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Shedding aid dependency: How does Business Fit Into Development?

Siena Anstis's picture

My first reaction to AMREF's, Why We Need A Fourth Year in Katine, was "of course you need a fourth year in Katine!" Development doesn't happen in four years, let alone five or ten. Aid dollars spent over a short period of time with little follow-up support are often wasted.
Development organizations, combined with the efforts of aid organizations in the first few years, should consider longer contracts. Tax payers need to understand the need for this (cue: journalists).
Of course, development interventions should not be prolonged over decades. You want communities to be independent of your assistance within the first few years because this means you have succeeded.
Photo: Siena Anstis

Learning from the Women of Kireka project -- a business Project Diaspora and I started to help a group of internally displaced women sell their crafts on an international market and move off the Kireka stone quarry -- I wonder if there might be a stronger role for traditional business in the development debate.
What about flat-out aid/traditional development for five years with a progressive move towards locally-generated profit? Because donors are hesitant to fund long-term development interventions, this might be one of the better options.  
A couple of months ago, I documented some work under the Costal Rural Support Program (CRSP) funded by the Aga Khan Foundation in Coastal Kenya. They have been working in the region since 1997, but while livelihoods have improved, farmers have not made enough profit to buy products and information to protect themselves against the climate. While they briefly worked with Honey Care, they are still not branched into a regional or international market.
Why not? Perhaps there has been too much focus on traditional development and not enough on profit (which is often vilified). CRSP has now moved into Tanzania with the right idea. They want to help farmers sell their sesame and rice products regionally and perhaps internationally. They want people to invest in technology that will allow farmers to make products like tahini and oil.
With the Women of Kireka, we understand that aid does have its place -- we're paying the women's children's school fees this term to ensure their children can go to school while their parents combine working at the quarry and making and selling beads through their new company. Ideally, as time progresses, we won't be paying any school fees, health fees or anything else. The Women of Kireka will have regional and international buyers funneling enough money for the women to pay these living costs, while investing and expanding (tailoring is the next target).
I am sure the Women of Kireka scheme will take a decade or more to become entirely successful with the women managing their business. Meanwhile, they will rely on the continued support of Project Diaspora and partners like Ethnic Supplies. While ten years might seem a long time, the outcome will be definitive: a profit making company that can be inherited by family and/or expanded to include more workers on the Kireka quarry. Most importantly, development support or aid will no longer be necessary for these women and they will be able to share their new skills with others.


Submitted by Tawanda Abraham Makunike on
Evidently what Project Diaspora is doing is a good job. No one would question the importance of starting a profit making business for a poverty striken society. The world's richest people are that rich because of businesses that they have built for themselves. I think focus should really be put on developing profit making businesses rather than hand to mouth businesses. My worry, however, is that are these people educated enough to take care of these businesses. There are basic foundamental principle that people running businesses need to put in mind. Best business practices and corporate governance which largely lacks in all levels of society in Africa. Without such education a business' lifespan is largely shortened and even getting that business to be self sustainable will take much more time than if these principles are implemented. What has Project Diaspora done to make sure that the people you are helping start businesses have the capacity or at least have some capacity built to be able to run the business in the long run?

Submitted by Siena on
Hey Tawanda, Thanks for the excellent comment. Project Disapora is aiming to integrate "business training" for the Women of Kireka over the next few months. They will be facilitated by a Ugandan woman with significant experience locally and internationally in the business-sector. Of course, they will be tailored to the needs of the women and the situation they find themselves in, particularly in terms of limited education and English. Please send me an email at [email protected] if you want to continue this conversation. I can hopefully give you an update in a few months. We're not expecting miracles, but we do agree that building capacity is a part of the whole, long-term picture and we've been lucky enough to find someone interested in doing it pro-bono. Best, Siena

Submitted by Anonymous on
nice blog