A dynamic framework for strengthening women's social capital: strategies for community development in rural Bangladesh

A dynamic framework for strengthening women's social capital: strategies for community... Abstract There is considerable evidence in the literature that social capital contributes to poverty alleviation, but evidence of how development actors can strengthen the productive social capital for poor people remains scarce. This article describes strategies to strengthen social capital developed by an NGO and poor women as part of a development programme, undertaken in Jessore District, rural Bangladesh, during 2006–2012. The NGO and the women leveraged bonding (familial), bridging (peers), and linking (vertical links to powerholders) social capital to improve the livelihoods of women and their families, simultaneously changing gender relations within households and communities. Against a background of local norms and ethics, the NGO and the women employed strategies that created opportunities for women to meet and exchange, and develop their social skills, know-how, self-worth and capacity to act. Drawing on these strategies, the article presents a dynamic framework for strengthening social capital for community development, providing theoretical insights into the mechanisms for doing so. Introduction Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest countries, ranked 142 of 187 countries in terms of human development (UNDP, 2015). Moreover, women bear a disproportionate burden of poverty, demonstrated by high levels of gender inequality (UNDP, 2015). Women have fewer resources, and little or no access to networks, banks, and other private and public institutions. They are subject to constraints on their mobility and participation in public life because of the social norm of female seclusion, purdah (Mair and Marti, 2009), which limits women's ability to leave their home alone or to work. Against this background, it is very difficult for rural women to escape poverty. Social capital, ‘the aggregate of the actual and potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network’ (Bourdieu, 1986: 248), is recognized as having the capacity to alleviate poverty though development interventions, which include micro-credit, agricultural production and marketing, environmental protection, and knowledge networking (Seferiadis et al., 2015). This paper focuses on strategies to strengthen social capital developed by a development programme in Bangladesh. The role of social capital in poverty was first highlighted by the programme beneficiaries themselves as is demonstrated by the following quote: People who have lots of friends, who communicate freely with others, they progress. But people who are poor, who cannot communicate nicely, their progress is not like that. They don't know other people, they cannot get information. (Nasrin, programme beneficiary) Social capital, community development and poverty alleviation Scholars locate social capital at different levels within societies. Halpern (2005), for example, considers that social capital is located at three levels: the micro, individual level; the meso or community level; and the macro, societal level. Moreover, ties are of different strengths depending on the ‘(probably) linear combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie’ (Granovetter 1973: 1361). Varying uses are associated with these strengths: for example, weak ties can be an asset in seeking employment (Granovetter, 1973). Intra-community ties have been found to be the most useful for poor entrepreneurs at the start-up phase, while extra-community ties become most valuable when enterprises grow (Woolcock and Narayan, 2000). Three functional sub-types of social capital can be differentiated: bonding, bridging, and linking social capital. At the micro level, bonding refers to the familial networks, bridging to the networks with peers and linking to the vertical networks with powerholders (Halpern, 2005). Social capital has been found to play an important role in poverty alleviation, also at the level of communities. Rubio (1997) has identified this as ‘productive social capital’. Four categories of social capital production mechanisms which appear to strengthen social capital for poverty alleviation have been identified (Seferiadis et al., 2015), namely the material level of structural opportunities, a sense of belonging, civic literacy, and the ethos of mutuality. Based on an analysis of wide number of countries and contexts, Seferiadis and colleagues (2015:175) conclude that ‘… higher social capital is associated with lower poverty. At the household and the level of communities, [social capital] contributes to improved welfare, improved income and greater access to resources’. In Bangladesh, for example, social capital has been found to facilitate organization of waste collection by slum residents (Pargal, Gillian, and Huq, 2002), strengthen women's assets in terms of the diffusion of agricultural technologies (Quisulbing and Kumar, 2011), and play a role in improving livelihoods and food security (Ali, 2005). Social capital, has, however, also been associated with negative effects (Portes and Landolt 1996), identified as ‘perverse social capital’ by Rubio (1997), as well as with conceptual confusion (Fine 2008; Harriss and de Renzio, 1997). Social capital can, in particular, make women more vulnerable and expose them to greater gender-based discrimination (Molyneux, 2002; Thieme and Siegman, 2010) and restrict individual freedom in contexts of purdah (Andrist, 2008). Some micro-credit interventions have been shown to make women more vulnerable by building on perverse social capital (Rozario, 2002) while efforts to strengthen women's social capital in the Farmer Field School project in Bangladesh were not sustainable due to lack of male support (Islam et al., 2004). Although social capital is associated with benefits in terms of poverty alleviation, evidence on how social capital can be strengthened by development interventions remains scarce (Grootaert and van Bastelaer, 2002; Seferiadis et al., 2015). Mechanisms of social capital production in development projects have been conceptualized as structural and cognitive phenomena (Uphoff 1999). Structural social capital enables mutually beneficial collective actions through roles and rules, and social relationships; while cognitive social capital consists of norms, values, attitudes, and beliefs which predispose people towards collective action and cooperation (Uphoff, 1999). Cilliers and Wepener (2007), building on Ammerman (1999), identified four mechanisms that strengthen social capital in South Africa, related to church attendance rather than to development interventions. The development programme and its methodology The development programme aimed to reduce rural poverty in Jessore District was implemented by the local NGO, PRIDE, which employed an action research methodology: the Interactive Learning and Action approach (Bunders, 1990). Each year involved one learning cycle: monitoring and evaluation (M&E) resulted in adaptations in the following year. The programme went through a number of phases: reconnaissance, experimentation, implementation, and scaling-up. For further details of the scaling-up phase and social entrepreneurship, see Maas et al. (2014a, 2014b, 2014c). Learning phases The project was established in Jessore District1 in which 48–60 percent of the population lives below poverty line of USD2 per day (Islam and Morgan, 2012). Against this background, project villages were chose with certain characteristics (Table 1). In the reconnaissance phase (2004–2006), the local context was analysed, the research team was established, and perspectives, needs, interests, and knowledge of different stakeholders were analysed and integrated through focus group discussions (FGDs) and visualization techniques in villages. In a context of land scarcity, food was the most pressing need of poor rural households as they were eating only once or twice a day. The cultivation of vegetables and fruits on unused spaces, such as roofs, seemed to offer potential to provide more food. Table 1 Village selection criteria Rudimentary housing Over 50% of houses made of mud, bamboo, straw, tin; less than 30% having access to sanitation facility Poverty of women Less than 5% of women have any form of income, practice of dowry prevalent, cases of women's repression and of child marriages in the village Low access to infrastructure Over 70% of roads are mud road, no connection to main roads/no bus service, less than 20% of the village has access to electricity, no market in the village, no health care Low employment Over 70% of the population living from daily wages; day labour opportunities limited; low day labour wage; less than 20% of population have a government job contract Scarcity of land 8–10% landless people, over 40% of homestead area suitable for vegetable cultivation, but government has land or rich farmer has fallow land available High density Over 650 people/m2 Feasible for the NGO Less than 10 km from branch office, terrorism free Low support: Few/no other NGOs in the village, less than 5% of people have food support from the government, flawed village social justice Education level Less than 25% finished second grade Rudimentary housing Over 50% of houses made of mud, bamboo, straw, tin; less than 30% having access to sanitation facility Poverty of women Less than 5% of women have any form of income, practice of dowry prevalent, cases of women's repression and of child marriages in the village Low access to infrastructure Over 70% of roads are mud road, no connection to main roads/no bus service, less than 20% of the village has access to electricity, no market in the village, no health care Low employment Over 70% of the population living from daily wages; day labour opportunities limited; low day labour wage; less than 20% of population have a government job contract Scarcity of land 8–10% landless people, over 40% of homestead area suitable for vegetable cultivation, but government has land or rich farmer has fallow land available High density Over 650 people/m2 Feasible for the NGO Less than 10 km from branch office, terrorism free Low support: Few/no other NGOs in the village, less than 5% of people have food support from the government, flawed village social justice Education level Less than 25% finished second grade Table 1 Village selection criteria Rudimentary housing Over 50% of houses made of mud, bamboo, straw, tin; less than 30% having access to sanitation facility Poverty of women Less than 5% of women have any form of income, practice of dowry prevalent, cases of women's repression and of child marriages in the village Low access to infrastructure Over 70% of roads are mud road, no connection to main roads/no bus service, less than 20% of the village has access to electricity, no market in the village, no health care Low employment Over 70% of the population living from daily wages; day labour opportunities limited; low day labour wage; less than 20% of population have a government job contract Scarcity of land 8–10% landless people, over 40% of homestead area suitable for vegetable cultivation, but government has land or rich farmer has fallow land available High density Over 650 people/m2 Feasible for the NGO Less than 10 km from branch office, terrorism free Low support: Few/no other NGOs in the village, less than 5% of people have food support from the government, flawed village social justice Education level Less than 25% finished second grade Rudimentary housing Over 50% of houses made of mud, bamboo, straw, tin; less than 30% having access to sanitation facility Poverty of women Less than 5% of women have any form of income, practice of dowry prevalent, cases of women's repression and of child marriages in the village Low access to infrastructure Over 70% of roads are mud road, no connection to main roads/no bus service, less than 20% of the village has access to electricity, no market in the village, no health care Low employment Over 70% of the population living from daily wages; day labour opportunities limited; low day labour wage; less than 20% of population have a government job contract Scarcity of land 8–10% landless people, over 40% of homestead area suitable for vegetable cultivation, but government has land or rich farmer has fallow land available High density Over 650 people/m2 Feasible for the NGO Less than 10 km from branch office, terrorism free Low support: Few/no other NGOs in the village, less than 5% of people have food support from the government, flawed village social justice Education level Less than 25% finished second grade In the experimentation phase (2006–2008), two women were identified in different villages who were relatively successful compared with other people in their village: they were already engaged in some income-generating activities (IGAs), were well-known to others, and had been in contact with other NGOs in the past. These women were invited to experiment with new IGAs, such as home-based gardening and poultry rearing, in order to achieve a higher income for themselves and others in the community. They were paid a small salary for their activities to compensate for the risk they were taking. These women were called intermediaries and the people they involved in their network activities were known as their beneficiaries. In 2007, four additional female intermediaries were included in the programme. Based on the lessons learnt, PRIDE trained these women in the knowledge and skills required to conduct IGAs and to disseminate them to their network of beneficiaries. In 2008, fifteen more women were included in the programme. They experimented with new IGAs, such as handicrafts and sewing. In the course of 2008–2009, all intermediaries were able to generate revenue from their activities: the implementation phase (2008–2009) was launched. In 2009, thirty-two additional women were selected and trained as intermediaries, without being paid. Payment to the original intermediaries from the experimentation phase was also stopped but none of the women dropped out, suggesting that the programme was beneficial to them. Drawing on previous learning cycles, the scaling-up phase was started in 2010. From this phase onwards, the programme explicitly took a social entrepreneurship approach and focused on the role of the intermediaries who had become ‘social entrepreneurs’. Methodology During the annual learning cycles, various M&E tools were used. During the reconnaissance phase, we used in-depth interviews and FGDs to understand obstacles and opportunities for development. During the experimentation phase, PRIDE staff and the intermediaries believed that social capital was an essential resource for development of the poor. In order to investigate the mechanisms underlying the strengthening of social capital during the implementation stage, we adopted the photo-voice methodology (Wang, Burris, and Ping, 1996). Cameras were distributed to intermediaries and beneficiaries, who were asked to portray ‘what has changed in your life since the NGO came to your village?’ Women were then invited to consider the photographs in FGDs. We also carried out in-depth interviews and questionnaire surveys. An evaluation was undertaken during the scaling-up stage. The study also involved observations by the first author of the intermediaries and the beneficiaries, including visits to their garden or participation in handicraft or cooking activities. We also drew on data from the NGO's internal documents and observations of its working practices, including participation in training sessions for intermediaries and in mapping activities. In total, this article draws on 111 in-depth interviews, 30 FGDs, and 98 questionnaires; participants included NGO staff, intermediaries, and their beneficiaries, but also community members (see Table 2). Different researchers were responsible for collecting data in data collection periods. In each phase, intermediaries and beneficiaries who had started at different times were included in the study. Table 2 An overview of data collection during programme phases Respondents PRIDE Intermediaries Beneficiaries Community members Data collection period: Experimentation phase  In-depth interviews 1 1 8 23  FGDs 7 1 1 2 Data collection period: Implementation phase  In-depth interviews 1 11 16 2  Photo-voice FGD 4 4  Photo-voice participants 12 11  Questionnaires 63 8 1  Participatory mapping 5  Training observation 2 2 Data collection period: Scaling-up phase  Questionnaires 26  Monthly reports 24  In-depth interviews 11 20 17  FGDs 4 18 Respondents PRIDE Intermediaries Beneficiaries Community members Data collection period: Experimentation phase  In-depth interviews 1 1 8 23  FGDs 7 1 1 2 Data collection period: Implementation phase  In-depth interviews 1 11 16 2  Photo-voice FGD 4 4  Photo-voice participants 12 11  Questionnaires 63 8 1  Participatory mapping 5  Training observation 2 2 Data collection period: Scaling-up phase  Questionnaires 26  Monthly reports 24  In-depth interviews 11 20 17  FGDs 4 18 Table 2 An overview of data collection during programme phases Respondents PRIDE Intermediaries Beneficiaries Community members Data collection period: Experimentation phase  In-depth interviews 1 1 8 23  FGDs 7 1 1 2 Data collection period: Implementation phase  In-depth interviews 1 11 16 2  Photo-voice FGD 4 4  Photo-voice participants 12 11  Questionnaires 63 8 1  Participatory mapping 5  Training observation 2 2 Data collection period: Scaling-up phase  Questionnaires 26  Monthly reports 24  In-depth interviews 11 20 17  FGDs 4 18 Respondents PRIDE Intermediaries Beneficiaries Community members Data collection period: Experimentation phase  In-depth interviews 1 1 8 23  FGDs 7 1 1 2 Data collection period: Implementation phase  In-depth interviews 1 11 16 2  Photo-voice FGD 4 4  Photo-voice participants 12 11  Questionnaires 63 8 1  Participatory mapping 5  Training observation 2 2 Data collection period: Scaling-up phase  Questionnaires 26  Monthly reports 24  In-depth interviews 11 20 17  FGDs 4 18 Strengthening different types of social capital The programme strengthened participants’ social capital at the level of the functional sub-types identified earlier, namely bonding, bridging, and linking capital, at different stages of the programme. Bonding social capital Family bonds appeared to be essential during the experimentation stage: women needed permission to work from their husband and in-laws, while women who were successful in engaging in IGAs reported that this required the support of their family. Different strategies to encourage support from families were experimented with. The most successful was respecting norms of purdah: only intermediaries needed to leave their home to take part and all IGAs were home-based. During the implementation stage, both intermediaries and beneficiaries reported that their husband and in-laws had started to have ‘faith’ in them. Some also described a change in their domestic bargaining power. This is of considerable significance in a context where strong power imbalances are common within the household, as can be seen from this beneficiary's story from the photo-voice methodology: In this photograph, you can see me, my husband and my daughter (…) We are together taking the decision about sending our daughter to school to class six and on how we are going to pay for this. Before I was dependent on my husband, and now he takes suggestions from me. As I am a beneficiary [of the programme] and earning money, we now take decisions together. Hence, strategies to strengthen bonding social capital appeared to be successful and were applied in the next phase. In this scaling-up phase, intermediaries reported that their families were initially strongly discouraging but, with the intermediaries’ success, including their capacity to earn money, families became more favourably disposed, with some husbands even helping women in their activities. Bridging social capital From observations during the experimentation stage, PRIDE considered that bridging social capital is valuable to poor people because it gives them ‘power as group’: women help each other to strengthen their capacities but also mediate access to resources. Hence, different strategies were tried out. The importance of strengthening the participants’ bridging capital was evident in the photographs taken during a photo-voice activity carried out during the implementation stage in 2010. Nearly half of the 346 photographs taken by intermediaries and beneficiaries display other people (for example, other women or family members), while more than 20 percent show the participant with another person, often someone she is helping. In the discussions following the photo-voice activities, all intermediaries reported having interacted with beneficiaries they did not know before. Half of the beneficiaries of the first two phases also reported such changes in the extent of their networks. Social exchanges increased during the programme: women helping each other and also exchanging materials, giving seeds or vegetables to each other, and earning gradually through these exchanges. Both intermediaries and their beneficiaries not only indicated that they have extended their bridging social capital by knowing other women but also explained that their relationships with other women were ‘better’ and more ‘intimate/close’. Linking social capital During the experimental stage, it became evident that women needed to develop links with local powerholders who could, on the one hand, impede women's development and, on the other, provide access to resources. Religious leaders can forbid women to work outside the home; rich men can provide access to land; and NGOs can provide access to knowledge; while elected officials of the village council (Shalish) can mediate with other actors. During the learning cycles, different strategies to strengthen linking social capital were piloted. With the assistance of PRIDE, intermediaries were able to use linking social capital with powerholders to mediate access to resources for their beneficiaries, such as land or access to health care. The intermediaries also negotiated with teachers and elected local government officials to help their beneficiaries. During the scaling-up phase, it became clear that linking social capital was the most difficult to accumulate. Strategies to strengthen social capital During the programme, a number of strategies have been identified through which PRIDE and the women themselves strengthened social capital. These are considered below in terms of strategies consistent with norms and ethics, strategies that create opportunities, strategies that develop women's social skills and know-how, and strategies that develop women's self-worth and capacity to act. Strategies consistent with norms and ethics Working in harmony with norms and customs PRIDE staff were aware of local customs, such as purdah, which prevent women from going outside the home. In recognition of this, from the start of the experimentation stage, the IGAs could be undertaken at home. In the implementation stage, an intermediary explained during an FGD how she organized her activities with her beneficiaries in order to comply with local norms: We plan meetings at times when it doesn't get in our husband's way. As this quote shows, women sought to avoid conflict with local norms. Rather than confronting dominant norms and customs, in particular purdah, PRIDE encouraged women to engage in home-based IGAs that were acceptable to their family and local powerholders, representing bonding and linking social capital, respectively. In this way, the programme strengthened shared norms and hence avoided severing women from their social capital. From the implementation stage onwards, however, some degree of empowerment was observed. In the scaling-up stage, it had become more socially acceptable for women to seek change. Selecting change agents with more freedom of movement During the implementation stage, PRIDE observed that husbands and in-laws could forbid women from leaving the house and taking part in the programme, and that these restrictions were more likely to apply to young or recently married women. PRIDE gradually learned that women over twenty-five years of age and widows had more freedom of movement than younger women who might be hassled by men if they moved around the village or had young children. In response, PRIDE developed criteria for selecting intermediaries, namely change agents needed to be able to leave their home. Developing trust PRIDE established relationships of trust with powerholders and developed its capacity to transfer its acquired linking social capital to intermediaries. PRIDE facilitated intermediaries’ contacts in their respective villages with elected local government officials, teachers, but also with entrepreneurs and other NGOs. PRIDE leveraged its village-level social capital, making it accessible to the intermediaries. For example, PRIDE invited powerholders to come to training sessions and also initially accompanied the intermediaries to talk to them. In interviews during the scaling-up phase, powerholders said that they started to trust PRIDE because of regular staff visits and because of the way in which they were directly involved. Engaging with resistance Although working in harmony with norms and customs, it was also necessary for the NGO to deal with resistance or potential opposition. From the start, PRIDE learnt to involve women's families: they contacted the families of proposed intermediaries to secure their support, and also negotiated with husbands and in-laws to gain their cooperation before asking women whether they wanted to participate. For the beneficiaries, intermediaries tried to mediate the families’ cooperation, and some even mediated within the private sphere of domestic problems. PRIDE also developed strategies to establish connections with the powerholders. The staff engaged with the local elite before starting a village programme, explaining it, and preventing elite capture of resources. They invested time in regular visits and also actively involved them, for example in participatory mappings. Ethos of mutuality At start, intermediaries received a small allowance so they could help their respective beneficiaries. From the implementation phase onwards, intermediaries were no longer paid because the IGAs had become profitable but they continued to ‘help’ and ‘share’ with other women. When the women described their social exchanges, they explained them as being based on altruism. Hence, not only do intermediaries help and share with their beneficiaries, but beneficiaries also help and share with others, saying that they value providing good advice to others: ‘I feel happy that I am giving suggestions’ and ‘I do this for their improvement, and they have reported to me that they have improved’. As ‘everyone is happy to help’ and making gifts explained as part of the culture, this norm of altruism or mutuality was not created by the programme but was already present and drawn upon during the learning cycles, as the programme provided the opportunity for the exchange of gifts and gradually developed into an approach that stimulated social entrepreneurship. This mechanism was previously identified by Cilliers and Wepener (2007) as the ethos of mutuality. Strategies that create opportunities Opportunities to meet other women PRIDE brought intermediaries and beneficiaries together to receive training in IGAs. For the first time, this gave women opportunities to meet other women. This served a triple purpose: women could learn about IGAs, exchange knowledge about their challenges and possible solutions, and extend their social networks among their peers. In particular, this gave women the opportunity to accumulate bridging social capital. Cilliers and Wepener (2007) also identified this as the material level of structural opportunity to meet. Opportunities to make social exchanges At the start of the experimentation phase, the intermediaries received seeds from PRIDE to start vegetable and seed production. They distributed seeds to their beneficiaries and, after the harvest, returned seeds to PRIDE. All intermediaries were involved in these exchanges and even beneficiaries started distributing seeds. These exchanges occurred along different reciprocity patterns. A primary type of exchange represented classical market exchange and/or barter between the beneficiaries and the intermediaries. Gradually, however, intermediaries, beneficiaries, and neighbours started exchanging seeds and vegetables, calling them ‘gifts’, saying explicitly that these are ‘different from a ‘contract’ as they are from the heart’. As one beneficiary put it: ‘giving gifts increases the relations between neighbours’. Gifts initiate relationships, leading to further dissemination of skills and goods, such as the inaugural gift of seeds from intermediaries to beneficiaries. The programme created structural opportunities to exchange gifts, and thus stimulated bridging social capital. A second pattern of exchanges encompassed an expectation of return (women say there is ‘duty’ and a ‘responsibility’ to make gifts or help others) while there was a denial that this expectation existed. This corresponds to Bourdieu's (1986) description of exchanges that build social capital. This pattern was prevalent between the beneficiaries and intermediaries but also between the neighbours and beneficiaries. Exchanges with flexibility on the timeframe of exchange and with whom reciprocity is enacted take place in balanced reciprocity.2 In the scaling-up stage, the approach became explicitly a social entrepreneurship approach, strengthening patterns of exchanges that included gifts and barter but also financial exchanges. Developing social skills and know-how Pre-existing social and networking skills During the implementation phase, PRIDE developed a set of criteria to identify women who could become successful intermediaries. The criteria evolved to include ‘having the ability to make friends’ and ‘good networking skills’, both capacities that would facilitate the development of social capital, and ‘without communalism’ so as not to foster closed religion-based networks. Based on these criteria, PRIDE started searching for women with the capacity to develop a social network, even if they did not yet have one. In this way, PRIDE developed criteria to identify women with capacities to build fruitful social capital, based on pre-existing social and networking skills. Know-how of social interaction During the implementation phase, PRIDE trained intermediaries in how to invite people, form groups and hold group meetings. In addition, PRIDE facilitated the first group meetings and initially accompanied the intermediaries during their daily activities: meeting their beneficiaries and conducting the IGAs. PRIDE then gradually reduced its direct involvement and helped the intermediaries to become independent, supporting them until they had the skills and the social capital necessary for their activities. Cilliers and Wepener (2007) identified this process as civic literacy. Know-who of social interaction In addition to developing know-how on how to facilitate social interaction, participants also learned with whom to engage, for example with rich men in order to hire land. In many cases, beneficiaries would seek the intervention of the intermediary, while in turn PRIDE supported intermediaries. This is a particularly important mechanism for strengthening linking capital. Know-who also played an important role in engaging with resistance, although this specific strategy relates more to the participants’ knowledge than to PRIDE's strategy. Know-how of motivational leadership PRIDE also supported intermediaries in developing motivational leadership skills in which they would enable other women to become change agents. This is strongly linked to the next category of self-worth and capacity to act. Developing women's self-worth and capacity to act Capital of recognition In the experimentation phase, different strategies were experimented with. During the implementation phase, intermediaries said that they appreciated being ‘known to many’, ‘valued’ and ‘loved’, and having ‘more strength’. As one beneficiary noted, ‘I am more valued because what I say is right’. Such recognition was not limited to other women of similar socio-economic status but also to the village powerholders. Women's social status was enhanced by the recognition of their contribution to the community. This higher social status facilitated further impact as this quote from an intermediary shows: We are more known so people give importance to what we are saying so other women are also able to develop themselves. As a result of their enhanced status, the women were able to participate more effectively in the improvement of others because there is a demand for their knowledge: ‘women come and ask’ and people ‘listen’ to their advice. Hence the programme strengthened women's place within the community. During the scaling-up phase, this symbolic capital was strengthened and it also, in turn, strengthened entrepreneurs’ social capital. Becoming a change agent From the first learning cycle, intermediaries were stimulated to lead change in their village. As intermediaries reported, they started helping and sharing only after they had gained the confidence to do so. From 2008, this confidence was developed during training sessions with other intermediaries. The intermediaries also had to acquire the capacity to motivate other women. Beneficiaries report that before the programme, women were ‘not so interested’ or ‘not so curious’ about profit but that their attitudes had now changed. The intermediaries and beneficiaries often used the word ‘inspire’ to describe this first step of dissemination. There was a transformation in women's attitudes: more positive, with more strength and more energy, they work more. Women claimed that what occurs is a shift from ‘having the will’ to ‘knowing the way’, as exemplified by this beneficiary's account: I had the will in my mind before but I didn't know the way. Now I have many ways. During the implementation stage, women explained that the inaugural gift of seeds is necessary for starting, for inspiring them both for its material and for its symbolic value in stimulating women to engage on a path of development. In conclusion, we have identified strategies that PRIDE and women employed to strengthen social capital. In the Discussion, we use these strategies to develop a dynamic framework for strengthening women's social capital within communities with the social norm of purdah. Discussion The dynamic framework In Figure 1, we illustrate how the programme developed strategies to strengthen women's social capital. Some of these strategies were developed by PRIDE, others were developed by the women themselves, such as working in harmony with norms and customs and becoming a change agent. The four categories in which strategies can be divided are closely related to mechanisms of social capital production previously identified by Cilliers and Wepener (2007) and by Seferiadis et al. (2015), but we have also identified a number of new strategies. First, PRIDE leveraged norms and ethics, working within current norms, selecting women who already had more freedom of movement because of age and lack of family relationships through widowhood, navigating resistance to change, and reinforcing the value of altruism, already valued in local society. As shown in a knowledge network in India (Gupta et al. 2003), it fostered an ‘ethical capital’. Second, corresponding to Seferiadis et al.’s (2015) material level of structural opportunities, our study shows how PRIDE provided opportunities for women to meet other women, although in Jessore District this did not require a building but rather opportunities to gather outdoors, reminiscent of other studies of poverty (for example, Larance 1998; Elder, Zerriffi and Le Billon, 2012). The programme gave women the opportunity to make ‘social exchanges’ (Wels, 2000), including gift exchanges, barter, and financial exchanges. In our opinion, creating opportunities for women to meet and exchange is a pre-condition for strengthening social capital and improved livelihoods for women living in purdah. Third, we have demonstrated that developing know-how but also know-who of social interaction are important mechanisms for strengthening social capital, building on the identification of pre-existing social and networking skills. This is consistent with a Ugandan study in which benefits of membership of village savings and loan associations are mediated through networks of friendships and other social relations that predate the development project (Musinguzi 2016). Fourth, improved self-worth and increasing the capital of recognition led to a situation in which women themselves became change agents. This then becomes a virtuous cycle in which these new capacities are increasingly valued from the norm of altruism, taking us back to the first category in the framework. These strategies leveraged cognitive and structural social capital as things that can be invested in following Uphoff's (1999) conceptualization. They started with social capital at the bonding level, then at its bridging level and then at its linking level with these categories then able to strengthen each other. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Strategies for strengthening social capital in community development. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Strategies for strengthening social capital in community development. Reflections on types of social capital In the literature, there is evidence that bonding (familial), bridging (peers), and linking (vertical links to powerholders) social capital are of different utility along development paths from the perspective of social entrepreneurship because bridging capital becomes redundant with success and may be discarded in favour of more profitable linking capital (Woolcock and Narayan, 2000). In our study, we found that women first had to strengthen their bonding capital – because they needed their family's permission to leave the home and engage in IGAs – before they were able to develop their bridging capital with women peers. This bridging capital was the main powerhouse of the programme, based on women helping and sharing with each other. Linking capital was frequently more problematic: intermediaries often needed help in their negotiations with the village powerholders, part of PRIDE's strategy in engaging with resistance. There is evidence, however, that as women gradually became change agents, they also began to receive more recognition and respect from powerholders. This indicates, as can be seen in Figure 1, that bonding capital first needs to be developed, then bridging capital and that the latter then has spill-over effects on linking capital, and that all three types need external intervention in situations of purdah. Linking capital, however, may require continuing interventions, even when the establishment of strengthened social capital in bonding and bridging domains has been achieved, raising questions about the intervention's sustainability. If women are to be sustainably empowered, their capacities to establish ties with powerholders needs to be also sustainable. The differences in utilization but also of construction and maintenance between bonding, bridging, and linking social capital calls for using such detailed categories. Empowerment of women As this paper has emphasized, PRIDE worked within local norms in its efforts to improve the livelihoods and capacities of poor women. The programme was not designed to empower women but rather to improve their livelihoods. To improve women's livelihoods and capacities, PRIDE and the women themselves needed to bring about changes in gender relations within their families and communities, simultaneously building women's feelings of self-worth and their capacities to act. While some studies of social capital in Bangladesh have shown that strengthened social ties are not always associated with benefits (for example, Islam and Morgan, 2012), our study shows that, in some circumstances, Bangladeshi poor women value the strengthening of their social capital. A study of another Bangladeshi NGO, Saptagram, similarly showed that participants valued the organization because it enhanced their relationships (Kabeer and Hug, 2010). The women in our study give clear motives for sharing gifts and development: producing social capital is a rational strategy, as conceptualized by Granovetter (1985), and social networks are constructed through strategies because they generate benefits, as conceptualized by Bourdieu (1986). In this study, social capital provides women with access to other forms of capital: strengthened human capital through access to knowledge and improved skills; material capital through resources, such as seeds; and symbolic capital through enhanced status. The women particularly emphasize the latter: they not only gain satisfaction from participating in the effective improvement of others, they also gain recognition. This is consistent with Bourdieu (1986), who emphasizes the conversion of social capital into symbolic capital, namely the capital of recognition. Enhancing responsibility to help could be detrimental for women, reflecting an internalization of their subordinate status (Kabeer, 1999). Indeed, social capital can reinforce gender subordination as we noted in the introduction. PRIDE did not confront dominant norms and sought involvement from husbands, in-laws, and powerholders. As social capital is, in part, built on shared norms, working in harmony with dominant customs ensured that women did not lose social capital. In addition, this strategy enabled PRIDE to secure allies for its programme while negotiating with actors who could restrict women's ability to participate and gain access to resources. This approach was coupled with an awareness of needing to mitigate potential downsides: PRIDE was concerned to pre-empt the elite capture of resources and to avoid reinforcing powers and norms deleterious to women. PRIDE worked towards enabling women to navigate resistance and to engage in IGAs, thereby contributing to a gradual changing of norms. Enhancing women's development and their bargaining power, the programme to some extent ‘empowers’ women. For example, some women reported being less dependent on their husband or enhanced decision-making within their household. As Fine (2001) pointed out, social capital cannot be analysed separately from issues of power. Our study shows how one NGO developed a deliberate strategy of addressing the issues of power in order to facilitate women's development. Policy implications We emphasize that the strength of the approach we followed here is the way in which the interventions were tailor-made by the NGO to the context and the livelihood wishes of the participants. Thus, as is the case with much action research, identifying implications can seem antagonistic to values promoted by the methodology. However, we envision that our findings carry broader implications outside their initial context in particular for women's empowerment. If some strategies could be replicated, the first part would be requiring an identification of prevalent norms and ethics which would be different in settings where purdah is not prevalent, for example. However, some strategies could be reproduced: for example, providing opportunities to meet and exchange, strengthening social skills and knowledge, and also leading to women's enhanced self-worth and capacity to act. Some strategies could also be modified, not necessarily to adapt to novel contexts, but also to allow scaling-up. The strategies used to strengthen social capital include selecting local intermediaries to promote social capital strengthening and development of the community. This identification of local women in villages to promote development of their communities with the social entrepreneurship model could be carried via other actors who work in communities such as agricultural extension officers. It is important to indicate that some strengths of the participatory model might be necessary to reproduce, not only to identify needs and priorities, or norms, but also as to provide a space to promote empowerment. Indeed, it can be suggested that learning spaces where women could together reflect on their problems and different solutions did consist also in space where conscientization occurred, probably essential for enabling women to engage in paths towards their empowerment. Conclusions The study highlights how NGOs can develop strategies to improve women's status within their communities, while stimulating know-how of social interaction and the know-how of development agency and social entrepreneurship. At the same time, it has provided new theoretical insights into the nature of social capital and how it relates to women's empowerment. These practical and theoretical insights may be particularly relevant to communities where women are subject to purdah. Further research is needed to see if this framework can be used to leverage social capital in other communities that are characterized by unequal gender relations but not necessarily by purdah. The study proposes a model of poverty alleviation through value creation, enhancing the mutuality of development. This represents a potential model of sustainable, endogenous development, built on women's increasing understanding of how they can become change agents. 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A dynamic framework for strengthening women's social capital: strategies for community development in rural Bangladesh

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Abstract

Abstract There is considerable evidence in the literature that social capital contributes to poverty alleviation, but evidence of how development actors can strengthen the productive social capital for poor people remains scarce. This article describes strategies to strengthen social capital developed by an NGO and poor women as part of a development programme, undertaken in Jessore District, rural Bangladesh, during 2006–2012. The NGO and the women leveraged bonding (familial), bridging (peers), and linking (vertical links to powerholders) social capital to improve the livelihoods of women and their families, simultaneously changing gender relations within households and communities. Against a background of local norms and ethics, the NGO and the women employed strategies that created opportunities for women to meet and exchange, and develop their social skills, know-how, self-worth and capacity to act. Drawing on these strategies, the article presents a dynamic framework for strengthening social capital for community development, providing theoretical insights into the mechanisms for doing so. Introduction Bangladesh is one of the world's poorest countries, ranked 142 of 187 countries in terms of human development (UNDP, 2015). Moreover, women bear a disproportionate burden of poverty, demonstrated by high levels of gender inequality (UNDP, 2015). Women have fewer resources, and little or no access to networks, banks, and other private and public institutions. They are subject to constraints on their mobility and participation in public life because of the social norm of female seclusion, purdah (Mair and Marti, 2009), which limits women's ability to leave their home alone or to work. Against this background, it is very difficult for rural women to escape poverty. Social capital, ‘the aggregate of the actual and potential resources which are linked to possession of a durable network’ (Bourdieu, 1986: 248), is recognized as having the capacity to alleviate poverty though development interventions, which include micro-credit, agricultural production and marketing, environmental protection, and knowledge networking (Seferiadis et al., 2015). This paper focuses on strategies to strengthen social capital developed by a development programme in Bangladesh. The role of social capital in poverty was first highlighted by the programme beneficiaries themselves as is demonstrated by the following quote: People who have lots of friends, who communicate freely with others, they progress. But people who are poor, who cannot communicate nicely, their progress is not like that. They don't know other people, they cannot get information. (Nasrin, programme beneficiary) Social capital, community development and poverty alleviation Scholars locate social capital at different levels within societies. Halpern (2005), for example, considers that social capital is located at three levels: the micro, individual level; the meso or community level; and the macro, societal level. Moreover, ties are of different strengths depending on the ‘(probably) linear combination of the amount of time, the emotional intensity, the intimacy (mutual confiding), and the reciprocal services which characterize the tie’ (Granovetter 1973: 1361). Varying uses are associated with these strengths: for example, weak ties can be an asset in seeking employment (Granovetter, 1973). Intra-community ties have been found to be the most useful for poor entrepreneurs at the start-up phase, while extra-community ties become most valuable when enterprises grow (Woolcock and Narayan, 2000). Three functional sub-types of social capital can be differentiated: bonding, bridging, and linking social capital. At the micro level, bonding refers to the familial networks, bridging to the networks with peers and linking to the vertical networks with powerholders (Halpern, 2005). Social capital has been found to play an important role in poverty alleviation, also at the level of communities. Rubio (1997) has identified this as ‘productive social capital’. Four categories of social capital production mechanisms which appear to strengthen social capital for poverty alleviation have been identified (Seferiadis et al., 2015), namely the material level of structural opportunities, a sense of belonging, civic literacy, and the ethos of mutuality. Based on an analysis of wide number of countries and contexts, Seferiadis and colleagues (2015:175) conclude that ‘… higher social capital is associated with lower poverty. At the household and the level of communities, [social capital] contributes to improved welfare, improved income and greater access to resources’. In Bangladesh, for example, social capital has been found to facilitate organization of waste collection by slum residents (Pargal, Gillian, and Huq, 2002), strengthen women's assets in terms of the diffusion of agricultural technologies (Quisulbing and Kumar, 2011), and play a role in improving livelihoods and food security (Ali, 2005). Social capital, has, however, also been associated with negative effects (Portes and Landolt 1996), identified as ‘perverse social capital’ by Rubio (1997), as well as with conceptual confusion (Fine 2008; Harriss and de Renzio, 1997). Social capital can, in particular, make women more vulnerable and expose them to greater gender-based discrimination (Molyneux, 2002; Thieme and Siegman, 2010) and restrict individual freedom in contexts of purdah (Andrist, 2008). Some micro-credit interventions have been shown to make women more vulnerable by building on perverse social capital (Rozario, 2002) while efforts to strengthen women's social capital in the Farmer Field School project in Bangladesh were not sustainable due to lack of male support (Islam et al., 2004). Although social capital is associated with benefits in terms of poverty alleviation, evidence on how social capital can be strengthened by development interventions remains scarce (Grootaert and van Bastelaer, 2002; Seferiadis et al., 2015). Mechanisms of social capital production in development projects have been conceptualized as structural and cognitive phenomena (Uphoff 1999). Structural social capital enables mutually beneficial collective actions through roles and rules, and social relationships; while cognitive social capital consists of norms, values, attitudes, and beliefs which predispose people towards collective action and cooperation (Uphoff, 1999). Cilliers and Wepener (2007), building on Ammerman (1999), identified four mechanisms that strengthen social capital in South Africa, related to church attendance rather than to development interventions. The development programme and its methodology The development programme aimed to reduce rural poverty in Jessore District was implemented by the local NGO, PRIDE, which employed an action research methodology: the Interactive Learning and Action approach (Bunders, 1990). Each year involved one learning cycle: monitoring and evaluation (M&E) resulted in adaptations in the following year. The programme went through a number of phases: reconnaissance, experimentation, implementation, and scaling-up. For further details of the scaling-up phase and social entrepreneurship, see Maas et al. (2014a, 2014b, 2014c). Learning phases The project was established in Jessore District1 in which 48–60 percent of the population lives below poverty line of USD2 per day (Islam and Morgan, 2012). Against this background, project villages were chose with certain characteristics (Table 1). In the reconnaissance phase (2004–2006), the local context was analysed, the research team was established, and perspectives, needs, interests, and knowledge of different stakeholders were analysed and integrated through focus group discussions (FGDs) and visualization techniques in villages. In a context of land scarcity, food was the most pressing need of poor rural households as they were eating only once or twice a day. The cultivation of vegetables and fruits on unused spaces, such as roofs, seemed to offer potential to provide more food. Table 1 Village selection criteria Rudimentary housing Over 50% of houses made of mud, bamboo, straw, tin; less than 30% having access to sanitation facility Poverty of women Less than 5% of women have any form of income, practice of dowry prevalent, cases of women's repression and of child marriages in the village Low access to infrastructure Over 70% of roads are mud road, no connection to main roads/no bus service, less than 20% of the village has access to electricity, no market in the village, no health care Low employment Over 70% of the population living from daily wages; day labour opportunities limited; low day labour wage; less than 20% of population have a government job contract Scarcity of land 8–10% landless people, over 40% of homestead area suitable for vegetable cultivation, but government has land or rich farmer has fallow land available High density Over 650 people/m2 Feasible for the NGO Less than 10 km from branch office, terrorism free Low support: Few/no other NGOs in the village, less than 5% of people have food support from the government, flawed village social justice Education level Less than 25% finished second grade Rudimentary housing Over 50% of houses made of mud, bamboo, straw, tin; less than 30% having access to sanitation facility Poverty of women Less than 5% of women have any form of income, practice of dowry prevalent, cases of women's repression and of child marriages in the village Low access to infrastructure Over 70% of roads are mud road, no connection to main roads/no bus service, less than 20% of the village has access to electricity, no market in the village, no health care Low employment Over 70% of the population living from daily wages; day labour opportunities limited; low day labour wage; less than 20% of population have a government job contract Scarcity of land 8–10% landless people, over 40% of homestead area suitable for vegetable cultivation, but government has land or rich farmer has fallow land available High density Over 650 people/m2 Feasible for the NGO Less than 10 km from branch office, terrorism free Low support: Few/no other NGOs in the village, less than 5% of people have food support from the government, flawed village social justice Education level Less than 25% finished second grade Table 1 Village selection criteria Rudimentary housing Over 50% of houses made of mud, bamboo, straw, tin; less than 30% having access to sanitation facility Poverty of women Less than 5% of women have any form of income, practice of dowry prevalent, cases of women's repression and of child marriages in the village Low access to infrastructure Over 70% of roads are mud road, no connection to main roads/no bus service, less than 20% of the village has access to electricity, no market in the village, no health care Low employment Over 70% of the population living from daily wages; day labour opportunities limited; low day labour wage; less than 20% of population have a government job contract Scarcity of land 8–10% landless people, over 40% of homestead area suitable for vegetable cultivation, but government has land or rich farmer has fallow land available High density Over 650 people/m2 Feasible for the NGO Less than 10 km from branch office, terrorism free Low support: Few/no other NGOs in the village, less than 5% of people have food support from the government, flawed village social justice Education level Less than 25% finished second grade Rudimentary housing Over 50% of houses made of mud, bamboo, straw, tin; less than 30% having access to sanitation facility Poverty of women Less than 5% of women have any form of income, practice of dowry prevalent, cases of women's repression and of child marriages in the village Low access to infrastructure Over 70% of roads are mud road, no connection to main roads/no bus service, less than 20% of the village has access to electricity, no market in the village, no health care Low employment Over 70% of the population living from daily wages; day labour opportunities limited; low day labour wage; less than 20% of population have a government job contract Scarcity of land 8–10% landless people, over 40% of homestead area suitable for vegetable cultivation, but government has land or rich farmer has fallow land available High density Over 650 people/m2 Feasible for the NGO Less than 10 km from branch office, terrorism free Low support: Few/no other NGOs in the village, less than 5% of people have food support from the government, flawed village social justice Education level Less than 25% finished second grade In the experimentation phase (2006–2008), two women were identified in different villages who were relatively successful compared with other people in their village: they were already engaged in some income-generating activities (IGAs), were well-known to others, and had been in contact with other NGOs in the past. These women were invited to experiment with new IGAs, such as home-based gardening and poultry rearing, in order to achieve a higher income for themselves and others in the community. They were paid a small salary for their activities to compensate for the risk they were taking. These women were called intermediaries and the people they involved in their network activities were known as their beneficiaries. In 2007, four additional female intermediaries were included in the programme. Based on the lessons learnt, PRIDE trained these women in the knowledge and skills required to conduct IGAs and to disseminate them to their network of beneficiaries. In 2008, fifteen more women were included in the programme. They experimented with new IGAs, such as handicrafts and sewing. In the course of 2008–2009, all intermediaries were able to generate revenue from their activities: the implementation phase (2008–2009) was launched. In 2009, thirty-two additional women were selected and trained as intermediaries, without being paid. Payment to the original intermediaries from the experimentation phase was also stopped but none of the women dropped out, suggesting that the programme was beneficial to them. Drawing on previous learning cycles, the scaling-up phase was started in 2010. From this phase onwards, the programme explicitly took a social entrepreneurship approach and focused on the role of the intermediaries who had become ‘social entrepreneurs’. Methodology During the annual learning cycles, various M&E tools were used. During the reconnaissance phase, we used in-depth interviews and FGDs to understand obstacles and opportunities for development. During the experimentation phase, PRIDE staff and the intermediaries believed that social capital was an essential resource for development of the poor. In order to investigate the mechanisms underlying the strengthening of social capital during the implementation stage, we adopted the photo-voice methodology (Wang, Burris, and Ping, 1996). Cameras were distributed to intermediaries and beneficiaries, who were asked to portray ‘what has changed in your life since the NGO came to your village?’ Women were then invited to consider the photographs in FGDs. We also carried out in-depth interviews and questionnaire surveys. An evaluation was undertaken during the scaling-up stage. The study also involved observations by the first author of the intermediaries and the beneficiaries, including visits to their garden or participation in handicraft or cooking activities. We also drew on data from the NGO's internal documents and observations of its working practices, including participation in training sessions for intermediaries and in mapping activities. In total, this article draws on 111 in-depth interviews, 30 FGDs, and 98 questionnaires; participants included NGO staff, intermediaries, and their beneficiaries, but also community members (see Table 2). Different researchers were responsible for collecting data in data collection periods. In each phase, intermediaries and beneficiaries who had started at different times were included in the study. Table 2 An overview of data collection during programme phases Respondents PRIDE Intermediaries Beneficiaries Community members Data collection period: Experimentation phase  In-depth interviews 1 1 8 23  FGDs 7 1 1 2 Data collection period: Implementation phase  In-depth interviews 1 11 16 2  Photo-voice FGD 4 4  Photo-voice participants 12 11  Questionnaires 63 8 1  Participatory mapping 5  Training observation 2 2 Data collection period: Scaling-up phase  Questionnaires 26  Monthly reports 24  In-depth interviews 11 20 17  FGDs 4 18 Respondents PRIDE Intermediaries Beneficiaries Community members Data collection period: Experimentation phase  In-depth interviews 1 1 8 23  FGDs 7 1 1 2 Data collection period: Implementation phase  In-depth interviews 1 11 16 2  Photo-voice FGD 4 4  Photo-voice participants 12 11  Questionnaires 63 8 1  Participatory mapping 5  Training observation 2 2 Data collection period: Scaling-up phase  Questionnaires 26  Monthly reports 24  In-depth interviews 11 20 17  FGDs 4 18 Table 2 An overview of data collection during programme phases Respondents PRIDE Intermediaries Beneficiaries Community members Data collection period: Experimentation phase  In-depth interviews 1 1 8 23  FGDs 7 1 1 2 Data collection period: Implementation phase  In-depth interviews 1 11 16 2  Photo-voice FGD 4 4  Photo-voice participants 12 11  Questionnaires 63 8 1  Participatory mapping 5  Training observation 2 2 Data collection period: Scaling-up phase  Questionnaires 26  Monthly reports 24  In-depth interviews 11 20 17  FGDs 4 18 Respondents PRIDE Intermediaries Beneficiaries Community members Data collection period: Experimentation phase  In-depth interviews 1 1 8 23  FGDs 7 1 1 2 Data collection period: Implementation phase  In-depth interviews 1 11 16 2  Photo-voice FGD 4 4  Photo-voice participants 12 11  Questionnaires 63 8 1  Participatory mapping 5  Training observation 2 2 Data collection period: Scaling-up phase  Questionnaires 26  Monthly reports 24  In-depth interviews 11 20 17  FGDs 4 18 Strengthening different types of social capital The programme strengthened participants’ social capital at the level of the functional sub-types identified earlier, namely bonding, bridging, and linking capital, at different stages of the programme. Bonding social capital Family bonds appeared to be essential during the experimentation stage: women needed permission to work from their husband and in-laws, while women who were successful in engaging in IGAs reported that this required the support of their family. Different strategies to encourage support from families were experimented with. The most successful was respecting norms of purdah: only intermediaries needed to leave their home to take part and all IGAs were home-based. During the implementation stage, both intermediaries and beneficiaries reported that their husband and in-laws had started to have ‘faith’ in them. Some also described a change in their domestic bargaining power. This is of considerable significance in a context where strong power imbalances are common within the household, as can be seen from this beneficiary's story from the photo-voice methodology: In this photograph, you can see me, my husband and my daughter (…) We are together taking the decision about sending our daughter to school to class six and on how we are going to pay for this. Before I was dependent on my husband, and now he takes suggestions from me. As I am a beneficiary [of the programme] and earning money, we now take decisions together. Hence, strategies to strengthen bonding social capital appeared to be successful and were applied in the next phase. In this scaling-up phase, intermediaries reported that their families were initially strongly discouraging but, with the intermediaries’ success, including their capacity to earn money, families became more favourably disposed, with some husbands even helping women in their activities. Bridging social capital From observations during the experimentation stage, PRIDE considered that bridging social capital is valuable to poor people because it gives them ‘power as group’: women help each other to strengthen their capacities but also mediate access to resources. Hence, different strategies were tried out. The importance of strengthening the participants’ bridging capital was evident in the photographs taken during a photo-voice activity carried out during the implementation stage in 2010. Nearly half of the 346 photographs taken by intermediaries and beneficiaries display other people (for example, other women or family members), while more than 20 percent show the participant with another person, often someone she is helping. In the discussions following the photo-voice activities, all intermediaries reported having interacted with beneficiaries they did not know before. Half of the beneficiaries of the first two phases also reported such changes in the extent of their networks. Social exchanges increased during the programme: women helping each other and also exchanging materials, giving seeds or vegetables to each other, and earning gradually through these exchanges. Both intermediaries and their beneficiaries not only indicated that they have extended their bridging social capital by knowing other women but also explained that their relationships with other women were ‘better’ and more ‘intimate/close’. Linking social capital During the experimental stage, it became evident that women needed to develop links with local powerholders who could, on the one hand, impede women's development and, on the other, provide access to resources. Religious leaders can forbid women to work outside the home; rich men can provide access to land; and NGOs can provide access to knowledge; while elected officials of the village council (Shalish) can mediate with other actors. During the learning cycles, different strategies to strengthen linking social capital were piloted. With the assistance of PRIDE, intermediaries were able to use linking social capital with powerholders to mediate access to resources for their beneficiaries, such as land or access to health care. The intermediaries also negotiated with teachers and elected local government officials to help their beneficiaries. During the scaling-up phase, it became clear that linking social capital was the most difficult to accumulate. Strategies to strengthen social capital During the programme, a number of strategies have been identified through which PRIDE and the women themselves strengthened social capital. These are considered below in terms of strategies consistent with norms and ethics, strategies that create opportunities, strategies that develop women's social skills and know-how, and strategies that develop women's self-worth and capacity to act. Strategies consistent with norms and ethics Working in harmony with norms and customs PRIDE staff were aware of local customs, such as purdah, which prevent women from going outside the home. In recognition of this, from the start of the experimentation stage, the IGAs could be undertaken at home. In the implementation stage, an intermediary explained during an FGD how she organized her activities with her beneficiaries in order to comply with local norms: We plan meetings at times when it doesn't get in our husband's way. As this quote shows, women sought to avoid conflict with local norms. Rather than confronting dominant norms and customs, in particular purdah, PRIDE encouraged women to engage in home-based IGAs that were acceptable to their family and local powerholders, representing bonding and linking social capital, respectively. In this way, the programme strengthened shared norms and hence avoided severing women from their social capital. From the implementation stage onwards, however, some degree of empowerment was observed. In the scaling-up stage, it had become more socially acceptable for women to seek change. Selecting change agents with more freedom of movement During the implementation stage, PRIDE observed that husbands and in-laws could forbid women from leaving the house and taking part in the programme, and that these restrictions were more likely to apply to young or recently married women. PRIDE gradually learned that women over twenty-five years of age and widows had more freedom of movement than younger women who might be hassled by men if they moved around the village or had young children. In response, PRIDE developed criteria for selecting intermediaries, namely change agents needed to be able to leave their home. Developing trust PRIDE established relationships of trust with powerholders and developed its capacity to transfer its acquired linking social capital to intermediaries. PRIDE facilitated intermediaries’ contacts in their respective villages with elected local government officials, teachers, but also with entrepreneurs and other NGOs. PRIDE leveraged its village-level social capital, making it accessible to the intermediaries. For example, PRIDE invited powerholders to come to training sessions and also initially accompanied the intermediaries to talk to them. In interviews during the scaling-up phase, powerholders said that they started to trust PRIDE because of regular staff visits and because of the way in which they were directly involved. Engaging with resistance Although working in harmony with norms and customs, it was also necessary for the NGO to deal with resistance or potential opposition. From the start, PRIDE learnt to involve women's families: they contacted the families of proposed intermediaries to secure their support, and also negotiated with husbands and in-laws to gain their cooperation before asking women whether they wanted to participate. For the beneficiaries, intermediaries tried to mediate the families’ cooperation, and some even mediated within the private sphere of domestic problems. PRIDE also developed strategies to establish connections with the powerholders. The staff engaged with the local elite before starting a village programme, explaining it, and preventing elite capture of resources. They invested time in regular visits and also actively involved them, for example in participatory mappings. Ethos of mutuality At start, intermediaries received a small allowance so they could help their respective beneficiaries. From the implementation phase onwards, intermediaries were no longer paid because the IGAs had become profitable but they continued to ‘help’ and ‘share’ with other women. When the women described their social exchanges, they explained them as being based on altruism. Hence, not only do intermediaries help and share with their beneficiaries, but beneficiaries also help and share with others, saying that they value providing good advice to others: ‘I feel happy that I am giving suggestions’ and ‘I do this for their improvement, and they have reported to me that they have improved’. As ‘everyone is happy to help’ and making gifts explained as part of the culture, this norm of altruism or mutuality was not created by the programme but was already present and drawn upon during the learning cycles, as the programme provided the opportunity for the exchange of gifts and gradually developed into an approach that stimulated social entrepreneurship. This mechanism was previously identified by Cilliers and Wepener (2007) as the ethos of mutuality. Strategies that create opportunities Opportunities to meet other women PRIDE brought intermediaries and beneficiaries together to receive training in IGAs. For the first time, this gave women opportunities to meet other women. This served a triple purpose: women could learn about IGAs, exchange knowledge about their challenges and possible solutions, and extend their social networks among their peers. In particular, this gave women the opportunity to accumulate bridging social capital. Cilliers and Wepener (2007) also identified this as the material level of structural opportunity to meet. Opportunities to make social exchanges At the start of the experimentation phase, the intermediaries received seeds from PRIDE to start vegetable and seed production. They distributed seeds to their beneficiaries and, after the harvest, returned seeds to PRIDE. All intermediaries were involved in these exchanges and even beneficiaries started distributing seeds. These exchanges occurred along different reciprocity patterns. A primary type of exchange represented classical market exchange and/or barter between the beneficiaries and the intermediaries. Gradually, however, intermediaries, beneficiaries, and neighbours started exchanging seeds and vegetables, calling them ‘gifts’, saying explicitly that these are ‘different from a ‘contract’ as they are from the heart’. As one beneficiary put it: ‘giving gifts increases the relations between neighbours’. Gifts initiate relationships, leading to further dissemination of skills and goods, such as the inaugural gift of seeds from intermediaries to beneficiaries. The programme created structural opportunities to exchange gifts, and thus stimulated bridging social capital. A second pattern of exchanges encompassed an expectation of return (women say there is ‘duty’ and a ‘responsibility’ to make gifts or help others) while there was a denial that this expectation existed. This corresponds to Bourdieu's (1986) description of exchanges that build social capital. This pattern was prevalent between the beneficiaries and intermediaries but also between the neighbours and beneficiaries. Exchanges with flexibility on the timeframe of exchange and with whom reciprocity is enacted take place in balanced reciprocity.2 In the scaling-up stage, the approach became explicitly a social entrepreneurship approach, strengthening patterns of exchanges that included gifts and barter but also financial exchanges. Developing social skills and know-how Pre-existing social and networking skills During the implementation phase, PRIDE developed a set of criteria to identify women who could become successful intermediaries. The criteria evolved to include ‘having the ability to make friends’ and ‘good networking skills’, both capacities that would facilitate the development of social capital, and ‘without communalism’ so as not to foster closed religion-based networks. Based on these criteria, PRIDE started searching for women with the capacity to develop a social network, even if they did not yet have one. In this way, PRIDE developed criteria to identify women with capacities to build fruitful social capital, based on pre-existing social and networking skills. Know-how of social interaction During the implementation phase, PRIDE trained intermediaries in how to invite people, form groups and hold group meetings. In addition, PRIDE facilitated the first group meetings and initially accompanied the intermediaries during their daily activities: meeting their beneficiaries and conducting the IGAs. PRIDE then gradually reduced its direct involvement and helped the intermediaries to become independent, supporting them until they had the skills and the social capital necessary for their activities. Cilliers and Wepener (2007) identified this process as civic literacy. Know-who of social interaction In addition to developing know-how on how to facilitate social interaction, participants also learned with whom to engage, for example with rich men in order to hire land. In many cases, beneficiaries would seek the intervention of the intermediary, while in turn PRIDE supported intermediaries. This is a particularly important mechanism for strengthening linking capital. Know-who also played an important role in engaging with resistance, although this specific strategy relates more to the participants’ knowledge than to PRIDE's strategy. Know-how of motivational leadership PRIDE also supported intermediaries in developing motivational leadership skills in which they would enable other women to become change agents. This is strongly linked to the next category of self-worth and capacity to act. Developing women's self-worth and capacity to act Capital of recognition In the experimentation phase, different strategies were experimented with. During the implementation phase, intermediaries said that they appreciated being ‘known to many’, ‘valued’ and ‘loved’, and having ‘more strength’. As one beneficiary noted, ‘I am more valued because what I say is right’. Such recognition was not limited to other women of similar socio-economic status but also to the village powerholders. Women's social status was enhanced by the recognition of their contribution to the community. This higher social status facilitated further impact as this quote from an intermediary shows: We are more known so people give importance to what we are saying so other women are also able to develop themselves. As a result of their enhanced status, the women were able to participate more effectively in the improvement of others because there is a demand for their knowledge: ‘women come and ask’ and people ‘listen’ to their advice. Hence the programme strengthened women's place within the community. During the scaling-up phase, this symbolic capital was strengthened and it also, in turn, strengthened entrepreneurs’ social capital. Becoming a change agent From the first learning cycle, intermediaries were stimulated to lead change in their village. As intermediaries reported, they started helping and sharing only after they had gained the confidence to do so. From 2008, this confidence was developed during training sessions with other intermediaries. The intermediaries also had to acquire the capacity to motivate other women. Beneficiaries report that before the programme, women were ‘not so interested’ or ‘not so curious’ about profit but that their attitudes had now changed. The intermediaries and beneficiaries often used the word ‘inspire’ to describe this first step of dissemination. There was a transformation in women's attitudes: more positive, with more strength and more energy, they work more. Women claimed that what occurs is a shift from ‘having the will’ to ‘knowing the way’, as exemplified by this beneficiary's account: I had the will in my mind before but I didn't know the way. Now I have many ways. During the implementation stage, women explained that the inaugural gift of seeds is necessary for starting, for inspiring them both for its material and for its symbolic value in stimulating women to engage on a path of development. In conclusion, we have identified strategies that PRIDE and women employed to strengthen social capital. In the Discussion, we use these strategies to develop a dynamic framework for strengthening women's social capital within communities with the social norm of purdah. Discussion The dynamic framework In Figure 1, we illustrate how the programme developed strategies to strengthen women's social capital. Some of these strategies were developed by PRIDE, others were developed by the women themselves, such as working in harmony with norms and customs and becoming a change agent. The four categories in which strategies can be divided are closely related to mechanisms of social capital production previously identified by Cilliers and Wepener (2007) and by Seferiadis et al. (2015), but we have also identified a number of new strategies. First, PRIDE leveraged norms and ethics, working within current norms, selecting women who already had more freedom of movement because of age and lack of family relationships through widowhood, navigating resistance to change, and reinforcing the value of altruism, already valued in local society. As shown in a knowledge network in India (Gupta et al. 2003), it fostered an ‘ethical capital’. Second, corresponding to Seferiadis et al.’s (2015) material level of structural opportunities, our study shows how PRIDE provided opportunities for women to meet other women, although in Jessore District this did not require a building but rather opportunities to gather outdoors, reminiscent of other studies of poverty (for example, Larance 1998; Elder, Zerriffi and Le Billon, 2012). The programme gave women the opportunity to make ‘social exchanges’ (Wels, 2000), including gift exchanges, barter, and financial exchanges. In our opinion, creating opportunities for women to meet and exchange is a pre-condition for strengthening social capital and improved livelihoods for women living in purdah. Third, we have demonstrated that developing know-how but also know-who of social interaction are important mechanisms for strengthening social capital, building on the identification of pre-existing social and networking skills. This is consistent with a Ugandan study in which benefits of membership of village savings and loan associations are mediated through networks of friendships and other social relations that predate the development project (Musinguzi 2016). Fourth, improved self-worth and increasing the capital of recognition led to a situation in which women themselves became change agents. This then becomes a virtuous cycle in which these new capacities are increasingly valued from the norm of altruism, taking us back to the first category in the framework. These strategies leveraged cognitive and structural social capital as things that can be invested in following Uphoff's (1999) conceptualization. They started with social capital at the bonding level, then at its bridging level and then at its linking level with these categories then able to strengthen each other. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Strategies for strengthening social capital in community development. Figure 1 View largeDownload slide Strategies for strengthening social capital in community development. Reflections on types of social capital In the literature, there is evidence that bonding (familial), bridging (peers), and linking (vertical links to powerholders) social capital are of different utility along development paths from the perspective of social entrepreneurship because bridging capital becomes redundant with success and may be discarded in favour of more profitable linking capital (Woolcock and Narayan, 2000). In our study, we found that women first had to strengthen their bonding capital – because they needed their family's permission to leave the home and engage in IGAs – before they were able to develop their bridging capital with women peers. This bridging capital was the main powerhouse of the programme, based on women helping and sharing with each other. Linking capital was frequently more problematic: intermediaries often needed help in their negotiations with the village powerholders, part of PRIDE's strategy in engaging with resistance. There is evidence, however, that as women gradually became change agents, they also began to receive more recognition and respect from powerholders. This indicates, as can be seen in Figure 1, that bonding capital first needs to be developed, then bridging capital and that the latter then has spill-over effects on linking capital, and that all three types need external intervention in situations of purdah. Linking capital, however, may require continuing interventions, even when the establishment of strengthened social capital in bonding and bridging domains has been achieved, raising questions about the intervention's sustainability. If women are to be sustainably empowered, their capacities to establish ties with powerholders needs to be also sustainable. The differences in utilization but also of construction and maintenance between bonding, bridging, and linking social capital calls for using such detailed categories. Empowerment of women As this paper has emphasized, PRIDE worked within local norms in its efforts to improve the livelihoods and capacities of poor women. The programme was not designed to empower women but rather to improve their livelihoods. To improve women's livelihoods and capacities, PRIDE and the women themselves needed to bring about changes in gender relations within their families and communities, simultaneously building women's feelings of self-worth and their capacities to act. While some studies of social capital in Bangladesh have shown that strengthened social ties are not always associated with benefits (for example, Islam and Morgan, 2012), our study shows that, in some circumstances, Bangladeshi poor women value the strengthening of their social capital. A study of another Bangladeshi NGO, Saptagram, similarly showed that participants valued the organization because it enhanced their relationships (Kabeer and Hug, 2010). The women in our study give clear motives for sharing gifts and development: producing social capital is a rational strategy, as conceptualized by Granovetter (1985), and social networks are constructed through strategies because they generate benefits, as conceptualized by Bourdieu (1986). In this study, social capital provides women with access to other forms of capital: strengthened human capital through access to knowledge and improved skills; material capital through resources, such as seeds; and symbolic capital through enhanced status. The women particularly emphasize the latter: they not only gain satisfaction from participating in the effective improvement of others, they also gain recognition. This is consistent with Bourdieu (1986), who emphasizes the conversion of social capital into symbolic capital, namely the capital of recognition. Enhancing responsibility to help could be detrimental for women, reflecting an internalization of their subordinate status (Kabeer, 1999). Indeed, social capital can reinforce gender subordination as we noted in the introduction. PRIDE did not confront dominant norms and sought involvement from husbands, in-laws, and powerholders. As social capital is, in part, built on shared norms, working in harmony with dominant customs ensured that women did not lose social capital. In addition, this strategy enabled PRIDE to secure allies for its programme while negotiating with actors who could restrict women's ability to participate and gain access to resources. This approach was coupled with an awareness of needing to mitigate potential downsides: PRIDE was concerned to pre-empt the elite capture of resources and to avoid reinforcing powers and norms deleterious to women. PRIDE worked towards enabling women to navigate resistance and to engage in IGAs, thereby contributing to a gradual changing of norms. Enhancing women's development and their bargaining power, the programme to some extent ‘empowers’ women. For example, some women reported being less dependent on their husband or enhanced decision-making within their household. As Fine (2001) pointed out, social capital cannot be analysed separately from issues of power. Our study shows how one NGO developed a deliberate strategy of addressing the issues of power in order to facilitate women's development. Policy implications We emphasize that the strength of the approach we followed here is the way in which the interventions were tailor-made by the NGO to the context and the livelihood wishes of the participants. Thus, as is the case with much action research, identifying implications can seem antagonistic to values promoted by the methodology. However, we envision that our findings carry broader implications outside their initial context in particular for women's empowerment. If some strategies could be replicated, the first part would be requiring an identification of prevalent norms and ethics which would be different in settings where purdah is not prevalent, for example. However, some strategies could be reproduced: for example, providing opportunities to meet and exchange, strengthening social skills and knowledge, and also leading to women's enhanced self-worth and capacity to act. Some strategies could also be modified, not necessarily to adapt to novel contexts, but also to allow scaling-up. The strategies used to strengthen social capital include selecting local intermediaries to promote social capital strengthening and development of the community. This identification of local women in villages to promote development of their communities with the social entrepreneurship model could be carried via other actors who work in communities such as agricultural extension officers. It is important to indicate that some strengths of the participatory model might be necessary to reproduce, not only to identify needs and priorities, or norms, but also as to provide a space to promote empowerment. Indeed, it can be suggested that learning spaces where women could together reflect on their problems and different solutions did consist also in space where conscientization occurred, probably essential for enabling women to engage in paths towards their empowerment. Conclusions The study highlights how NGOs can develop strategies to improve women's status within their communities, while stimulating know-how of social interaction and the know-how of development agency and social entrepreneurship. At the same time, it has provided new theoretical insights into the nature of social capital and how it relates to women's empowerment. These practical and theoretical insights may be particularly relevant to communities where women are subject to purdah. Further research is needed to see if this framework can be used to leverage social capital in other communities that are characterized by unequal gender relations but not necessarily by purdah. The study proposes a model of poverty alleviation through value creation, enhancing the mutuality of development. This represents a potential model of sustainable, endogenous development, built on women's increasing understanding of how they can become change agents. 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Community Development JournalOxford University Press

Published: Oct 1, 2018

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