SUSTAINABLE LIVING TEAMS (SLTs) FOR
While access to clean water is a tremendous accomplishment, it does not provide an active network of relationships and loving support that are needed to change mindsets and behaviors. A more patient and active approach is needed to restore dignity, create vision and enable income generation from within the potential of the community. WiLi uses SLTs as a social movement to set a new and hopeful trajectory of life for the poorest families.
The core ethos of the SLT movement is to develop an intrinsic learning process known as self-organized learning (SOL). SOL results in a new mindset and motivation that will last after outside donor involvement. SOL builds on the personal experience and available assets of the community that eventually yields a triple bottom line of economic, social and ecological benefits. New learned behaviors address core causes of poverty rather than just the symptoms. Some SLTs in Ethiopia are nearly 20 years old and no longer live in poverty by Ethiopian standards. They still meet regularly because of the loving relationships that have grown through mutual suffering and joy.
SLT’s are essentially a voluntary but formal gathering of 10 to 20 people, mostly women, from the lowest socio-economic ranking in the community. The members typically do not qualify for small loans from microfinance institutions or banks. Members learn how to increase household income through the discipline of saving their own money for micro-business loans and pay the group back with interest. The increase in income, for example, means SLT members can afford to pay water fees to the Water Use Committee thereby helping to sustain the water source over time.
Initially, the money for loans comes entirely from the member’s weekly savings. WiLi does not capitalize these funds but provides the initial support and training to launch the groups during an initial start-up period of about two years. The SLTs learn to operate independently but they are linked to at least six other teams to form a Sustainable Living Association (SLA). Several SLAs within a given area will organize to form a Sustainable Living Network (SLN).
Weekly meeting to learn income generation.
The SLNs are formed in areas where the water needs are greatest and poverty is most extreme. The goal is for the SLAs to become self-sustaining institutions that support their members, replicate themselves in new areas and are recognized by the government as a legitimate microenterprise movement.
In order to access hidden resources and increase advocacy for the poor, the SLN is guided to create an informal Task Force of government agencies and community based organizations that will lift their profile in the community. The SLN becomes a powerful movement led by the poor to influence change and advocate for helpful policies and practices by the government.
Training modules in bookkeeping and income-generation tailored for the illiterate are presented consistently and repeatedly at weekly SLT meetings. Other trainings can be delivered through events for training of trainers (ToT) which are then delivered throughout the SLN. For example, once an SLT is ready, trainings can be given to teach people to keep water clean from the pump to point of use, to build a latrine and to wash hands before eating.
The cost to establish SLTs will be site specific and negotiable for each location. Typically, a core of approximately 50 SLTs with 20 members each should be formed to start the movement in a new area. The SLN can then mature and multiply without outside assistance. Cost Benefit Analysis has determined the benefits range from $58 to $178 for every dollar spent to establish the program.
WiLi has organized more than 500 SLTs directly benefitting more than 65,000 people. The working capital from savings is over $200,000.