Namira Samir, PhD Researcher, Global Development Institute
Namira Samir is a final year PhD Candidate at Global Development Institute, The University of Manchester. Her PhD research investigates the interplay between credit, human capabilities, and labour in Indonesia. In May 2023, she visited the Credit & Savings Institution, where she had previously conducted her primary data collection, to share her main research findings with the borrowers and key officers.
The COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns and restrictions left me without a choice. Since I was determined to collect primary qualitative data, I had to conduct my fieldwork remotely.
Finding a Credit & Savings institution that would allow me to speak to their members through an electronic form of communication was an arduous task that consumed five months. Institutions I had previously approached were concerned about potential data leakage. One of these events was reported when I had completed interviews with five respondents at a Credit Institution. The key officer said: “Recently, our members received texts that seemed to be predatory lending and even though we trust that you will not circulate their personal information, at this time, we can only allow in-person data collection.” As a result, I terminated the data collection at that institution and was unable to use the five interviews collected.
I broadened my search and eventually contacted Koperasi Mitra Dhuafa (KOMIDA), a Credit & Savings institution that serves poor and low-income women to be economically productive through micro-enterprises. After several exchanges of emails and phone calls, I was able to secure permission to conduct remote fieldwork at their two KOMIDA branches in East Java Province, Indonesia. To prevent bias in data collection, the calls were made through the phone of the KOMIDA officers that acted as interview assistants. I managed to complete the data collection in less than three months, and I was able to respond to my original research questions.
In the final year of my PhD, I received a grant from the Rory and Elizabeth Brooks Doctoral College, within GDI, to report my findings to the branches I had collected the primary data with. This was an important opportunity, allowing me to not only verify the accuracy of my analysis, but to see the faces of those who I had previously talked to on the phone and to observe the day-to-day practice at KOMIDA.
Sharing Research Findings with KOMIDA Members
Before the D-day, I had to brainstorm strategies on how I could best share my findings with the members without there being a hierarchy between the researcher and the people I was analysing. It was not merely about the difficulty in presenting results to a non-academic audience. The socio-economic background of KOMIDA members means they are not regularly exposed to research findings. I took all of these aspects into account while designing the sharing session.
The final format of the session consisted of an interactive presentation. I commenced with a welcome and expressed gratitude to the members for attending and for some who participated in the research. I then explained the purpose of my visit and my PhD research. I also briefly explained the research methodology, analytical approaches, and main research questions before presenting the findings.
Throughout the session, I often reverted to the participants to ask whether my analysis fit or contradicted their realities. One of my research findings was that people without any formal employment who receive credit from semi-formal or formal sources are less likely to choose informal self-employment in agriculture. The members gave a resounding yes to that finding throughout the discussion. They said that it tended to be highly unlikely for them to be granted credit if they said they wanted to pursue farming.
I further unearthed that there was actually a specially designed agriculture credit that ended up as a mere non-functioning programme. The officer said that this was due to the high-risk nature of the credit to support an unpredictable form of economic activity. Obviously, since my research focused on the experiences of the respondents, this information from the officer was not uncovered during the data collection. However, this added to the reality of the lack of support for agricultural activities.
Another discovery from my research was regarding unpaid market work among female borrowers. Very often women who borrowed ended up using the money to support their spouses’ enterprises. However, they did not receive any direct acknowledgement of their support nor were they considered as co-owners of the enterprise.
I also shared another gender-related finding, namely that women’s choice of informal self-employment activities remained linked to domestic responsibilities which were always unfairly held by them. I found it difficult to share that finding. How would I share it without making people feel as if I was judging them? Because, at the end of the day, this should be about enabling people to make informed choices about their lives.
Some of the audience vocalised their gratitude towards me for sharing this finding and documenting one of the issues they experienced every day. What made the discussion particularly interesting was the fact that several male officers of KOMIDA were present at the time and perhaps to KOMIDA borrowers, I represented their concern regarding gender inequality at the household level.
Some of the audience even shared their personal stories to reinforce the findings. One participant whose husband runs a furniture business with the credit that she took said “My husband creates furniture. As a housewife, I have to clean the house, cook, and do all other chores. Yet, at noon, I still must help my husband with his business. Yet, even then, we as wives are still told by our spouses to not do our duties well”. She paused but then continued… “But what can I do? At the end of the day, I need to help my spouse with sincerity in order to ensure our livelihoods.” So, it was clear that despite her concerns, she was still unable to confront the issue with her husband.
I inserted a quiz at the end of the session as a fun way to gauge their understanding of some of the key issues I shared during the session. The participants were very enthusiastic in answering the questions. However, some responses made me realise advancing empowerment takes more than just one sharing session. One of the questions I gave was “What is the meaning of an empowered woman to you?” and one of the participants answered, “I believe that an empowered woman is the one that can do all her responsibilities: to be a mother, to clean the house, to work”. That response, clearly articulated the idea that all domestic responsibilities are a woman’s job. However, the idea of challenging people’s ideas, was a difficult thing to manoeuvre. I realised that it would require more than a single feedback session around research findings to change perceptions about women’s empowerment.
Conversations with KOMIDA Officers
Apart from a sharing session with KOMIDA members, I also held a discussion with the key officers at KOMIDA Barada, including the head of the branch about the day-to-day operation of KOMIDA and its progress thus far in empowering poor and low-income women. I was positively surprised by several achievements of the branch.
In Indonesia, savings account ownership at a financial institution among the poorest population (46.93%) and female (52.3%) are still low. Meanwhile, at KOMIDA Barada, the latest record showed that despite offering both credit and savings, there were more savers than borrowers, which indicated a positive behavioural change among its members and a positive impact of the institution on financial inclusion in general.
I also directly explained to the key officers my concern about the requirement of the husband’s approval to receive credit, which, according to my findings, was a factor that prevented women to make a free choice to run their economic activities. They then explained how most of the authorities to design the programmes or to disburse credit are made by the main centre of operation of KOMIDA. In addition to sharing it with them, I also shared my findings with the Central Office of KOMIDA in Jakarta and I hope that my suggestions based on the findings will be taken into consideration.
The key officers at KOMIDA Barada also expressed their interest to have regular sharing sessions that would allow them to learn about recent discoveries related to their responsibilities at KOMIDA. Indeed, the conversation with them, albeit short, was necessary to ensure knowledge exchange, not just for them to learn, but for me as a researcher to incorporate their thoughts and experiences into my future work.
The report-back activity was one of the most challenging but also rewarding phases of my research journey. I gained valuable skills through this experience. I thank the GDI for the funding given, and would encourage other PhD researchers to try and do the same. Through sharing the findings with participants they could become aware or even willing to share, to speak up about their utmost concerns that are often silenced. The fact that they were able to share what they felt regarding gender inequality in their households when male officers were present at the time of the sharing session was already a positive step towards women’s empowerment.
Despite the declining trust towards microfinance institutions, I still believe they have an important role to play. Just like issues faced by other institutions, the problem lies with the incorrect practices and not the positive aims that the institution champions. I hope that by communicating some key concerns I discovered through the research with the field officers, they will take my findings into account and enact changes. And maybe that is what we need to make a positive change. We need to hold conversations and not just be angry about the failures of what could have just been our own errors.
The report-back findings activity received funding from GDI-Rory and Elizabeth Brooks Doctoral College Post PhD Impact Travel Fund.
Note: This article gives the views of the author/academic featured and does not represent the views of the Global Development Institute as a whole.