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close this bookJob Quality and Small Enterprise Development - Working Paper No. 4 (ILO, 1999, 35 p.)
close this folder4.0 Lessons from practical experience
View the document(introduction...)
View the document4.1 Increasing training and knowledge
View the document4.2 Integrating competitiveness with qualitative conditions
View the document4.3 Promoting self-help associations and collective solutions
View the document4.4 Developing enabling regulatory environments
View the document4.5 Towards a local, integrated and holistic approach

4.2 Integrating competitiveness with qualitative conditions

The integration of small enterprise development initiatives with the promotion of qualitative aspects of employment is a central theme. This can be addressed on a number of levels. One possibility is to consider geographically based schemes that provide broad social protection and form part of a holistic community-based economic development strategy. Within informal sector settings in particular, living conditions and working conditions often overlap and so worker productivity and the ability to earn a living income may be affected by factors such as housing inadequacy, sanitation, and other community aspects. Joshi, for example, asserts that since working conditions in the informal sector cannot be addressed in isolation from the living conditions of the urban poor, efforts to improve working conditions should be ‘integrated with efforts to improve the environment of urban poor communities, including housing, sanitation, and access to water and electricity (Joshi, 1996)’. Thus, efforts to improve enterprise competitiveness need to include attention to broader social conditions and issues of social cohesion at the community level, as well as in the enterprise context.

An ILO initiative that goes some way to developing a holistic approach was the regional ILO Asia programme WIDE (Work Improvement and Development of Enterprises). This pilot programme designed and implemented the concept of simultaneously addressing an integrated and coordinated manner, business development and improvements in the working conditions through productivity improvements at the micro-enterprise level. The programme worked through local business development service providers as well as local institutions delivering services in occupational safety and health, and linking up micro-enterprises to these institutions. Intermediary and self-help organizations were helped to improve their capacity to provide development services and to become engaged in policy networks and to advocate their needs.

The principal outcome of the pilot programme was the training package IWEB (Improve your Work Environment and Business). The package, consisting of an Action Manual and a Trainers’ Guide, promotes practical action to improve the business of very small and micro-entrepreneurs though concrete activities that have an immediate impact on the business performance and its working conditions.

In addition, the ILO WISE (Work Improvements in Small Enterprises) programme is a training method that provides practical advice on how to improve working conditions through low cost solutions, which also improve productivity, quality and profits. The technical content of each training programme depends on the specific problems and opportunities existing in the participating enterprises. Typically the core issues addressed are: materials storage and handling; work station design; productive machine safety; control of hazardous substances; lighting; welfare facilities and services; work premises; work organisation; and worker involvement (Di Martino, 1995).

WISE has been introduced in Asia, Africa and Central and South America, and the results have been encouraging. For example, follow-up workshops after WISE training courses in Thailand and India found that the rates of achieving proposed improvements within a few months were as high as 80 percent or more (Kogi, 1994). While in various countries of Central and South America participants in WISE have reported introducing numerous working conditions and productivity enhancing improvements (Hiba, 1994).

Programmes that integrate competitiveness with job quality can also be carried out by intermediary institutions that promote knowledge transfer along supply chains (See for example, Pyke, 1997a). In these cases, the intermediary institution acts as a broker between lead firms on the one hand and suppliers on the other, guaranteeing to all parties interventions (such as training) to raise capacity and maintain standards, whilst ensuring fair trading is carried out.

Whether as part of the above initiative or separately, intermediary institutions can, and do, promote cooperation and collective activities. This may include activities that aid learning and improve quality, innovation and business growth amongst limited groups of cooperating small enterprises. Many countries now have such programmes including, for example, Norway, Chile, Italy, Korea, Mexico and Taiwan. Typically, agencies providing programmes will, in addition to brokering inter-firm cooperation, offer either directly or through linkages to specialised agencies, a range of services such as training, and could include assistance in the implementation of measures to raise the level of working conditions.

Some institutions target, on a larger scale, whole sectoral clusters. For example, a well-known case is that of the Garment Industrial Development Corporation of New York. This tripartite governed institution was established to help the many small enterprises in New York’s garment industry to introduce new organisational practices to raise productivity, improve fashion content and engage in just-in-time delivery. Training plays a major role. In Europe, various labour institutes are helping public and private organisations modernise and introduce new practices on a basis of consensus. One of the newest institutes, for example, is the Institute for Labour in Bologna in Italy, which also has a tripartite advisory board.