Successful SFGAs grow and as they do, new problems and new opportunities emerge. The continued success of an SFGA will depend on how well it prepares for the future.
If the SFGA is providing services to members that are beneficial and appreciated, demand for those services is likely to grow. With it, the scale and complexity of the SFGA's operations are also likely to grow. How do SFGAs grow?
Our analysis of the development of a number of SFGAs highlights four basic growth stages:
As the number of member services and volume of those services grow, the tasks to be performed by the SFGA leaders will also increase. While some SFGA Board members and elected SFGA officers may be able to handle these various tasks, managing multiple services can become very complicated.
* Of course, not all SFGA go through such crisis stages, but many do. Obviously, the SFGA promoter should make group members aware of this possibility and encourage them to take action to prevent it happening."
TOO MANY ACTIVITIES LEAD TO CONFUSION
As management experience and the resources of the SFGA increase, it is often advisable to establish special service task groups or committees to assist the Management Team in managing each service. Task groups or service committees need not be established for each and every service provided. However, establishing such units for the more difficult services - such as input supply and marketing - can help ease the Team's management burden. Ideally, service committee members should include representatives from all SFGA member groups, to ensure that the service needs of each member group are met.
Sometimes an SFGA finds that it is providing too many services to members and that the losses from some services are beginning to weaken the SFGA's financial position. In this situation, the SFGA may consider closing down that service or "spinning it off" - i.e. selling or transferring the responsibility for the service to an independently-managed unit, separate from the SFGA, such as a cooperative or a private business.
We live in a changing world and one thing is certain: the future will be different from the present. Successful SFGAs know how to prepare for the future and adapt to change. Planning is all about preparing for the future. It has two aspects:
If an SFGA has a good idea of what is going to happen in the future, it can better prepare to defend itself against new threats or to take advantage of new opportunities that arise. That way it is less likely to be caught by surprise and finding itself unprepared to deal with new situations.
Threats and opportunities include: anticipated problems or developments within the SFGA, or expected developments outside the SFGA, such as changes in prices, market developments, new competition and possible changes in government policies.
The Management Team and SFGA Board need to collect information about these future trends and discuss how the SFGA should prepare to respond to these threats and take advantage of possible opportunities.
Having a plan provides a direction and focus to SFGA activities. But it is important that the plan be a realistic one. Since things change constantly, the plan also needs to be constantly revised to respond to these changes.
NOTE FOR THE IGP
Ask SFGA members how they see their SFGA changing in the future. Do they hope to expand or add a new service? Does the SFGA have the capacity to achieve this objective and what problems might it expect to encounter? What about expected changes outside the SFGA: new government policies, programmes, new technology, new competition, prices, and inflation? What problems or opportunities will these developments create for the SFGA? How can the SFGA prepare itself to meet these threats and opportunities? Then ask them to list their answers on a sheet of paper or on a blackboard.
PLAN AHEAD - OR YOU MAY HEAD INTO TROUBLE
Successful SFGAs are "learning opportunities" that help member groups solve their common problems. But since new problems are always arising, successful SFGAs have to constantly update their problem-solving skills.
SFGA leaders and members need to learn how to manage their growing organization, improve the quality and volume of member services and still earn a profit.
But base members also need to learn how to produce more and to improve their incomes, and how to finance, govern and control their SFGA. After all , the SFGA was established to serve all of them, not just their leaders!
There SFGA leaders are more educated than most of the members. This is normal because members tend to elect leaders who are more experienced and educated than they are. Leadership roles are also more frequently given to men than women. However, neither of these situations is a good one. What happens if the leader falls sick? Who will take over their responsibility? Do they have the skills to do so?
One way to prepare for this situation is to provide members with the opportunity to practice and learn leaderships skills. This can be done in training sessions, and also by rotating leadership positions more frequently, limiting the terms-of-office of existing leaders, and establishing assistant leadership positions (Vice Chairperson, Assistant Treasurer, etc).
However, members also need to acquire some basic skills to bridge the education gap. Since most learning requires the ability to read and write, successful SFGAs help improve the skills of members in those areas. To participate fully in their association, members also need to be able to keep track of their own finances - understand how much they have earned, and how much they owe.
Some of this member skill training can be done by the SFGA itself, but it may also need some outside help, e.g. from the local schoolteacher, health worker or extensionist. The SFGA might also have to use some of its funds to finance this effort.
If an SFGA has a member education problem that is limiting its growth and success, it might think about establishing an Education Task Group or Committee to find a solution to the problem. The members of this body should include SFGA leaders and group representatives, but also other base members.
AN EDUCATED MEMBERSHIP CAN GREATLY IMPROVE THE PERFORMANCE OF AN SFGA
To achieve member service goals and become more self-reliant, SFGAs need the cooperation of their members. But they may also need occasional help from outsiders and other SFGAs. These outsiders can help SFGAs in getting access to needed information (e.g. on market prices, new government policies or programmes, and new technologies), entering outside markets, or obtaining other services (e.g. training, extension, credit or marketing assistance).
These cooperation arrangements or "networks" might be temporary, i.e. they aim at achieving a short-term objective, such as marketing this year's crop. Or they might be more permanent, aimed at achieving a longer-term goal, e.g., ensuring improved access to government or NGO extension, health and education services.
What are some of the issues that SFGAs should think about before establishing a cooperation arrangement with an outsider?
The SFGA should have a clear objective in mind and should also have a clear idea of the objectives and capacities of its potential partners.
SFGAs often have to develop temporary or more permanent alliances with local outsiders to get things done. These outsiders could include the village headman, a large landowner, a small trader, a local government body, another self-help group or SFGA, or an NGO.
For example, an SFGA may need the support of the local headman to obtain access to land for a production activity, the backing of the local religious leader to launch a member education programme, or a partnership with a local trader to market a particular product.
Sometimes broader community-wide cooperation - requiring the collaboration of various groups or individuals, including local government - may needed.
Sometimes SFGAs can benefit from cooperating with other SFGAs in the same region to achieve one or more common objectives. The shared objectives can be social, economic or policy-related. Generally, opportunities for cooperation between SFGAs take some time to develop. They usually only occur once SFGAs are well-established and become familiar with the activities, problems and needs of other SFGAs in their area (e.g. in training workshops).
In the early stages, inter-SFGA cooperation may pursue short-term goals, such as assisting the district extensionist in planning his or her field visits, accessing government credit schemes, or obtaining information of mutual interest. But later, SFGAs may see some advantages in establishing a more permanent arrangement, such as a federation of SFGAs.
SFGAs may also see benefits to be gained by developing cooperation agreements at the regional and national level as well - for example, with a district, provincial or central government body, larger enterprises, a national NGO, or a national producers or farmer association. Such linkages can be useful in accessing information, services or funds, or in gaining political support for getting things done locally.
Developing these higher-level networks, however, can be difficult for a single SFGA. It usually requires that the SFGA link up first with other SFGAs or organizations at local or regional level in order to gain political weight and bargaining power.
A key to successful networking is maintaining good and frequent communication with potential or existing partners. That is because each party's views on the objectives and expected benefits from their cooperation are constantly changing.
Frequent meetings and exchanges of information are essential. This implies costs which can sometimes be lowered by using various communication techniques and technologies. These include inter-group exchange visits, meetings, workshops organized by local government or NGOs, newsletters, organizing joint training events and local radio. Nowadays, partners can also keep in touch using mobile telephones, e-mail and the Internet.
MODERN TECHNOLOGIES HELP SFGAS STAY IN TOUCH WITH MARKETS, DEVELOPMENT PARTNERS - AND EACH OTHER