|Sustainable Development and Persons with Disabilities: The Process of Self-Empowerment (ADF, 1995, 117 p.)|
|Section II: Building economic self-reliance|
|Chapter 6: Income generating project planning|
The women's wing of a PWD organisation decided that it was not fair that women were always limited to undertaking the "conventional" handicraft and poultry kinds of projects. They decided to try something more adventurous. Thus in 1992, they set up a clothing manufacturing company to cater for a fashionable women's market in the region.
A location was selected primarily because of the country's easy foreign exchange regulations at the time. Apart from this justification, no other organisational or management considerations were taken into account. The need for research and feasibility studies only became apparent after the business was facing problems. A feasibility study to determine viability of the project was carried out, but it was almost eight months after the company had already started business. By that time the study had become irrelevant.
Furthermore, no proper market study was undertaken. It was simply assumed that since there was nobody in the country who was manufacturing African designs for women, there would be a ready market for these. In the event the local market proved too small, and the company had no marketing expertise to reach out to the rest of the region, nor indeed a knowledge of how to go about hiring professional marketing skills.
The manager had not received any formal or informal training in business management. Earlier, she had successfully run the organisation's women's programme, and it was assumed that she would learn "on the job." At the inception of the company, there was no budget from which the management could operate. The mother body simply allocated funds and made payments according to 11 requisitions" from the company. Since a financial chart was non-existent, the resultant ad hoc financial administration became chaotic, affecting cash flow, borrowing, and further investments. By 1994, the company was in a serious debt situation, and had to close down.
Lessons to learn from the above experience
1. The desire to get out of stereotypical women's income generating activities was well-founded, but mere enthusiasm was no substitute for careful planning.
2. The feasibility and market studies should have been undertaken well before deciding on the location and scale of the enterprise, as well as on the type, quality, quantity and design of the product to be manufactured.
3. The management should have been professionally appointed. Preferably, a disabled person with management skills should have been found. Alternatively, the manager appointed should have been sent for training. Failing in both these options, it would have been better to hire a professional manager from the open market, until a disabled person could be trained for the job.
4. A proper budget and finance plan should have been drawn up. A certain amount of donor funding was perhaps justified in the initial stages on the grounds of "affirmative action," but eventually the enterprise could justify its existence only on the basis of its performance in the face of competition in the open market.
5. Proper stock control, quality and output control, cash flow control, proper book-keeping, constant market evaluation, periodic changes in the design of the clothing in response to market demand, expanding onto the regional market all these were necessary prerequisites for the venture to succeed. The company was deficient in all these.
A Collective Bakery Project
One Story of Failure An organization wanted to help start small businesses for people with disabilities. They chose an area where there were many disabled people.
The previous page shows another hypothetical story of an unsuccessful business enterprise set up by a donor organization. It is taken from the series of eight publications brought out by the ILO called: "How to Start a Small Business."
These are the lessons the ILO study drew out of this story:
· We must be sure that the people we are assisting really want to start small business.
· We must be sure that they are prepared to work hard and to cooperate with others.
· It is very important that persons with disabilities should themselves choose who to work with and what to do. Some persons might prefer to start a business alone, others might prefer to work in a group.
· We should only assist, not set up a business for them.
· If possible, the persons who want to start a business should contribute money from their own savings, or some of the material. It is also advisable to give a loan rather than a donation. This will give them a special reason to make their business succeed. They will feel that success or failure depends on their own efforts.
· It is also important that everyone gets some basic knowledge in management.
· We must visit regularly to give advice.
Although, as is clear from the above, the lessons are meant for the donors, with a slight amendment of the language they could well be lessons for the PWDs themselves.