Projects (often means ‘Aid’) or growing small sustainable businesses?

What is a Project and What is a Business?
The thoughts below have been lifted mostly from Dr Merida Roets of Scientific Roets (PTY) Ltd, Kokstad, South Africa, www.scientificroets.com.
The field of rural development is scattered with the skeletons of good intentions, failed attempts at well-intentioned philanthropy and wasted funding. With very little investigation, the cause of failure of any of these projects can be determined. Through experience of rural development over the last five years, the team of Scientific Roets have discovered that there is often a misperception amongst the beneficiaries of these “projects” regarding what the intention of the funding is. We have found that rural development funding has created a nation of beggars (at worst), or, at very least, communities of “career-project-beneficiaries” or “project-hoppers”.
I was involved in a meeting where the discussion was around a livestock initiative. During the lunch break, I was chatting to three ladies who each had on a different “project” T-shirt. One was “Women in Petrol and Gas”, another was some-or-other community garden project, another was about trees (if I recall). I was probably feeling particularly exacerbated that day, and asked the ladies if they felt that rural development assistance was of any use to the betterment of their lives. “Oh yes,” came the quick answer from one. “I’ll give you an example,” said the other. “There is a young woman in our village, who has three children. Her husband left her a few years ago and it is very difficult for her. However, we recently had a sewing project introduced in our village. The young woman made some very good money from sewing dresses for the ladies in the village.” I was elated (a simple story showing how lives can be changed!). The story-teller continued: ‘When the thread for the machine ran out, another funder came and a chicken project was started. She was able to grow the chickens and sell them for income……….” At this my heart sank. The young woman of the story was being enabled to move from one project to the next, much as job-hoppers do. Only, in her case, these weren’t employers from whom she was drawing an income, it was donors. The resources provided to her: the training, the equipment, and the start-up materials, were all very well-intentioned, but no-one had empowered this women to run her dress-making activities (or the poultry activities thereafter) as a profitable business with long-term financial sustainability.
In the rural development projects we become involved with, the team of Scientific Roets uses a participatory exercise with the role-players to explore and understand the differences between a project and a business, and the final aim to which the project role-players should be aspiring. The exercise consists of the facilitator writing down the word in the first column of the table shown below and inviting inputs from the group to offer a similar word that applies to the second column.

A PROJECTA BUSINESS
BeneficiariesEmployees
Group leadersManagers
Stakeholder (Municipality, Donor/Financier, Input suppliers, Private service-providers)Shareholders
Role-players (Donors, Dept. of Agriculture, Dept. of Arts and Culture, Municipality)Service Providers
Project ProposalBusiness Plan
Project steering committeeBoard of Directors
Infrastructural developmentInfrastructural maintenance
DonorsInvestors
Project Managers / Project ImplementersAdvisors / Service Providers
Remuneration: Stipends or nothingRemuneration: Salaries or profit sharing
Project managers/ Project Implementers Advisors/Service ProvidersAdvisors/Service Providers
Capacity building In service Skills upgrade/ in-service trainingIn service Skills upgrade/ in-service training
Funding / Grants Income generated or LoansIncome generated or Loans

This exercise is a useful tool to get everyone into the right mind-set as regards the aim of the “project” activities: “We are going somewhere with this” – “We should not expect funding to sustain these activities indefinitely” – “We will not be drawing income in this first period” – “We should not continue with this project if it cannot produce profit with which to sustain our activities”.
The task of a good Project Implementer is to assist Project Beneficiaries to move from the Left to the Right of this diagram. If donors are clear about their own objectives for development then they will ensure that they clarify the above-explained differences when they first initiate rural development activities that have an economic motivation.

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