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
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
- 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
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.
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