Micro-Enterprise Development Research – Update

The blog below is written by Mark Welch, who has come on board for three months to research possible micro-enterprise businesses to be set up in the village. He is about half way through his time here and these are his reflections:

As I sit down to my laptop, I think of all the reading I have been doing and some of the meetings I have attended in order to get a better understanding of the tasks, challenges and obstacles that lie ahead. The term that is going around and around in my mind is the often used phrase in NGO circles “so as not to re-invent the wheel”. A good idea when looking at a new area is obviously to look at what others have already done, what they have learnt from their experiences, what they perceive to be the major challenges as well as what they would describe as their major successes. I can’t help but contrasting this expression with the horse pulled sled that was taking the reeds up and over the hill to the initiation ceremony that is happening in our village at the moment. Besides the 4x4s that bring guests to the lodge, the wheel is largely something belonging to an outside world…

Two village children next to me are paging through the texts of Todaros’ Economic Development. There are not many pictures so one begins to tap the front of the cover like it is a drum, before returning it to me as if to say, ‘Is this any use to me?’

I would hope that it can be, that the catch phrases and ‘big words’ used in many academic reports can ultimately translate to successful projects on the ground.

So the first stage involves learning as much as possible about the local economy.
This is being done on various levels.
One is a literature review which comprises of various case studies of successfully implemented projects. Mostly it’s the usual suspects …
The need is to strike a balance between interventionist dynamic ideas and to work with where people are at and move step by step from there.

It is indeed beneficial to learn from what people have been doing in the region.  For example the study done by the Nelson Mandela Foundation reveals many interesting and valuable lessons learned with particular reference to communities in the Eastern Cape.

We met with Transcape, an NGO affiliated to another Backpackers just north of Coffee Bay. The purpose of this meeting was to put together various people that are working in development in the area. They are further down the road in terms of micro -finance. Funding as is often the case, comes from overseas.
It was useful finding out what lessons they have learnt and how they go about implementing and managing their projects. Interesting that in some cases they have used the existing HIV support groups to start off small income generating projects.
I will have the opportunity to go a feedback day at a local hospital in August.

Another level of learning has been spending time in the village, talking with people and gaining insight into how the village economy works. Walking and talking with people is still the most valuable way to get to grips with the main challenges they face.

Women Power

I actively participated in Women Power Day which is basically a day in the life of the women of the village. I even managed to successfully balance and carry a bucket of water on my head, this was a way of impressing the ladies that I have certainly not used before…Yes I also cooked, made mud bricks, had my face done, carried wood on my head and ground maize. 

Old Mutual Financial Training Day
This day saw a team from Old Mutual come and do some training on money matters. There was some lively discussion and some valuable lessons were learned. It is also felt that training will be useful in the future that is more suitable to very rural contexts.

Pension Payout Day

This provided a good opportunity to get an idea of the flows of money into the village from pensions, disability and child grants. A vibrant market of traders follows the pension trucks, some coming from surrounding villages, others from Elliotdale, Mthatha and even Port St Johns. Prices are inflated. For example, a whole live chicken cost R75, and they were selling fast. A variety of goods were on sale. To give an idea of mark- ups we can look at the ‘Coke index’. This simple measure of purchasing power parity is generally indicative of the inflated  prices of most of the products on sale. (R12 for a bottle of coke that costs R8 in the city). The day provided valuable insight into how money is spent before it even gets into the village. Future business ideas wil take all of this into account.

Online Research

I have been casting the net wider looking for interesting and different ideas which could be relevant to improving the lives of people here. I am going through many different examples in order to try to get a wide range of success stories as well as failures. The particular challenge is that the ideas are relevant and that any technology is appropriate for an isolated rural area. It is clear that small medium and micro- enterprises can play a vital role but the right balance of training and mentoring will be crucial as well as a  combination between low risk simple ideas and more interventionist type ideas.

So the circle of village life continues to turn, each day sheds more light providing new insight and better understanding  This reminds me of the phrase ‘kumpondo zankomo’ which the Xhosa people use to describe the dawn – literally that time of day when just the tips of the cattles horns can be seen on the hills…

Mark

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