Responding to Strategic Gender Needs Critical to Women Empowerment

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Malawi Skills Development and Income Generation Project (From June 2002 – October 2009)

Context: This project emerged from the combined efforts of the Malawi’s government and the African Development Bank (AfDB) Group to empower the poor by providing a graduated response to the training needs of unemployed women and youth in functional literacy, basic business management, appropriate technology and vocational training in skills to enable them to engage in sustainable income generation activities.

To achieve this objective, the project comprises six mutually reinforcing components, namely:

  • Functional literacy,
  • Basic Business Management,
  • Vocational and Skills Development Training,
  • Institutional Strengthening,
  • Microfinance Scheme, and
  • Project Management

Reasons for the Choice:

  • The project responds to gender strategic needs that are critical to women’s empowerment, by promoting their financial autonomy; improving women’s self-esteem and self-confidence; giving women a voice and increasing their participation in decision-making processes at the household and community level
  • It successfully pioneered in implementing the indigenous Capital Building and Savings using the community development approach. Poor people were able to start and manage viable businesses with their own money without depending on borrowed capital.
  • The project responded to some practical gender needs in terms of increased household and individual incomes and improved living conditions and access to education, vocational training and appropriate technology
  • The project also promoted positive change in the gender division of labor and gender stereotyped jobs for some areas of activity which used to be the preserve of men (fishing).   
  • It has been successful in introducing savings mobilization by effectively linking rural business groups to the Banking system - critical in building an inclusive financial system.

Financing of the Project: The Project is financed by the African Development Fund (ADF) and the Malawi government to the tune of  UA 9,590,000.00  (USD 15 million) and UA 1,340,000.00 (USD 2 million), respectively.

Reasons for Success: The project design was based on experiences of the previous Women in Development (WID) project and on consultation with various stakeholders. Lessons from the on-going Bank interventions and other similar donor-funded interventions were taken into consideration in designing the project, which had the Ministry of Gender, Child and Community Development (MOGCCD) as the implementing agent with the projrct management unit, ministry staff and consultants.
The project was also designed to utilize community structures for functional literacy and business management training activities. The use of local instructors for the functional literacy programme and the Community Development Assistants (CDAs) for business management training and supervision of the business groups as envisaged at appraisal was laudable.

Impact: There is ample evidence that the literacy component, neo-literates who were socially and economically excluded before going through the programme have become very useful citizens and economically active too. Records have shown clearly that 36% of those in business groups came through the literacy component. Some have risen to positions in local committees while others are actively involved in business groups. For example, Violet Herbert Phiri of Tilimbe in Balaka who was one of the poorest in her village has pulled herself out of poverty and now leads a much better life. Her community has recognized her new status and has offered her the position of Care Giver in the Community Based Child Care centre. In the same village, Elizabeth Witiman, who also started with literacy lessons under the project has been given a position on the Water Users Committee. These are just two of many stories about people who were once socially and economically excluded but have now become key actors in the development of their communities.

There is also clear evidence that participants who joined business groups gained a lot in form of business management skills. They managed to identify and start their own businesses and are managing with little or no supervision from CDAs. This is evident in good record keeping, cash management and stock control procedures. For example Tipilire Piggery Group of Salima has very clear records dating as far back as 2003 and their marketing skills are exceptional. Nachisaka Bakery Group of Dowa is another well managed business with good records which are very easy to follow. Other notable examples are Witimba Bee Farming Group in Chitipa, Tiyezgepo Wine Group and Ukani Piggery Group both of Karonga and Dzilimbirewekha Bakery of Machinga. These groups are able to use their financial records to prepare small business plans that will guide their business expansion plans.

All trained groups have acquired production technology skills which they have used to embark on productive businesses all year round. This has given rise to increased household incomes for the beneficiaries. The technological uptake in these communities has significantly improved the standard of living for the local population (including those that did not directly benefit from project support).

The 1,710 production units that have been established have induced other economic activities and creation of employment for many people. For example Sekani Wine Group of Karonga buys inputs such as bananas and lemons from smallholder farmers and sells wine to retailers like Cuthbert Kayuni who were previously unemployed. Furthermore, the 1,710 business groups with a combined working capital of MK97.2 million pays Value Added Tax (VAT) at 16.5% when they purchase goods and services, which amounts to millions of Malawian Kwacha every month in increased revenue for the government.

The provision of staff training, equipment, vehicles and the construction of training facilities have significantly raised the ministry’s capacity to effectively and efficiently deliver its services. For example the ministry has recently embarked on a Mass Literacy Project using facilities and staff members from the SDIG Project. Another example is the new Umphawi Kwao Project in Ntchisi which was born out of the confidence (Norwegian) donors have had in the performance of SDIG Project staff in the district.  Therefore, the project had a good leveraging effect for the ministry.

People have learned how to generate their own capital, save with banks and how to revive their collapsing businesses on their own through the Indigenous Capital Building Initiative. For example, Tiyezgepo Wine Group of Karonga had MK1,023,461 as working capital at the close of the Project. Tayamba Bakery of Balaka revived their business after a collapse without borrowing.

The fruits of Capital Building and Savings Mobilisation have also been very clearly manifested in the lives of individuals. A visit to any group will reveal many success stories covering every aspect of life from housing to education, improved clothing to improved diet. In Kawanga village for example, almost all the good looking permanent houses belong to members of Tipilire piggery. In Chitipa members of Witimba Bee Farming Group have built 10 permanent houses with iron sheets for all the 10 members. In Karonga, one Mr Nyambirire Mwafongo of Chimango Bee Farming Group has built for himself and his family a permanent house with electricity, running water and digital satellite television.  

In the picture, Nyambirire Mwafongo and his wife pose in front of their comfortable home.

The Team of the project:

  • Task Manager:           Mr. Y Baldeh
  • Project Manager          Robert J. Njewa
  • Project Accountant         Joe F. Kamisa
  • Training Officer Production Skills      Chimwemwe Grace Kussein
  • Monitoring and Evaluation Officer     Emanuel Zenengeya