- Vulnerable groups with related problems
CAF-ACCIÓ is a project jointly promoted by ACAF and Ecoserveis in the framework of the program “Innovative actions of a preventive nature aimed at preventing social exclusion and facilitating the empowerment of people in poverty” promoted by the Department of Labor, Social Affairs and Families of the Generalitat de Catalunya.
The purpose of the project has been to develop a sustainable and self-sufficient strategy to combat energy poverty, based on the joint action of neighborhood communities and municipalities, complemented by the support of networks and dynamics of solidarity of self-funded communities.
To do this, the program aims to adopt the creation of community savings groups to invest in improving the energy efficiency of their home and community, so that this action will reduce the cost of their bills and, therefore, their financial dependence on their network of relationships or with the help of the administration or social entities.
Articulated through informative actions, service-learning and support for users, both the members of the Self-Funded Communities and the residents of their immediate environment have benefited from the project. Far from trying to take on costly and caregiving interventions, the intervention has prioritized knowledge, training, and interaction between users.
- Improving the energy efficiency of the homes of people at risk of social exclusion.
- Reduce the cost of your bills.
- Minimize their economic dependence on aid from the Administration or social entities.
The Association of Self-Funded Communities (ACAF) is a non-profit organization founded in 2004 with the aim of combating financial and social exclusion.
ACAF promotes the creation and dissemination of Self-financed Communities (CAF), an adaptation to the European context of Venezuelan communal banks introduced by the social entrepreneur Jean Claude Rodríguez-Ferrera
CAFs are an innovative and sustainable solution, as, unlike the classic microcredit models, the fund is created from the contributions of partners, and CAF consolidates and expands its social ties. In this sense, the CAFs have shown that people with limited financial resources are self-financing and can progress on their own in the community, without external help.
ACAF has promoted the creation of CAF worldwide, a model that has spread to different countries such as Venezuela, Haiti, Indonesia, Senegal, Angola, Portugal, Hungary, Belgium, Italy and the Netherlands, to name a few.
During its twelve years of operation, ACAF has focused its strategy on developing a simple and affordable methodology with the aim of broadening the horizons of the beneficiaries. It is in this sense that an important process of digitization has allowed the launch in 2013 of the Winkomun platform as a commitment to openness and internal transparency, on the one hand, and interconnection of CAFs everywhere, the another.
ACAF has been awarded prizes such as the Mercè Conesa Prize 2008, for the Best Solidarity Initiative awarded by El Periódico (within the framework of the Catalan of the Year Prize) or the European Microfinance Network award for best practice in microfinance in Europe in 2009. Finally, the CAF model is cited as an example of social innovation by the European Commission.
More information about the project
CAF-ACCIÓ project: Neighborhood communities against energy poverty
In Catalonia, an important sector of the population is in a situation of energy vulnerability. This situation is due both to a structural reality and the existence of an energy and housing policy that negatively affects a large part of the citizens and to the growing impoverishment of the middle classes who see how, despite being active in work, they fail to cover their basic needs. In the case of migrants, the lack of a network of relations in the territory and the situation of economic precariousness with which they arrive is added. These factors increase your chances of ending up suffering from energy poverty.
The project presented in this guide relates the experience and the protocol of action to combat energy poverty in a mutual way, involving the beneficiaries with the support of the municipal consortia. In addition, we aim to take advantage of the networks of help and solidarity generated by the groups of citizens who make popular savings that, in Catalonia, have spread mostly through the so-called Self-financed Communities (CAF) in order to have a permanent mechanism for covering supply bills and other renovations to homes and common areas. While some CAFs are made up solely of indigenous people, many others are made up in part or in full of groups of newcomers. This fact lies in the fact that popular savings groups have been rooted in African, Latin American and Asian countries for decades, in which many people do not have a network of relationships when they arrive in Catalonia and look for community spaces known and made up of people. of similar origin and in which, due to arrival situations, they do not have access to bank credit.
Given these circumstances, when ACAF and Ecoserveis began to consider the project, it did not seem wrong to think that many of the members of the CAF suffered from situations of residential exclusion and / or energy insecurity. An analysis of the management parameters of public housing buildings has shown that the sustained financial support of municipal consortia has been established as a permanent mechanism for paying bills and implementing the appropriate reforms. At the housing level, City Council Social Services are often the only means of preventing blackouts. In the case of CAFs, after monitoring the groups and the reasons why members apply for loans, ACAF found that a large number of loans were applied for to pay basic supply bills if not the inevitable payment of bills left other basic needs unattended.
At that time, CAF-ACCIÓ was born, a project developed between October 5, 2015 and October 31, 2016 with 7 Self-financed Communities existing in Catalonia. The aim was for the members of these CAFs to be able to invest in improving the energy efficiency of the home in order to reduce the cost of their bills and, therefore, their economic dependence on third parties.
Subsequently, during 2016-2017, ACAF and Ecoserveis intend to go one step further and bring this methodology closer to groups of newcomers not organized through CAF, so that in this way they could be organized into popular savings groups, and become speakers and agents in the face of energy poverty.
Finally in 2017 a new project is proposed that can replicate this methodology but this time in neighborhood communities. Thus was born the project “Neighborhood Communities Against Energy Poverty”, which seeks to implement and consolidate a sustainable, innovative and non-welfare model in the face of the huge challenge of community and municipal management of public housing and especially those occupied by vulnerable or at risk of social exclusion. To achieve this goal, we focus the intervention on the conviction that the beneficiaries must be aware and, consequently, get involved in improving the energy efficiency of their homes, on the one hand, and make responsible consumption. of supplies in order to reduce the cost of their bills, on the other. The project took place between January and December 2018, in 11 municipalities and 18 neighborhood communities. The final budget approved for the development of the project “Neighborhood Communities against Energy Poverty” was € 59,080.00, largely funded (€ 50,000.00) by the Department of Labor, Social Affairs and Families of the Generalitat de Catalunya for the 2017-2018 financial year in the framework of the Program “Innovative actions of a preventive nature aimed at avoiding social exclusion and facilitating the empowerment of people who are in poverty”.
The planned actions consist of meetings, information workshops, diagnoses of homes and buildings.
This whole project is inspired by the CAF-ACCIÓ project promoted and implemented by ACAF and Ecoserveis during 2016-2017, and represents the consolidation of a methodology to reduce poverty and empower the most vulnerable citizens, this time also involving municipal administrations directly. For this reason, the methodological and social intervention guide developed by the project represents a starting point and not an end. The plan for disseminating the results of the project envisages bringing the methodology closer to other municipalities, neighborhood communities and town councils so that they can consider the suitability of promoting the creation of popular savings groups in order to promote their resilience to tackle energy poverty.
What are CAFs?
As some structures collapse and threaten to destroy the social fabric, the latter spontaneously strengthens itself with other mechanisms to deal with new difficulties, sometimes with surprisingly effective systems. In contrast to a welfare aid policy that consumes a large amount of resources, does not provide long-term solutions and often creates dependency, Self-financed Communities (CAFs) are a way of training and empowering communities so that these are the ones who, autonomously, take control of their situation and try to improve it through various tools, including mutual aid, savings, financial education and others; all through self-financing and self-management, which ensure its independence and sustainability.
Imagine a small box and a group of people who meet regularly to deposit their savings. This box serves as a common fund so that those who need it can access small loans: a breakdown at home, children’s school books, an unforeseen bill, or even being able to start a small business.
CAFs are small communities in which members, usually between 10 and 30 people, contribute small amounts of money that allow them to become shareholders in the group. With the fund created, small loans are offered to cover current expenses. In this way, communities can save and progress on their own through mutual aid. In just a few short years, more than 300,000 CAFs have been set up around the world, meeting the financial needs of twenty million people, mostly from the African, Asian and Latin American continents.
In these groups, the social part is equal to or more important than the economic part; According to a study by ACAF, for 60% of CAF members this is the only social network they have. CAFs dignify people because when applying for a loan, conditional on a previous saving, they exercise their right and, unlike the loans requested in conventional financial institutions, this is not granted to them as a favor but in a relationship of ‘equal to equal, which enhances the resilience of its members and of the CAF itself.
Communities are governed by democratic statutes established and managed exclusively by their members, on the basis of trust. Since the functioning mechanisms of the CAFs provide for the gradual incorporation of new members, the existing ones can expand their social circle leading to the emergence of subsequent social synergies.
Also known as Bankomunales in Latin America, CAFs have stood out for their ability to drive profound and sustainable change in the local economies and social fabric of both rural and urban communities. By their nature, they are a constantly evolving reality and in 2016 in Catalonia there are about fifty groups in operation that make up almost 800 people.
In the CAFs we find in Catalonia, amounts of around 400, 500 or 1000 euros are lent, which are used to meet basic daily needs and are very important for people with few resources. In these communities, capital grows by an average of 350% during the first year. As the members of the CAF are both providers and borrowers, the responsibility of each of the people increases and bonds of mutual trust are established between the members. Proof of this is the low delinquency shown by the groups. However, the main wealth of CAFs is not economic, it is the community union and the support network it represents for the people who are part of it. According to ACAF, 70% of the people who belong to the CAF are there because of the social network they generate.
While communities are organized through meetings where members add savings to the cashier, return outstanding credits, and request new credits, these meetings are also a time to share issues, have dinner, or have a drink. CAFs, then, are not small financial institutions, but – above all – groups of people.
Access to energy is linked to the well-being of people. Energy is needed for cooking, for lighting, for preserving food, or for hot water. Having difficulty accessing these services means living without the minimum conditions of comfort and, therefore, not having a guaranteed quality of life, dignity.
While there is no consensus on the definition of energy poverty, it is often identified as the inability to maintain a home at adequate temperature conditions at a fair price.
The lack of definition makes it difficult to develop specific measurement methodologies, however, the evidence is very present and more and more people are finding it difficult to meet their basic gas and electricity needs. It is estimated that around 10% of the population in Catalonia suffers from energy poverty and that this percentage continues to increase.
In order for a person to become “energy poor”, a multitude of factors are involved, many of which have had a special impact on Spain in recent years. The continued rise in energy prices, the reduction in the income level of many people as a result of the economic crisis or the conditions of real estate have aggravated the situation of many people and have led to the eradication of energy poverty. in a new social priority.
In fact, almost 9.1% of the Catalan population declares that they cannot keep their home at an adequate temperature, a situation that has effects on people’s health, family relationships, and academic performance, among others. .
The consequences of energy poverty are mainly related to: health conditions, decreased physical and academic performance, social and relationship problems (intra and extra-family), degradation of buildings, increased CO2 emissions (with consequent effects). on public health), and excessive debt.
Energy poverty affects a wide range of people, but the most vulnerable are those with less purchasing power. This is because the economic cost of heating a home with worse conditions is much higher than if the home is adequately insulated. A home that has a good thermal behavior revalues the property, so that people with low incomes, occupy buildings of cheaper prices, which have a worse level of energy efficiency, which represents a higher economic cost. in basic supplies to reach the same conditions of comfort.
This is shown by the data, as almost 20% of homes in Catalonia have moisture, leaks or other problems due to poor insulation. It should be noted that more than half of the housing stock was built before 1979, when there were no regulations governing the energy performance of buildings.
The lack of money from tenants makes it impossible for them to resolve or mitigate this situation. More and more homeowners are reluctant to invest in rehabilitating their apartments because, despite their low energy certification, high demand continues to guarantee their occupancy. Another decisive factor that causes basic supply bills to rise beyond the user’s ability is the terms of the contract. Powers contracted above needs, continued increase in the price of kWh, ignorance of the social bond and misinformation of users are the perfect combination for many people to live in permanent dependence on aid from municipal social services or social entities.
Until recent years, the issue has been addressed in a corrective manner by paying bills. Although they are urgent measures, such actions do not solve the problem or predict future situations, and the user will need help in the future.
An information session was held with each participating community with two specific objectives:
- Present the project to the community and contextualize the framework of action and duration of the different phases. It is explained that they have been selected together with 17 communities of residents from all over Catalonia, and that the work to improve the energy efficiency of the home at different levels: advice on supply bills, interventions in the home to install material to improve efficiency, and make a diagnosis of the building. In this way, the aim is to generate a first bond of trust and to achieve the maximum participation and involvement of the neighbors throughout the process. From this information session, the timing of the actions to be carried out in the community over the next months of implementation of the program has been agreed upon.
- Make a profit from the start. An energy billing workshop was held to explain how to reduce the amount of basic household bills. All the residents who attended this session ended up with a first idea of how to save on bills and with motivation to continue with the project and achieve greater savings results. This knowledge is consolidated throughout the project, especially with personalized advice.
This first space is also necessary to establish a first meeting point and start working in confidence both with the technical team of the project and with the rest of the community, with whom, often, relations are scarce or non-existent. · Les. Often, due to internal conflicts in the communities, there are neighbors who do not participate in this session, which makes it difficult for them to participate during the rest of the program, as they have not had the opportunity to meet him first hand or ‘establish the bond of trust with the technical team.
From this first session, a technical diagnosis of the building has been made in order to determine the energy uses and the supply contracts of the community. The purpose has been to detect existing deficiencies and propose specific actions for reform and improvement to be carried out (by the City Council and / or the community itself) in order to reduce the consumption of supplies and ensure the comfort of tenants.
It is important that these visits be carried out with both municipal officials and the residents themselves, who can provide first-hand information on the uses of both the common areas and the homes. Therefore, both structural and habitual aspects need to be taken into account in order to be able to intervene appropriately, suggesting appropriate improvements.
The diagnosis included visiting the common areas of the building and gathering information on community consumption, as well as some homes. In the case of housing, the needs of each person have been determined on the basis of the preliminary information (invoices, family composition, income, etc.) that the residents themselves provide when it comes to personalized advice to finish. outline the standard housing found in each community.
In order to obtain a complete diagnosis, administrative information has also been accessed regarding the conditions of ownership, rent, supplies as well as other technical aspects of the facilities necessary to complete the diagnosis, both at the community and community level. housing.
In line with the democratic and self-sufficient spirit of the CAFs, the identification of the beneficiaries of interventions within the communities is agreed upon by each of the neighboring communities. In this sense, the two homes selected by the community have been decided between the neighbors and the people in charge of the City Council assigned to the project.
During the intervention sessions, community members are taught how to install low-cost energy-efficient equipment in a home.
Despite being a working day, it is a learning session and, therefore, the people who receive the training must finish it knowing the material used, knowing where to find it, what the approximate price is and how install it. While it is important for the technician to install it, especially in areas where it may have a higher incidence during the winter, it is not necessary to install all available material if the intervention time is expected to be longer. of three hours, as it is necessary to devote a significant part of the time to show in detail how the material is installed and what use it has.
In the process of selecting the homes that will receive the interventions, it is important to take into account this more formative aspect, and therefore, the residents must be willing to open the doors to the rest of the residents. This is an important aspect to work on from building trust spaces.
In case of disagreement between the neighbors, this activity can be replaced by a workshop on energy saving measures in the home, as long as this includes the demonstration part of the implementation of the different materials.
Some municipalities have basic kits of materials to install in homes with more needs, this is a good opportunity for beneficiaries to apply the knowledge acquired.
The final step in energy interventions is to optimize household bills. One of the aims of the project is to limit users’ dependence on public resources for the payment of supply bills, as the non-assumption of all or part of the costs inherent in their consumption often leads to a total waste of energy.
In this sense, an information point has been set up in each community to which residents have been able to approach to receive personalized energy advice on their bills. The specialist technician makes a brief analysis of the invoices, proposes changes to the contracting of basic supplies that will reduce the invoices without reducing consumption and explains how they should be requested from the marketing companies.
The personalized advice also assesses the possibility of applying for the social bonus and provides information on the procedures required to benefit from it.
In some cases, counseling has been provided at a specific time in the user’s home to analyze the comfort situation in which the person lives.
Community support and savings
Throughout the process of improving the energy efficiency of the home, working sessions have been held with ACAF to raise the possibility of setting up a CAF with all or part of the residents of each community. Permanent mechanisms for solving basic needs, both personal and related to the payment of supply or remodeling in the common areas of the building, have been presented, based on the energy savings achieved in the other phases of the project.
Refrigerators, water heaters, heating systems and kitchens are the appliances that have the greatest impact on the economic cost of household supplies. If they are in poor condition or inefficient, they can be a decisive factor in not enjoying adequate comfort conditions or in not being able to pay for gas or electricity bills.
The endowment of a bonus for energy renovation of the home is intended to be an incentive for a beneficiary and for all members of the CAF to make an investment, that is, to apply for loans to renovate the equipment of the home. home. This bonus has been made possible thanks to the collaboration of the René store, with whom the models to which the beneficiaries could opt have been agreed and the time to redeem the € 200 bonuses has been delimited.
Each CAF has chosen one of its members as the beneficiary of these modifications; This selection has been made based on your personal situation and the state of your home. If there is more than one beneficiary, the group has been responsible for mediating and resolving, in accordance with the recommendations of ACAF and Ecoserveis.
In all cases, the renewal of the equipment has not been identified as necessary. In addition, the price difference between the “best possible solution” and the discount that could be chosen has repeatedly slowed down many people from applying for loans to renew their equipment. However, CAF-ACCIÓ has managed to encourage the renewal of energy equipment for people with a moderate and low income level, taking advantage of this bonus, as as a result of carrying it out, the people who benefit from it could cut the reduction of financial expense or improvement of the comfort experienced, encouraging other members of the CAF to replicate it.
Despite the renovation of equipment, the project has insisted on prioritizing low-cost material and recommending that loans be requested for passive measures preferably.
Evolution of the project
This section covers the main lessons learned from the initial initiative promoted jointly by ACAF and Ecoserveis and which was based on the program Fight against poverty and social exclusion of “La Caixa” Welfare Projects 2015.
The purpose of the project has been to nurture the networks and dynamics of solidarity of the Self-financed Communities to develop a self-sufficient collective methodology to fight energy poverty in Catalonia.
To do this, the project aims to transform the destination of the credit that people asked the popular savings groups to invest in improving the energy efficiency of their home, so that this action makes them reduce the cost of their bills and, therefore, their financial dependence on the group or with the help of the administration or social entities.
Articulated through informative actions, service-learning and support for users, both the members of the Self-financed Communities and the residents of their environment have benefited from the project. Far from trying to take on costly and caregiving interventions, the project has prioritized knowledge, training and user interaction.