Working with Rural communities (Part 2)
Let me once again say, thank you for allowing me share my thoughts on job creation with you. This post will explore things that you can do to make tangible long term impact in rural communities.
Remember the first post about Noma who setup a skill acquisition center in his village?
Well, he was barely able to sleep after the day’s inspection, so very early the next day, he met up with Ezika and went to visit the village head to vent his frustration.
After listening to Noma's frustration at the bad state of the center and the lack of growth he had observed, all those who were trained were summoned to the palace. At first, everyone had a story about needing more money or more equipment and Noma was really losing hope until one of the women said,
"I am very happy that I learned hairdressing and I really love it, but the problem be say everybody mama dey make their hair for them on Sunday. Na for special occasion dem goo wan pay so, na only once or 2 times a month I dey work wen dem wan do wedding or birthday"
Oh! Noma was surprised.
"I get the same problem." Another person chimed in. "Na Aluminum dem teach me for there but nothing to do for here, na so so wood be the window and only when people from big city wan build house for here, na im dem go use aluminum window. Dem no even trust we village people to give us the work. Most of the people wey learn with me, don commot for village even"
(Translation: ...and I experience the same problem, I learned how to make Aluminium windows but all the houses here have wooden windows so there is nothing to fix. The only houses with aluminium windows are built here by big men from the city and they don't even trust those of us trained in the village with the job so they bring in other people.)
The number of nods around the room and more similar comments helped Noma to see that the common predicament was that of having great skills with limited demand.
"But this is what you people said you wanted to learn!" As Noma said it, he was relieved and confused at the same time. Does this mean that 'Village People' cannot just be helped?
No that is not what it means. It only means that more creativity is needed when designing programs. I have some tips for you below.
Almost all skills programs are great, it is the placement that determines their usefulness. As you saw in the story, the skills were not impact-full because of their fit with the environment. when I remember the first time I visited villages to do an assessment of what interventions to implement. The first thing you notice is there is little or no visible economic activity. Depending on how rural, you see homes, and places of worship for different religions and that is all.
As a result, one of the major challenges faced in rural communities is that they have no way of attracting income into their community. Infact, while money is not flowing in, you will most likely see avenues where money flows out, in tiny sheds selling things like soap, drinks, recharge cards, biscuits, sweets and many other items produced by large companies in cities kilometers away. In essence, money (how ever small) is constantly flowing out and very little (if any) is flowing into the economy of that area and circulating through local commerce. If you can make an impact on this cycle you will make long lasting change in that community.
1. Take the time to find out what imports can be produced locally:
Some people scoff at programs teaching the production of soap making, zobo, palm wine, paint e.t.c for rural communities. Well, replacing things that are already being bought with local options is an ideal way to put more money in the hands of the locals.
2. Develop skills and plug them into a value chain:
Whether or not you do step one, step two has the highest potential for real impact on income but I am sure you can image, it is also by far the most challenging. Every economy can benefit from export and the good thing is that it does not have to be international. It is a good idea to find something that the people in the community have a comparative advantage to produce because of their history, culture, population, location, natural resources e.t.c Build a skill program around it but most importantly develop people with the exposure and business acumen to take those products to richer communities, states or regions to sell at a competitive and attractive price. For example a special kind of fabric, art, processed farm produce, bottled palm wine or local beer being shipped out rather than the other way round. Even family history and stories can earn a juicy income, it only depends on how creative you are and how much blood, sweat and tears you are willing to put into the intervention.
3. Carry Out Market Systems Development:
This is the best of all the bests and the most sustainable way to really transform your target community. It cannot be done without step 2 and I will explain it with an example. Imagine that the community has a lot of farmers planting cassava but most of it gets rotten because there is no-one to buy it and even those who want to buy pay peanuts. In this situation, you can.
Find out the largest buyers of cassava e.g Start producers, ethanol plants e.t.c
Engage them to know what variety of cassava they want to buy in bulk and at what price
Broker a deal to supply their cassava for a year
Train the farmers on how to plant that variety and get the highest yield at the clients standards and at a cost that leaves them with a healthy profit
When the harvest is done, make the supply, get paid, pay the farmers well
Teach members of the community how to do the same thing
Expand the same model to other things like nuts, pineapple e.t.c
There is no limit. It takes time, effort, passion and even blood sweat and tears but in the long run, it is the ultimate solution
In all of this, remember that you are not allowed to become a crutch, is important that beneficiaries of programs recognize that it is a journey, that they are responsible for.
With these few points of mine :), I hope I have been able to convince you and not confuse you, that Portals and buildings don’t create jobs, systems do.