REDI for a Mind Change? Rural Women, Psychological Capability and Poverty in Jamaica
Chambers, Siddier Elizabeth (1,2) (2016). 'REDI for a Mind Change? Rural Women, Psychological Capability and Poverty in Jamaica' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.
While the dominant trend in evaluating development programs is to focus on improvement of the material conditions of the poor, a growing body of literature from theorists and practitioners of human development and capability has included some non-material dimensions. Investigations regarding the psychological dimension of human well-being represent a central component of this body of knowledge. A key concept is that of agency freedom, that is, a person’s autonomy to bring about the achievements one values and which one attempts to produce. However, more freedom may enhance agency and well-being, but it can also result in a reduction of either or both.
Inclusion of the psychological dimension of human development has provided a broader framework to evaluate the impact of a poverty alleviation project of the Government of Jamaica. The Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI), a predominantly World Bank-funded program currently being implemented by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), is the only government poverty alleviation program with a singular focus on rural development.
Using the Capability Approach, and with a particular focus on Sen’s evaluative analysis, this paper reports on a study of rural women in Jamaica that involved a three-phase fieldwork research project undertaken over six months in 2014. The project included an evaluation of REDI. In phase one, primary data were collected using in-depth interviews, focus group discussions and participant observation. Data from phase one were summarised and meanings for key variables were provided by the informants in phase two. In phase three, a capability survey was developed using indicators of economic, physical, social, and psychological capabilities and functionings. The survey was completed by 70 rural women – 28 project participants and 42 non-participants. Overall, a total of 93 informants contributed to the study. Throughout the fieldwork, the sample of women and men in rural Jamaica shared their experiences, aspirations and memories of suffering and success.
A key question underlying the research was: what impact has the REDI project had on the economic, physical, social and psychological dimensions of poverty of rural women? This paper focuses on the psychological aspects of this question.
The results showed that being independent was highly valued by the sample of rural women, as well as being cautious and motivated. Participating in REDI has changed their minds, helping them to believe that they can set goals and actually achieve them. Their confidence has increased, mainly because enhanced skill-sets represent tangible means of achieving their aspirations. The women recalled experiences of sufferings and challenges in their personal lives and the lives of other members of the community, which influenced a level of risk aversion. Yet their current participation in the REDI program has ignited a shared hope that motivated them to keep “fighting on”. For a lot of these rural women, their lives symbolised a series of fights – some they have won, some they have lost, and others remain unceasing battles, such as the search for a constant source of income to meet their most important needs for basic food and to send their children to school.
REDI has contributed to changes in the mental model of rural women, shifting their minds from a life of battle to a life of potential and real achievements. This expansion of their psychological capabilities is contributing to economic and social benefits. Most importantly, such process of expansion represents means of increasing both agency freedom and well-being freedom.
However, changes in mind-set can be fluid. Furthermore, it is unclear how best to assimilate a new mental model and convert psychological capabilities to yield beneficial achievements in the long-run. Using the personal and community context of the sample of rural women along with Ryan and Deci’s self-determination theory and Simon’s bounded rationality, this paper explores an approach to convert their psychological capabilities in a way that enhances their agency freedom and well-being freedom.
The implementation of REDI has ignited a change in the mind-set of some of its beneficiaries, specifically rural women. These changes are having a positive impact on their well-being and agency. Since development is an expansion of the real freedoms that people enjoy, this paper concludes with a proposal aimed at expanding the psychological capabilities of rural women in Jamaica.
Keywords: Psychological Capabilities, Agency Freedom, Well-Being, Rural Women, Jamaica