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close this bookSelf-Employment for Disabled People - Experiences from Africa and Asia (ILO, 1989, 100 p.)
close this folder3. Disabled entrepreneurs: Case studies
close this folderThe sample
View the document(introduction...)
Open this folder and view contentsGroup I: Enterprises still receiving assistance
View the documentCommentary: Group I
Open this folder and view contentsGroup II: Enterprises which received assistance
View the documentCommentary: Group II
Open this folder and view contentsGroup III: Independent entrepreneurs
View the documentCommentary: Group III
View the documentNote

Commentary: Group I

The four enterprises described in the foregoing case studies are all still dependent to a greater or lesser extent on outside assistance. The Jerusalem Co-operative and the Oyugis Sheltered Workshop clearly rely very heavily on external support; it may be that neither of them, and particularly the Kenyan group in Oyugis, is seriously expected by its sponsors or its members to become independently viable. Luwo Jambo attempted to become independent, but realised that his business would never become fully viable. He has now come back for further assistance in the hope that he can succeed the second time with the aid of more capital.

Momodou Njie, the miller from the Gambia, clearly runs the most successful enterprise of the four which have been described. He still depends on the Indigenous Business Advisory Service for bookkeeping services, but the case study gives the impression that he is fully capable of making use of the information he receives from his accounts. He requires assistance because he is blind, but he is able to analyse the data, make operating decisions and plan the future of his business based on the information provided by the IBAS.

The members of the Oyugis Workshop, through their committee, are nominally in charge of their enterprise. However, it appears actually to be under the direction of the adviser who is not one of the disabled members but an outsider appointed and paid for by an external agency. The members have come together in order to seek self-reliance, but they are effectively employees of the assistance organisation without an effective leader of their own. The administrator appears not to take the interest in the business that would be expected if it were his own, and although the present situation of the members is clearly preferable to total idleness there is little indication that they can ever become genuinely independent under the present arrangements.

Each of the other three case studies illustrates important characteristics which often distinguish entrepreneurs, whether disabled or not, from people who are more likely to seek employment with others. These characteristics have helped all three disabled entrepreneurs to reach their present position and should, if they are not diverted by well-meaning external advice, enable them to succeed in the future.

The most obvious characteristic, which numerous studies have shown to be perhaps the most vital attribute of entrepreneurs of any kind, is persistence. Sister Mary of the Apostolic Faith struggled for years on her own in spite of wretched results and appears likely to be equally willing to persist in her efforts to encourage the members of the Jerusalem Co-operative to devote more time to their enterprise. Luwo Jambo has displayed perhaps the most remarkable persistence; he walked the hundreds of kilometres from his home to Harare with only a rubber pad to protect the stump of his amputated foot; he worked as a gardener and then as a cook for the same employer for 20 years, educating himself and learning a new skill at the same time, and then struggled for years at two separate centres in an attempt to establish his shoe repair business. Even now, he is not discouraged and is prepared to try again. Momodou Njie, like all people who have successfully overcome disability, was not discouraged by the loss of one eye nor even when he lost his sight altogether. Redundancy alone is enough to crush some people; Momodou Njie lost both his job and his sight, but still went on to start and run an expanding and profitable business.

All three people were also opportunists in the best sense of the word. They made the best use of their own skills and of whatever assistance was available, whether from family, or charitable or official sources. They grasped whatever opportunities the market provided and typified in their response to their problems the classic entrepreneur who “sees opportunities where others see problems”.

They also displayed a remarkable ability to learn new skills quickly and to compensate for their disability by outstanding capacity in other ways. Sister Mary Gwande learned to be an excellent seamstress in two months, Luwo Jambo learned the art of shoemaking in his spare time after being a gardener and a cook, while Momodou Njie, in many ways perhaps the most remarkable of the three, seems to have developed a most unusual ability to diagnose and repair diesel motors through the use of sound and touch alone.

The case studies also have important implications for those who work to assist disabled people to become entrepreneurs. The Jerusalem Co-operative may be a small success for the 19 members who are not disabled and possibly for the other three disabled members apart from its leader and initiator, Sister Gwande herself. From her point of view, however, it could be argued that if she had been able to obtain some modest assistance as an individual in order to overcome her inability to market her own goods, she might have succeeded in establishing a viable tailoring concern. The IBAS, by contrast, realised the need to “fill the gap” by providing bookkeeping services in order to make up for Momodou Njie's blindness, and thus played an important part in his success.

The Oyugis group, like the Jerusalem Co-operative, appears to have come together in order to take advantage of government assistance. There are many good political and practical reasons why governments and other agencies find it more attractive to work with groups than with individuals, but in Sister Mary's case certainly, and possibly in the Oyugis situation, it might have been better if assistance had been available to people who wanted to work on their own as well as to groups. Like so many disabled people, such as Luwo Jambo, Sister Gwande and one or more of the Oyugis group, they might eventually have trained and employed other disabled people to work with them. This might have been less dramatic and slower, but would probably have provided a sounder basis for genuine future independence, albeit for a smaller number of people.

As so often happens, the assistance agencies appear to have neglected the importance of effective marketing. The Government's efforts to obtain school uniform contracts for the Jerusalem Co-operative were far from successful, and there appears to be a real risk that if Luwo Jambo is encouraged to restart his shoemaking business by a loan or grant to buy new materials and equipment, this will not in itself solve the basic marketing problem which he has so rightly identified. Momodou Njie with his mobile milling machine demonstrated that it is necessary for a business to reach out to customers rather than relying on them to come to the business. Disabled business people have to do this just as much as any others.

Assistance agencies, which are so used to people coming to them, have to remember that they must not only reach out to their clients but also assist their clients in turn to reach out to their customers. Any service, whether it be milling, shoemaking, tailoring or assistance for disabled entrepreneurs, has to be effectively marketed to its clients at the place and at the time where they need it.