Kennedy, the Coordinator of the Fit for Life (FFL) Action, visited the EU headquarters in Brussels between the 31st and 2nd of April and Berlin on the 3rd of April to present successes and lessons learnt from the FFL project. It was two great occasions presenting the 3 year achievements at the EU Infopoint in Brussels and at the German Bundestag which reinforced our contacts with the unit in charge of Social Protection (SP) at DGDEVCO while stressing the important link between SP, Health and Reproductive Health and Rights using the best practices of “Fit for Life”.
Fit for Life is a 3-years Action (2011 – 2014) supporting social protection and employment of women and youth excluded from the formal labor market. DSW is the lead partner in this Action and works with the Professional Alliance for Development (PADet) in Ethiopia, The National Gender and Equality Commission (NGEC) in Kenya and the Legal and Human Rights Centre (LHRC) in Tanzania.
The informal economy provides livelihoods for the majority of the working population: In Tanzania; 90% of the working population work in the informal economy. In Kenya, 70 % of the working population work in the informal economy, and which creates 2/3 of new annual employment opportunities. In Ethiopia; 60% of the employment opportunities are in the informal economy. Women and Youth make up a disproportionate share of the informal sector workforce.
Workers in the informal sector are not registered, recognized, regulated or protected under labour legislation and have low or irregular income working for long hours and find themselves in small or undefined work places with dangerous or unhealthy working conditions. They suffer from what has been referred to as “decent work deficits” in rights, representation and social protection and therefore characterised by a high degree of vulnerability. FFL goals and objectives were outlined as aiming to empower and improve the livelihoods of women and youth in the forgotten informal sector while addressing their entrepreneurship skills and sexual and reproductive health and rights.
FFL results and successes:
107 Women and youth groups in East Africa have been empowered with knowledge and skills through trainings on entrepreneurship, life skills, leadership and sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Youth and women in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania have put the knowledge into practice and within an average period of about a year we see their small businesses with good financial records and enjoying good returns with links and knowledge on how to access loans and other support from the government and microfinance institutions. Over 60,000 community members have been reached with health awareness messages as trained Youth and Women cascade the knowledge that they get from DSW.
Youth and women in the project enjoy much better working environments and producing higher products making them more competitive in the market. There is increased engagement between stakeholder groups leading to more responsive and appropriate policies and actions.
“Fit for Life” has created a platform and opportunities for Youth and women in the informal sectors to engage in “Dialogue events” with their policy makers. Different Policies and by-laws have been analysed and reviewed with input from the Youth and Women groups. An example is the Micro and Small Enterprise Act 2012 in Kenya and the Nairobi Finance Act 2013 for Kenya. DSW produced Memos, Fact sheets and policy briefs to inform and lobby for support through local leaders that made it possible for the Nairobi County Finance Act to be blocked pending discussions and inclusion of the entire business sector including the informal sector on licensing and trade permit issues.
- Working in partnership with government is very crucial in achieving lasting impact. We have approached the government as our partner rather than a competitor in development. Youth and women groups have been incorporated into government development initiatives in Ethiopia and in Kenya.
- On job skill training is an efficient and effective way of enhancing skills. It is less costly and enables one to learn quickly while gaining experience in doing the job.
- Integrated RH and livelihood intervention approach is crucial for significant and sustainable change among the lives of people in the informal sector.
- Flexible approach must be adopted for women and youth in the informal sector that takes their working situation and other pre-existing conditions into consideration.
- Edutainment skills help create interest and motivates learning amongst the Youth. This has been effective as well in mobilising community members through outreach activities.
- Training of women and youth creates an immediate effect on their levels of knowledge on SRHR and business management.
- TOTs play a crucial role in transferring knowledge. Over 7,200 women and youth have received training from their peers on SRHR topics and business management skills.
- Closer follow up and supervision is very necessary especially when working with Youth who are a dynamic and highly mobile population.
Questions coming from presentations:
What is the real impact of the project and what are the indicators?
The project has a baseline which was used for mid-term review and will be used for final evaluation. Several individual case-studies were mentioned, as illustration of the type of indicators that are factored (savings, sustainability of businesses, etc)
If and how does the project use MFI tools; how do you engage with the institutions?
Micro financial institutions are key stakeholders that are engaged in the project dialogues. Some groups benefit from micro financial tools, but this is still not common to all, as in some cases interest rates are even worse than normal banks.
What are the selection criteria for enrolment in Vocational trainings?
- Assessment of vulnerabilities, in order to give priority to the most excluded (out of school, women informal groups, living conditions of individual and family, knowledge level, etc).
- Assessment of needs; when the project cannot include all, DSW links with the government to fulfil that need;
- Interviews are used to assess beneficiary’s commitment
If and how are trainings in public vocational institutions customized for the informal sectors; is the curriculum customized?
Not so much in terms of content, but more in terms of the duration and in some cases courses/skills are offered during the weekend for the informal sector. We make sure that vocational training graduates from the informal sector are ready to compete with the formal sector.
What are the key challenges the project faces?
There are several: i. internal competitiveness and leadership among groups; addressing this is a long-term process; ii. Political challenges including lack of commitment from some government officials who give false/empty promises to the Youth and women groups. Women and youth groups fail to get feedback from their applications to access women and youth funds and this demoralizes; specific case of restrictions in Ethiopia, where working in advocacy or defending rights is very difficult. iii. Poverty and illiteracy make it difficult for our target beneficiaries to read and understand policy legislation and engage in the processes of advocacy. iv. The youth is highly mobile and dynamic population and in some cases they don’t have any investments making it difficult for Micro finance institutions to loan them
Very encouraging to see today’s newspaper article included in the presentation that explains how advocacy efforts are helping improving a Kenyan Financial Act (which would originally become a disadvantage to the informal sector). What was the project’s role in this?
DSW worked closely with one of its champion MP, who took 7 other MPs to follow the memo we had put together regarding the Act. This news is just from today, so need further info from our office to make sure what the exact influence was. But it is important to reflect that our actions aim to improve the initiative and not just block it.
Does the project work with Networks and Associations?
Yes, the project also helps forming them.
Why does the project work with women groups only and not men?
Given the significant weight of women in informal economy in all these countries.
Are governments in Africa doing enough?
No, some are trying like the Ethiopian government which provides free space for Youth and Women to operate their businesses for a period of two years before they start paying rent. In Kenya there is a legislation to allocate 30% of government tenders to the Youth. Some of our Youth groups have so far benefited from the tenders. Kennedy made a remark to get the MPs support in sharing the same messages to other MPs and leaders in East Africa in particular to push for the policy legislation and allocation of resources to meet the needs of the Youth and Women in the Informal sector.
What are the sustainability measures?
Monitoring and evaluation provisions of EU funded projects are very strict and ask for forward-thinking planning of projects. FFL has the following strategies:
- The TOT approach and the development of training manuals is one of the sustainability measures in the project.
- Linking youth to prospective employers
- We are also assisting the youth and women groups to form networks to enable them stay together and have more organized opportunities to engage with policy makers.
Immediate outcomes: DSW was invited to join the EC capacity4dev.com platform, namely the Public Group on Employment, VET and social protection. As a member, DSW will be able to upload several information about the project, which will be public and reachable to everyone.