All posts tagged International development

Interview with Dr. Ernesto Sirolli – Enterprise Facilitation

Posted by / 1st June 2015 / Categories: Polis / Tags: , , / -

This month´s focus is on Enterprise Facilitation, a person-centred approach to community and economic development, developed by the Sirolli Institute. Since 1985, Enterprise Facilitation has provided a mechanism for mobilising community leadership and community revitalisation around the world. This article is based on a conversation between Dr. Ernesto Sirolli, the founder and director of the Sirolli Institute, currently based in California, and Thomas Kruiper, Head of Communications at ReSeT’s Polis Project. 

Having worked for several NGOs in different sub-Saharan countries in the 1970s, Ernesto Sirolli knows all too well what the relationships between donors, NGOs, and local recipients of development aid look like. In his view, many development actors from industrialised countries believe wholeheartedly that they know precisely how to help and that they have all the right solutions for their aid-recipients. “They believe that if it wasn´t for the attitudes of local aid-recipients and the corruption of African policy makers, they would have already turned Africa into a Garden of Eden”. According to Sirolli, this misconstrued relationship between North and South has done a lot of harm in creating dependency and distorting local incentives for participating in development cooperation projects.

How different is Sirolli´s own philosophy? The Enterprise Facilitation method that he pioneered in 1985 is based on the idea that people that do not want to be helped should be left alone. His Enterprise Facilitators work with community-based boards to provide free, confidential business management and networking advice to aspiring entrepreneurs and existing businesses. Sirolli: “The only way in which you can truly help people is if they come to you to. And entrepreneurs will only come if you can guarantee confidentiality and if you take their initiatives seriously. The key is simply to shut up and listen.” Enterprise Facilitators thus focus on working only with people that have the intrinsic motivation to learn.

The Enterprise Facilitation method is the result of many years of experience and many mistakes that Sirolli made developing the method as a young man in Esperance, Western Australia. “The first time I made a connection, it turned out that my client never paid the supplier and that he had bankrupted twice before in the past, so I blew my contacts and my credibility. So we are incredibly careful before putting our clients in touch.” Now Enterprise Facilitators in over 300 communities worldwide make sure that the entrepreneurs they coach have the product, the marketing skills, and the financial skills before jumping into the deep. “And since no-one has ever been able to master all three skills by him or herself, we focus on forming teams of people with different skills. So rather than teaching entrepreneurs a skill they don´t like and will never do well, we connect them with people that can make their business stronger, because nobody can do it alone.”

Currently, most Enterprise Facilitators are based in rural and disconnected communities in industrialised countries, but Sirolli sees huge potential for his method and similar methods in the developing world too. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, an Enterprise Facilitator is working with entrepreneurs who belong to a local Methodist church in Katanga. Before agreeing to install the Enterprise Facilitator- who is also a local- Sirolli told the bishop leading the community that he would not do it unless the people in the community invited them,“…because otherwise we would yet again be missionaries”. So the bishop went back to the church and said: “If you want an Enterprise Facilitator in this community, you have to write Sirolli first”. He received 89 letters, and over the past two years, 187 new businesses were started, employing more than 750 people.

In the development sector, fortunately there is a growing amount of actors who recognise that NGOs should listen more and talk less. Local voices are increasingly included and local partners nowadays tend to get a slice of the pie when it comes to project implementation. But that does not mean that they are willing to give up their centre-stage position, because development workers also tend to have mixed incentives. “Many NGOs are so interested in raising money that they become great at telling beautiful stories about how they represent local communities and about how they will spend the money on fancy projects. But the fact is that they don´t represent these communities; they were never invited in the first place.”

Enterprise Facilitators thus only enter communities when invited, and only respond when they are asked for help. Their salaries reflect local standards and are typically paid for by local governments or external sponsors. “How different is that from your typical development cooperation project? Just try to get an NGO that is used to getting millions of dollars per year to implement their projects to switch to a system in which a local representative costs maximally 5000 USD per year.”

The Sirolli Institute is currently based in over 300 communities worldwide and aims to mainstream the Enterprise Facilitation method, both in developed and developing countries. His TED-talk “Want to Help Someone? Shut up and Listen!” has been shared over 2 million times.




Localising the Post-2015 Debate: What are the realities?

Posted by / 1st June 2015 / Categories: Analysis, Polis / Tags: , / -

On my flight to Nairobi, Kenya in March this year, I sat next to Lydia, a director of a subsidised maternal health centre in the outskirts of Nairobi. I was itching to find out if the waiver of maternity fees in all public hospitals in Kenya as declared by president Uhuru Kenyatta two years ago, was making a difference as far reducing maternal deaths is concerned (Millennium Development Goal (MDG) no.5 – improve maternal health care). Lydia spoke of the doubts that many Kenyan women continue to have about the quality of maternal health care in public hospitals now that it has been made free. When I asked her whether there was awareness on MDG no.5 among the health professionals she has interacted with, she mentioned the health goals are not known by many local health workers and are usually first encountered when seeking for funding from international foundations and thus perceived as donor-driven. She pointed out that the health goals amongst others needed to be better communicated and ‘localised’ with incentives for them to be achieved.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) akin to MDGs, are discussed and agreed upon between United Nations, international organisations and country representatives. However their successful uptake and implementation depend on the involvement of ordinary local people who are not always aware of the objectives nor included in the decision making process. The anecdote above begs for a more detailed account of why localising SDGs is important and what simply the breaking down of these goals to locals implies for their achievement. Localising the SDGs is about getting the message understood and put to action beyond the national level. It is about making sure locals or ordinary citizens, businesses and community based organisations have a clear understanding of what these global development goals are for in order to fuse the goals with their own ideas or businesses. It is about them seeing that they have a stake in them and are hence motivated to insist that their leaders work with them towards making them a reality.

One of the key reasons to localise SDGs is that regional or local governments as well as other local actors (private sector, informal groups and community based organisations) are best placed to inspire and monitor ownership and commitment to realise these goals. Understanding that SDGs are not externally driven but part of improving livelihoods, can create an incentive for the locals to participate in their uptake. A localised approach of SDGs follows a multilevel and multi-stakeholder approach in enabling transformative agendas at the local level and a strong national commitment that provides adequate legal frameworks and institutional financial capacity to local and regional. The lower tier of government in many developing countries enjoys closeness to ordinary citizens and therefore serves as an essential partner and agent for change on the ground. The realities on the ground whether man-made or environmental cannot escape the observation of local leaders, and they are far better placed to understand which groups are marginalised, and how to involve them in bringing about change. The access of local actors is particularly essential in reaching out to invisible and ignored  groups who have for a long time been the subject in international development. Furthermore, national governments in most cases rely on local authorities for an assessment of the local requirements as well as capabilities.

Localising SDGs can also be a vehicle to building legitimacy of the national and local governments. Local governments play a fundamental role in ensuring that there is accountability, equity, transparency and rule of law when it comes to service delivery to citizens. When services are delivered to locals and they are content, citizens gain confidence and trust in government activities in their lives. Moreover, being on the frontline and affiliated to central government, local governments possess legitimacy; the SDGs demand national commitment to provide the necessary legal framework and financial as well as institutional capacity to local and regional governments. This ‘call-to-action’ to central governments pushes the implementation beyond the adoption of goals only in the national agendas but decentralising it to the local level, which was not done nor mentioned in the MDGs.

Duncan Green and his colleagues have underscored the importance of examining whether MDGs strengthened or weakened the social contract between citizens and the state, i.e. the impact of MDGs at the national level and what kind of decisions were made from the national to the local levels. The MDGs and SDGs stemmed from principles of the Millennium Declaration aimed at according various rights to people globally. Engaging locals and their leaders to understand and implement SDGs presents an opportunity to strengthen the social contract between the state and its citizens. By raising awareness of the goals, and creating the climate for people to follow through with the adoption of SDGs which can then feed into their own personal development, local involvement is likely to be guaranteed and government would have also in a sense fulfilled their role.

Accepting and acting on the fact that local communities understand their situation and can best articulate what is needed to make their lives better, is yet to take firm root in international development. Beyond 2015, an aggregate of ongoing Post-2015 debates equally shows that evidence for the goals to ensure involvement of locals abounds. Initiatives such as the Ground Level Panels which were held in Uganda, Brazil, Egypt and India, revealed the importance the groups surveyed put on inclusion, rights and identity and less attention on gender or water or energy or aid which were more emphasised by the High Level Panel.Localising SDGs in this case means recognising the potential of, or ongoing projects led by groups commonly perceived as vulnerable or marginalised. It calls for a shift from solely focusing on the vulnerabilities of these communities and moving on to harmonising their ideas with the targets of the SDGs.  As sharply articulated by GCAP Co-Chair Marta Benavides  ‘it is not for these people to accompany development but for development to accompany these people’.

In translating the SDGs into practice, local governments will inevitably face challenges. One of these challenges with particular relevance to implementation to be conducted by local governments touches on choosing the relevant targets and setting them at the local level. The targets that could be taken up will ultimately depend on country policies, priorities and decentralisation and how they can also be aligned with national and local development plans. This alignment requires governments to set aside funding – an issue which remains thorny in many developing countries, some of which express that SDGs similar to MDGs did not take into account voices of those in developing countries.  The question of financing SDGs is also problematic because the goal setting has been primarily externally led, and there is a high probability of SDGs being perceived as another excuse to channel aid into developing countries, which reinforces traditional narrative of development with ‘beneficiaries’ and ‘donors‘. In a recent consultative meeting on Post-2015, some government officials complained that during the MDGs, donors did not provide funds to support ‘their’ MDG. Therefore in some circles, the feeling that SDGs are still donor driven remains strong and is hindering the ownership of these goals contrary to what localisation is advocating for. Recent debates on how to pay for the SDGs by the big financiers also unveiled the interests by different international organisations to channel money to specific sectors and not to others. These interests contravene the core goals of the SDGs meaning that for the local needs to be given priority, the narrative of development also needs to change to one that puts people first.

The means of implementing SDGs is a chance for member countries particularly in developing countries to mould the goals into country-specific development agendas and find ways of financing them. That way, local ownership will also be assured and the development narrative that speaks of partners is likely to develop in the long run. Several domestic options to finance SDGs have been tabled ranging from foreign direct investment, impact investment, tax collection from natural resources (put forth by the African Union) and close collaboration with the private sector. These domestic resource mobilisation options are also more likely to better take into account the needs of local actors and propose what kind of collaboration will be necessary with international actors. By focusing on local alternatives to finance the goals, Lydia and other health professionals in Kenya will understand the relevance of SDGs in their work.


A Precarious Generation in Transition

Posted by / 17th February 2015 / Categories: Miscellaneous / Tags: , , , / -

Recent market reforms and the increased importance of the internet are limiting the nation-state’s role as a source of belonging and material welfare for young men and women.  Within this context, un(der)employed youth constitute a global precarious generation that is simultaneously freer to formulate its own goals and act upon them and increasingly limited by lacking opportunities and the need for financial security. This paradox becomes particularly apparent during empirical studies of young people in moments of rapid social change. On the one hand, possibilities seem unlimited in the global era, while on the other, there are fewer safety nets for young people to feel independent enough to pursue their preferred options.

The total number of unemployed people in the world is estimated at 1.1 billion. At the height of the recent economic crisis, there are estimated youth unemployment rates of around 55% in countries such as Spain and Greece; around 25% in long developed nations such as France and the United Kingdom; and alarmingly high rates in many sub-Saharan African countries. Unemployment rates are also hard to estimate in countries where people work mostly in the informal economy, and they do not take into account people who are underemployed (part-time, intermittent or temporary work).

Alcinda Honwana argues that young people around the world are in ‘waithood’, a period of suspension between youth and adulthood whereby un(der)employed youth are unable to become recognised fully fledged citizens (adults). They lack a steady and sufficient income that would allow them to become financially independent, get married and start a family.  In many countries around the world, however, accessing adulthood is dependent on marriage and household formation. The New York Times  recently produced a series of articles arguing that millennials are redefining adulthood because they lack economic opportunities and are disillusioned with the institution of marriage and the existing job market. Middle-class youth often prioritise daily leisure over long-term professional planning because they either lack stability or do not regard it highly.

The most recent technological revolution has opened up the sphere of existing possibilities for un(der)employed youth. The internet facilitates access to capital, freelance opportunities, learning new skills and networking using dynamic tools such as MOOCs and social media. The long-term effect of these technological changes on the way societies conduct politics, learn and organise the economy will be significant, as online initiatives grow exponentially. Along with other forms of shared cultural consumption, they contribute to young people’s growing sense of awareness and existence within a wider world.

Young men and women are now also freer to travel around the world. The sharp decline in transport costs have encouraged millions of un(der)employed youth to travel elsewhere in pursuit of jobs and exciting new lifestyles.  They encounter new forms of social organisation and become accustomed to cultural diversity, providing new outlooks on their own lives. Travelling to new places also raises awareness about the existence of other un(der)employed youth who migrate for similar purposes, a sort of new ‘class consciousness’ in-the-making that can be observed on public squares, in local neighbourhoods, in workplaces and more.

Meanwhile, neoliberal economic reforms such as reduction in public spending and emphasising labor flexibility have limited young people’s ability to become independent and plan ahead. Public sector jobs were once widely available in many European and African countries. They were guaranteed for life and enabled young men and women to have the material stability required to start planning their futures. Permanent contracts in the public and private sector are being progressively replaced by temporary or part-time work. Prevailing economic paradigms seek to optimise wage distribution through measures such as zero hour contracts and consultancies instead of long-term employment. Welfare benefits are also getting slashed in an attempt to create a more ‘responsible’ body of citizens, leaving few opportunities for young people to pursue personal projects and long-term professional ventures.

In the absence of work, the flexible individual must constantly renew his or her skill set and obtain new experiences that can be sold on the job market. There is a large demand for qualified workers in the private sector that remains void, despite an increased focus of public and non-profit institutions on professional training. The ability to become flexible and more employable, however, is highly dependent on a person’s wealth, education and social network (although the internet is changing the latter two). Youth from poor or lower middle-class families are less capable to commit to learning skills because they often need immediate revenue streams.

This precarious generation must focus on short-term strategies to live according to an acceptable standard of living. Many of them get by using creative tactics that allow them to assert their independence and compromise, despite a strong lack of opportunities. Walid, 31, speaks four languages and most recently lost his job in a hotel on the Tunisian coast. Despite wanting to work in a hotel again, he roams the streets of Tunis selling old cellular phones and finding tourists who can teach him about their country and language and give him some money. After completing her Law degree, Maria, 28, has spent the past five years away from her hometown of Barcelona where jobs have become scarce. She moves from one European country to another every few months looking for jobs in catering or cleaning, despite wanting to be a lawyer. While these cases may seem isolated, they both highlight a lack of long-term opportunities and the continuous negotiations between young people’s expectations and their actions to find work.

The urgency of resolving youth unemployment cannot be understated. Many academic studies and policy-makers acknowledge the need to address this issue as a security threat to existing societal arrangements. This precarious generation feels increasingly alienated from political decision-making processes and economic opportunities, highlighted by low youth voter turnouts in new and old democracies alike. Un(der)employed youth are prominent in informal social movements such as the Occupy movement (often due to student debt), the Arab Spring (the symbol of Mohammed Bouazizi in Tunisia), uprisings all over Africa in 2010-2011, the 15-M movement in Spain, etc. Their marginalisation from the existing political and social order leads them to look for meaning in new creative ways; sometimes revolutionary, sometimes reactionary.

Honwana argues that waithood is gradually replacing conventional adulthood. The issue of youth unemployment has become a pressing policy matter (EU 2020 Priorities) and its resolution will be of great significance to the maintenance of the existing social contract. While competition becomes fierce for the few existing jobs, young people’s enhanced sense of freedom will enable many of them to create new things in the shell of the old. We are living in a transition period where the new has yet to be defined, as possibilities seem endless but short-term economic opportunities remain scarce. But the global precarious generation is certainly not complacent; it is actively shaping its future society in immeasurable ways.