The experience of a clothing manufacturing project run by a PWD organisation
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