Ushirika Hub: What We Learned from a Social Systems Network Analysis of the Cooperative Ecosystem in Kenya

RootChangeRebooting Systems

Tindi Sitati, Collaboration Learning and Adaptation (CLA) Officer for Global Communities

By: Tindi Sitati  

This blog is a follow-on to our post Ushirika Hub: How Three Organizations Came Together to Conduct Participatory SSNA of the Cooperative Ecosystem in 6 Counties in Kenya. It was written by Tindi Sitati, Collaboration Learning and Adaptation (CLA) Officer for Global Communities, with contributions from: Rachel Dickinson (Root Change), Pamela Kaburu (Global Communities), Lydia Omamo and Virginia Brown (NCBA CLUSA), and Fridah Kanana (WOCCU).  

Where do cooperative societies go when they need support to develop and grow their societies? Do they consult their local service providers? Or do they turn to each other for help? The USAID Cooperative Development Program (CDP) partners; Global Communities, NCBA CLUSA, and WOCCU, embarked on a journey to find the answers to this question.  We conducted a Social Systems Network Analysis (SSNA) in Kenya with support from Root Change to better understand the links among emerging and established actors in the Kenyan cooperative sector. This information would help us identify potential and existing entry points for supporting cooperative networks and building capacity of cooperative support organizations.  

The baseline SSNA took a period of 6 months between 2019 and 2020, and focused on six counties in Kenya where the CDP partners are working: Nairobi, Meru, Kisumu, Kirinyaga, Laikipia, and Nandi. “Our goal was to learn about the existing gaps within the cooperative system in the counties,’’ says Pamela Kaburu, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist, Global Communities. “We wanted to be sure that as a program we were addressing a felt need,” she explained. 

This intensive, collaborative process yielded important lessons in terms of the advantages of investing in participatory SSNA. The analysis also illuminated the gaps in services and challenges standing in the way of building effective cooperative ecosystems in the counties. 

Identification of Key Service Providers and Gaps in Service Provision 

The analysis produced actionable insights by revealing who were the key resource hubs in the system. “The biggest learning lesson was that the high-level stakeholders that were supposed to serve cooperatives were missing in some areas’’ said Lydia Omamo, Kenya Country Coordinator, NCBA CLUSA. “There were also actors that did not know that they were a real resource at their level,’’ she said.

Apex organizations (umbrella organizations that represent the collective interests of cooperatives of a specific sector) were popular in Nairobi County and were considered a resource hub primarily for cooperative advocacy, news and information, but the apexes’ involvement and reach outside the capital was minimal. “The county government came out strongly as resource hubs across the counties, with the majority of actors going to them for various services,” says Pamela. This could also mean overburdening of county offices – where one office is serving all the different actors,’’ she explained.

“We will need to consider the role of county government and apex organisations and how feasible it is for them to provide services to these cooperatives,’’ said Virginia Brown, Program Manager, NCBA CLUSA. “This will help us refocus our support to these two resource hubs and establish whether there are other up and coming county-level service resource hubs that can help in provision of support services,’’ she explained.  

Diversity Could Increase Support of Cooperatives 

Cooperative stakeholders make a solidarity bridge at the close of events in Laikipia County

Apart from government and national apex organisations, other county-based cooperative support institutions play a big role in providing services for cooperatives. For instance, from the SSNA we found that Meru Dairy Union – a society formed in 2005 to market milk from local farmers in Mt Kenya region – and Kenya Union of Savings and Credit Cooperatives – the umbrella body for savings and credit cooperatives in Kenya – were far more connected to cooperatives in Meru County than initially believed. The two actors were found during the SSNA exercise to be key providers of information, financial services and training among dairy cooperatives in Meru County.

During launch and meaning making events held as part of the SSNA, the CDP teams noted opportunities to coach and mentor existing unions within the counties they work in. “We need to focus our strengths on these county-based actors and strive to involve them as strategic connectors,’’ says Virginia. “With our limited resources and small teams, these connectors can help us achieve more impact,” she explained.

The SSNA exercise was an example of how CLA can be used to improve programming. ‘’One of the government officers made everyone feel free to interact and to speak about challenges they faced as a cooperative,’’ says Fridah Kanana, Operations and Learning Officer, WOCCU. ‘’Towards the end of the session, Kirinyaga County had begun crafting some action plans around some of the emerging issues that were brought out.’’ She said. 

Will these ignited relationships between county government, apex organisations, unions and cooperatives endure? No one has a crystal ball, but CDP partners’ SSNA and the in-person events we held as part of the initiative stimulated thinking about the existing gaps in the system and created space for discussions on potential solutions. CDP partners will use these findings to create new interventions that focus on increased capacity building for local actors to become resource hubs for county cooperatives. 

The full report for this SSNA is available on the Root Change website here. For additional questions on this work, please contact Ashley Holst at (US) or Tindi Sitati at (Kenya).