Institutional Research: Map of Life Path and Strategic Map
Jun 4, 2018
With the support of Opportunity International and Fundacion Paraguaya (FP), a study was conducted about FP’s microfinance clients’ life experiences. The following questions were considered: ‘What are the life experiences of the people who participate in the Poverty Elimination Stoplight?’ and, from those selected experiences, ‘Which are considered critical (obstacles and challenges)?’ The report is based on a brief qualitative analysis using the Life Map methodology and focus groups with FP clients, carried out in January 2018.
The sample unit was made up of rural and urban committees (communal banks) near nine microfinance program offices: San Lorenzo, Luque, Coronel Oviedo, Caacupé, Caaguazú, Villarrica, Paraguarí and Yaguarón. In total, 12 focus groups with a total of 129 participants were organized.
The investigation revealed information that has contributed to the Poverty Stoplight’s theory of change that will be set out in the following paragraphs.
Although it is true that it was not possible to study the causes and effects of the responses in depth, what was possible was to cross-reference the results with other research in order to understand why experiences that seemed negative were not considered to be so by participants. These responses are linked with the concept of adaptive preference developed by Amartya Sen (2001) and Martha Nussbaum (2001).  This concept explains that people who live in poverty tend to think that they are not in control and are unable to change their realities; therefore, they adapt to a reality, even though it is negative. This is an unconscious process related to what the educator Paulo Freire called concientización (awareness) (1974), the meaning of which we will develop later.
If we connect the clients’ responses with what research in the field of adaptive preference tells us, we are able to infer that the responses given by our clients are limited through an unconscious process. This means some type of extreme intervention (a poverty elimination program) is needed to help them reflect. Today, there are concepts as a society that we generally agree upon. For example, most of us view child labor as a horrible practice because it negatively impacts the development of children and limits the experience of being a child. The same thing occurs with teenage pregnancy, or leaving school; we generally view these as negative outcomes. However, the participants in our study would not be able to understand this negative idea of child labor, teenage pregnancy, or leaving school because in their experience, they have done this and have accepted it as part of their lives. Poverty programs that strive for social change should include elements of reflection in their interventions to help people think critically about their experiences and learn from them in order to prevent them from being repeated by future generations.
Aspiration, Reflection, and Empowerment ‘Aspirations’ were mentioned in 40% of focus groups as experiences that helped them dream about a better future. In some focus groups, aspirations were mentioned in the form of “the hope to open their own business, which motivated them to keep fighting” or “the aspiration to get a job, which motivated them to keep studying.” Aspirations fluctuated between the different life stages of the fictitious characters created by the participants. During childhood, 40% of participants talked about aspirations. As teenagers, this increased to 50%; however, as adults, it decreased substantially to 25%. In all stages, aspirations were related to positive emotion. The concept of ‘aspirations’ is very important to the elimination of poverty. Research defines aspirations as “the hope or ambition to achieve something in life” (Ibrahim, 2011). Appadurai (2004, Ray 2006) mentions that “the capacity to aspire… especially by the poor helps to alter and challenge the living conditions in poverty.”
The concept of reflection, or a synonym like learning, was mentioned in only 25% of groups. The concept of reflection is related to the process of analysis, learning about one’s own life and what one’s place in the world is. This concept was developed by the educator Paulo Freire, who explained that oppressed people, including poor people, live in a “state of apathy, mental lethargy and inaction, and that in order to escape from this state they have to expose themselves to a process which helps them reflect, free themselves and take action to improve their situation. This process is called ‘conscientização’” (Freire, 1974). For example, in one case participants said that their fictitious characters “learnt from their errors so that their children do not experience the same.” In this case, the critical event of liberation and learning was regarding teenage pregnancy and participants explained that they would now talk about sex with their daughters. In another case, the participants said that their fictitious character “makes an effort so that their children study, because she did not do that.” They explained that not knowing how to read or write has caused them many problems and that they have learned from this error.
With respect to the use of the word empowerment, 25% of participants used it when they described the experiences of their fictitious character. The concept of empowerment is central to the Poverty Stoplight. Kabeer (1999) defines the concept as “the process in which a person who has been previously denied power, now has it and furthermore has the capacity to make decisions.” According to Rowland (1998), empowerment is derived from the word ‘power’ and has the objective of explaining distinct types of power that people, especially marginalized people, have (or do not have) to develop a plentiful life. In one of the focus groups, a participant described her fictitious character as empowered because “she developed her own business and grew economically thanks to her abilities.” This is a clear example of a person who feels she has the capacity to take action for her own benefit. The words aspirations, reflection, and empowerment were present in different percentages in the different focus groups. Further studies on these concepts, both quantitative and qualitative, will be needed as they are central to the elimination of poverty.
When analyzing the strategies that were implemented to solve certain Poverty Stoplight indicators, the situations before, during, and after the strategy implementations were considered. Before the Poverty Stoplight intervention the word ‘difficult’ was mentioned 43 times; during the intervention, this decreased drastically and the word ‘difficult’ was mentioned 10 times; after the intervention, it decreased to 7. In a similar trend, participants mentioned having negative feelings 25 times before the intervention while only mentioning positive feelings 5 times. However, during the intervention, participants mentioned having negative feelings only 4 times while positive feelings were mentioned on 13 occasions; after the intervention, negative feelings were mentioned 5 times and positive feelings 18 times. This suggests the intervention had a positive impact; a short time after the intervention, participants saw their lives as less difficult and with more positive feelings with respect to the indicator they chose.