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Posted November 1997

Participation in practice / 8
Group promoters

Introduction | People's Participation Programme (PPP)| Project preparation | Forming groups | Group activities | Implementing agencies | Financial component | Group promoters | Participatory training | Monitoring and evaluation | Project sustainability | Costs and benefits | Replicating the PPP approach | Complete Special as a single 121K file

THE GROUP PROMOTER (or GP) is a key agent in any participatory project: his or her task is to facilitate development of the groups' capacity to organize and manage their activities. Whereas extension agents, community development workers and project field staff normally deal with entire rural communities, irrespective of the communities' social and economic divisions, group promoters assist exclusively the poor.

Unlike many extensionists, GPs do not see their "clients" as passive recipients of new technical knowledge: their aim is to work side by side with the poor, building up their confidence in their own abilities and promoting their self-reliance. Since this must be done without creating patron-client dependencies, the GP's task is essentially that of an intermediary, with three basic roles:

In FAO's experience, one group promoter can help to organize an average of 15 groups in three years. Thus, each GP should reach directly over three years some 150 households, or at least 900 people, including direct participants and their dependents. However, a crucial test of a GP's effectiveness is the capacity of the groups to reduce and finally end the need for his or her assistance.

Selecting GPs

Profile of a GP

PPP group promoters come from a variety of backgrounds. In Zambia, where there is a lack of well-qualified personnel willing to work in isolated villages, GPs were recruited from among local women with a secondary education. The were trained in group formation, the role of village headmen, decision making and cost/benefit analysis. In Sri Lanka, group promoters were university graduates (with a BSc or BA in social sciences) employed for three year periods. They receive six months training, most of it on-the-job in the project area. In Zimbabwe and Thailand, GPs were drawn mainly from extension services or similar government agencies, while in Kenya they were recruited from the NGO implementing agency's field staff.
The selection, recruitment, training and guidance of GPs are crucial steps in any participatory project. To be effective, GPs should have experience in working with people and local organizations in rural areas, and familiarity with the problems of the poor. It is essential that candidates have a strong commitment to live with, work with and assist the rural poor for at least two years.

They should be familiar with the language and culture of the project area and willing to leave decision making to the group members, promoting among them attitudes of self-help and self-reliance. Desirable GP qualifications are a rural background, secondary level education, and experience in community or rural development or in such fields as social work, elementary economics or sociology, agriculture and extension.

While GPs may be part of the same ethnic or linguistic group as the project participants, they should not be from the project area: the effectiveness of locally recruited GPs may be limited by kinship obligations and fear of alienating local leaders. In some cases, however, GPs can be recruited from and posted to their own village or zone of origin, the advantage being that their experience and know-how can continue to be utilized after withdrawal of the project.

Government extension agents performed well

The PPP project in Thailand seconded 26 GPs from the government agricultural extension service. The extension agents, who normally used the "Training-and-Visit" method based on individual contacts with farmers, had expressed willingness to try a bottom-up approach. Their enthusiasm and extension experience proved a distinct advantage: they had a sound knowledge of agriculture, had built up good relations with their target rural communities, and needed training only in participatory methods to prepare them for their new role. The GPs performed well and helped promote a participatory approach among their colleagues in the extension service.
Capable group promoters may be recruited from government agencies or local NGOs. In some countries, preference should go to government agencies willing to second their own staff to the project. Several PPP projects found excellent group promoters among government extension staff, who later returned to their agencies to propagate the participatory approach. Thus, the agencies were sensitized and better able to serve the rural poor, while project sustainability increased because recurrent costs were lower. The use of seconded government workers also enhances project expansion and multiplication.

If the project lacks the funding needed to recruit full-time GPs, their task can be performed in part by trained project staff who have other technical duties. However, such staff should preferably be locally recruited, with tasks that bring them into direct contact with the intended project participants.

Posting GPs

GPs are expected to live in, or very close to, the village cluster in which they work. Once clusters have been identified, at least two group promoters should be assigned to each cluster and begin work in a core village (in most cases, male-female teams may be more effective). The GPs should make themselves constantly available to the project participants.

The image of group promoters among the population in their action area is important. They should gradually build up confidential relationships with the local community, being careful to begin with the project participants and only thereafter dealing with better-off social strata. Through daily interaction with the poor, the GPs will gradually come to be regarded as animators and guides, and not as "top-down" government officials or outsiders interfering with the local culture and habits.

Promoting group self-reliance

While group promoters are promoting the self-reliance of their groups, they are also working towards their own redundancy in the action area. GPs promote self-reliance by involving the group members in activities that allow them to develop leadership and recordkeeping skills. He or she should encourage group-to-group exchanges, and ensure the presence of one or more group members whenever he or she deals with supporting institutions such as banks and delivery agencies.

When and how should GPs gradually withdraw from their groups? Experience in the implementation of PPP projects indicates that it takes from three to five years for groups to achieve complete self-reliance. Clearly, the disengagement process is a delicate one and depends on the rate at which each group develops. Once a group is capable of gaining access to government and NGO services and taking other initiatives without GP assistance, the GP can gradually withdraw to concentrate on serving other more needy groups, making only occasional return visits to ensure that progress continues.

Setting up inter-group federations in the third or fourth years of project implementation is important, as these bodies can gradually assume many of the GPs' support responsibilities. Self-reliance may not always mean total disengagement of group promoters: in some cases, GPs could be maintained by federations to perform certain specific functions.

Internal group promoters

Internal group promoters are group members who possess the skills needed to undertake GP tasks within their own communities. Suitable candidates may emerge during the process of identifying project participants or, more commonly, during group development, as organizational and management skills are diffused among members.

A group member becomes an internal GP when others begin to recognize his or her capacity to promote and facilitate group action. Given the dynamic nature of the participatory process, the training of internal GPs cannot be a static once-only activity. It should cover both group dynamics and practical skills needed to improve the rural poor's capacity to implement and manage their own activities.

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