What Does it Take to Build Resilient Households in Burkina Faso?

“Resilience” seems to be the mot du jour among development practitioners these days. In the financial inclusion context, we often talk about resilience as an indicator of a person or family’s ability to weather shocks. But how do households in Burkina Faso define it?

After talking with a variety of people on the ground, there seems to be a local consensus. Resilience starts with an attitude. Get up early, work hard, stay late and do not live off others or rely on handouts. It is an attitude that “drives” a person—if you lack it, you are lazy, or “a parasite to the environment,” as some women told us.

When asked how to define resilience, poor men and women in Burkina Faso often use an old metaphor, “Week y menga bang guèla.” Translated from the Mooré language of the Mossi culture, it refers to abandoned lizard eggs left to hatch and survive on their own. There is no parent to guide the way, nor anyone else to help; they must learn to take on the responsibility of survival themselves. Having this attitude will help you survive, despite the challenges life may present.

A woman in Burkina Faso looks off into the distance
A woman in Burkina Faso looks off into the distance

Freedom from Hunger, with funding from the Clients at the Center Financial Inclusion Research Fund, an initiative of CGAP, is exploring this concept of resilience with 45 rural households in north-central Burkina Faso. The project seeks to expand understanding of how households manage economic, environmental and health shocks, and the roles formal, non-formal and informal financial products play in improving household resilience.

Resilience is certainly a concept that households in the study are forced to think about on a regular basis. Within the last 10 years, the families have endured major drought and famines. Eighty-nine percent of the households we’re working with are chronically food insecure, and 94% live below the $1.25 poverty line. Almost the same percentage of women respondents has never been to school and therefore cannot read.

Building resilient communities is a vital part of improving the lives of the poor. Research on the psychology of poverty suggests that poverty reinforces itself by influencing certain psychological attitudes (such as stress, risk-taking attitudes, happiness). These impact decisions that then lead to economic disadvantages. Attitudes seem to be lacking from the resilience discussion and evaluation frameworks, but it appears that influencing them might be an important element to consider in building resiliency.

Freedom from Hunger’s work with CGAP started in May 2014, aiming to build upon prior-established frameworks on resilience, and ultimately to expand them. The research explores the concept of resilience from multiple angles: shock-coping strategies, use of financial instruments, role of agricultural activities and livestock, food security, health, social safety nets, social capital, decision making within the household, and attitudes towards the future and one’s situation in life. Since women often deal with both minor and major shocks to the household, understanding their needs is a major focus of the research. Three main research activities will drive our understanding:

  • Formative research exploring prior shocks and household decision making, which was completed in June 2014;
  • Economic games testing women’s responses to health shocks in light of available financial instruments;
  • A series of ten surveys called “resilience diaries” that examine shocks experienced by 45 households over a seven-month period, as well as their responses.

Through this research, we aim to answer the question, to build resiliency, what comes first? Is it starting with the right attitude that empowers people to weather shocks? Or, is it providing products and services that make shock-coping easier, thus building confidence that one can persevere going forward? Either way, it is becoming clear that attitudes play an important role.

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05 November 2014 Submitted by Hyatt A Wahab (not verified)

As a career international development worker for the past 40 years, I am currently interested in gathering best practices information that relate to financial inclusion of the rural poor in microenterprise lending within the Levant region. Thank you.

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