak loudly.
When SFGA members have different communication styles, they frequently misunderstand one another. What may seem like a suggestion to one person may appear to someone else like an order. One member may misinterpret another person's silence as agreement, when actually the quiet member is angry and in disagreement.
Different styles can also lead to undemocratic meetings. Members who interrupt, speaking directly or think quickly, will often dominate other members who speak in a more reserved, cautious and reflective style. As a result, the more forceful members may finish up benefiting the most from the SFGA decisions.
The IGP should stress to members the importance of allowing everyone a fair and equal opportunity to speak in meetings. After all, successful SFGA action requires the full commitment of all members - not just the more talkative ones. Therefore, the job of the chairperson of a meeting is like that of a referee in a football game - to ensure that the game is played fairly. If the game is not played fairly, then the base membership should find a better referee!
Sometimes one or two SFGA members have far more power than other members. For example:
WHEN POWER DIFFERENCES ARE EXTREME, IT MAY BE DIFFICULT FOR THE SFGA TO MAKE DEMOCRATIC DECISIONS
An effective SFGA keeps careful and detailed written records in bound books. Records might be written reports on what was said and decided upon at SFGA meetings. They might also be financial records of SFGA transactions, such as member financial contributions, inputs purchased, products marketed, debts-to be paid, money due to the SFGA, or income and expenses. When an SFGA fails to keep records, many problems may arise. It is more difficult for members to recall what ideas they discussed, what they decided, and how they implemented their decisions.
Inter-group memory can be improved by regularly reading and discussing the SFGA's records. Every time the SFGA meets, the secretary should briefly review what happened at the previous meeting. Every two or three months, the SFGA might re-examine its major decisions and reflect upon its past mistakes and successes. The SFGA might draw a symbol on a blackboard or in the record book for each important event in the group's history.