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close this bookThe Courier N° 159 - Sept - Oct 1996 - Dossier: Investing in People - Country Reports: Mali ; Western Samoa (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)
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close this folderMali : An omnipresent sense of history
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View the documentBrain drain : Colossal loss of investments for developing countries
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View the documentMobilising Commonwealth skills for Commonwealth development
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Mobilising Commonwealth skills for Commonwealth development

The role of the Commonwealth in the economic and social progress of its member states is neither widely known nor widely publicised. Yet for over 25 years, the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC) has made significant contributions to the efforts of its developing member countries to accelerate the pace of their economic development.

The recognition by the Commonwealth that people are its greatest resource forms the basis of its approach to development assistance-providing, in the short term, specialist technical skills which are either not available or are in short supply to governments to enable them to fill key positions in areas as diverse as export and industrial promotion, high-level economic and legal services etc, and in the longer term, a wide range of training programmes in areas that are crucial for economic development.

The Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation is funded by voluntary financial contributions from member governments which, as has just been mentioned, can also draw on it according to their needs and priorities. As a pioneer of technical cooperation between developing countries, the Fund recruits its experts from these countries and encourages South/South cooperation. It is thus not uncommon to see West Africans serving, on short-term contracts, as legal officers in remote Pacifc island states or Sri Lankans or Indians advising on new agricultural techniques in Africa. The Fund is administered by four separate divisions within the Commonwealth Secretariat: the management and training division; the general technical assistance division; the export and industrial development division, and the economic and legal advisory services division. In 1994-95 the CFTC's financial resources stood at around f23.6 million (ECU 30m).

Human resource development

Nearly one-third of the CFTC's budget is spent on human resource development, helping enhance people's skills through a mix of training workshops, study visits and individual attachments.

Some 4000 training fellowships were awarded in 1993-95 to enhance technical skills. These were given to middle and senior professional, technical and administrative managers to study at some of the Commonwealth's best institutions or to take up work attachments (63% of training takes place in less-developed countries).

The Fund also enables universities and other institutions to become centres of excellence and upgrade the tuition they offer by appointing academic and technical specialists. In 1993-95, for example, it helped five universities in Africa and the Caribbean to run applied Masters courses through collaboration with other Commonwealth universities.

As the CFTC is usually able to meet only 60% of the requests it receives for specialised training, its programmes are held on a regional and pan-Commonwealth basis to maximise impact, especially in topics such as administrative reform, financial management and strategic planning.

The Fund's training priorities include:

- first and foremost, identifying needs (consultants are sent to countries to examine their development plans and help them to prioritise training needs).

- providing education and training in key areas that reflect CFTC concerns such as well-managed economic and financial reform by government, sustainable development, participation of women and application of technology.

- ensuring an integrated package of consultancy, advice and training to help managers in government, and public and private sector enterprises to coordinate and manage reforms and restructuring.

- organising policy workshops and seminars that bring together senior government officials, executives and academics from Commonwealth countries to pool experiences, learn examples of best practice, discuss problems and reflect on emerging issues.

- giving support to institutions to offer new and specialised education and training programmes.

- providing technical and vocational training under the Commonwealth Industrial Training and Experience Programme (between 1993 and 1995, workshops were held in hospital equipment repairs, railway repairs and maintenance and computer-assisted manufacturing).

- providing training in information systems, new technologies and environmental issues (governments are helped to develop management information systems and apply information technology).

-setting up programmes for women with a particular focus on entrepreneurs and community managers (among other initiatives, the CFTC is helping three African universities develop specialised programmes in entrepreneurship for women in non-traditional sectors).

-coordinating wider linkages among professional networks to facilitate exchanges of information and examples of best practice (the CFTC recently helped to set up the Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management to assist in improving public service performance and in raising ethical standards).

Expertise on tap

Shortage of skills is one of the biggest stumbling-blocks facing countries trying to raise the living standards of their people. Providing experts accounts for about one-third of the CFTC's budget.

Because its assistance is relatively small and carefully targeted, it avoids the potential waste associated with larger scale projects and poor technical planning. In 1993-95, the cost both of a typical long-term expert and an average project was around £50 000 (ECU 62 000) a year. Experts can be in place within three or four weeks of project approval.

During the same period, over 200 long- and short-term experts were provided to 43 developing Commonwealth countries, six dependent territories and 18 regional organisations. The expertise requested is extremely diverse, from hydrography and agroforestry to tourism, statistics, legal affairs, health, social planning and computer science.

Assignments for short-term experts can range from a few days to six months. Their role is advisory, helping governments to introduce new systems or technologies. Long-term experts stay usually from six months to two years; others may stay up to four years. Experts assist in the development and implementation of policies or in the provision of managerial skills and the training of counterpart staff to take over in due course. Some long-term experts are trainers in specialist fields.

The CFTC makes every effort to appoint women experts. In 1993-95, they made up 13% of experts that were sent to the field. These included a consultant anaesthetist in Ghana, an agricultural economist in Mozambique, an information specialist in Barbados, a fisheries development officer in Papua New Guinea and an environmental lawyer in Seychelles.

A scheme to allow suitably qualified and experienced people to volunteer as short-term experts for a maximum of three months was launched in mid-1995. The scheme draws on experts from the Commonwealth who are willing to give their services on a voluntary basis to developing countries.

Entrepreneurs come first

In its help to small businesses, the CFTC focuses on those who manage the businesses and identify new entrepreneurial talent. Most assistance is given to small states, especially in the Pacific. The programme has three phases: the first relates to 'surveys of opportunity' which is aimed at identifying suitable entrepreneurs, investment opportunities and potential for expansion as well as specific problems. Next comes 'workshops on entrepreneurship development' during which business owners and operators are helped to think creatively, to become more aware of opportunities that are available and to act strategically when planning expansion. And the last are what we call 'business clinics' in which one-to-one counselling is provided to an entrepreneur at his or her business. This personal support has proved very successful in helping individual entrepreneurs to become more efficient and competitive and, by implication, adapt to changing world economic conditions.

Developing exports

The CFTC has pioneered the use of Contact-Promotion programmes and 'Buyer-Seller Meets' forums to help small exporters. These forums allow company representatives, often from small Commonwealth countries, to display their wares and meet prospective buyers from other countries. CFTC consultants plan these activities well ahead, short listing producers that are likely to succeed, identifying suitable foreign markets and advising on redesigning of products. Sometimes exporters and factory staff also receive training.

The CFTC funds a special 'export development programme' for women entrepreneurs. This includes detailed country studies of women engaged in exporting as well as sales promotions abroad. Studies of this type have recently been conducted in Cyprus, Sri Lanka and Zambia.

Women are helped, under the programme, to adapt their handicrafts for export, improve their manufacturing techniques and undertake sales missions abroad. Training is also given in export marketing, product development, costing and pricing. If necessary, changes to government policy are recommended. In 1994, the assistance given to Ghanaian women to develop markets for their basket ware and handicrafts is estimated to have helped generate sales worth US$3.1 million (ECU 2.4m).