Methods: 14 focus groups were conducted in seven CSA program sites to ask these questions: 1) How can the social networks of parents in asset building programs be understood? Do they have both supportive and leveraging relationships? 2) How do parents' social networks influence their participation in asset-building programs? 3) How does program participation influence their social networks? All groups were recorded, transcribed, and entered into Atlat.ti for coding and analysis. Transcripts were coded for sensitizing concepts from the assets and social networks literatures, emic concepts that arose within group discussions, and etic concepts to place emic codes within a theoretical framework. To conduct the thematic analysis of the data, I looked for patterns in how and when ideas were raised, and then grouped these patterns into themed categories. A preliminary analysis was shared with participants who offered their interpretations, which were then incorporated into the final analysis.
Results: Four major findings were identified. First, parents described networks rich in supportive relationships but lacking in leveraging relationships. Social support helps people meet their survival needs on a daily basis and cope with life, while social leverage provides information and opportunities for social mobility. Second, parents' reported that their social networks influenced their ability to save as well and participate in program activities. At times they were unable to make deposits or made smaller deposits because they gave money to family or friends with pressing needs. Third, parents reported that participating in program activities influenced their social networks, although there were no similar reports of the accumulated savings in the accounts themselves influencing social networks in any way. Finally, parents expressed a desire for community and wanted to support one another in their saving and program participation.
Conclusions and Implications: This study has both theoretical and practical implications. First, it is important to expand understanding of economic decision making to accommodate the importance of parents' supportive networks and their desire for community. Next, enhancing the role of community-based organizations in providing education and support may help parents to more fully participate in asset-building opportunities. Finally, community-based organizations can develop programming to help participants develop healthy social networks. This would include dealing with the inertia supportive relationships can have on saving and social mobility, and promoting the leveraging relationships poor people need to build resources sufficient to move a family out of poverty.