Monday, August 24, 2009

What I am thinking about Rural Micro-Enterprises and Enterprising the Poor

TALK THE WALK: Tales of Development 2
These are actual experiences in the development work and how these might re-shape our understanding of what development may be for the community and people we worked for.

(Thoughts about my first month in DTI’s Rural Micro Enterprise Promotions Programme)



A month ago, I got a call from Department of Trade and Industry-- 12 Regional Office. That call was for me to participate in the final interview of those who have been short listed among the applicants for a special program of DTI. And I got it.
Today, I am few days more than a month of working as provincial officer for DTI’s RuMEPP. My first month was devoted purely to making project proposals for the pending 2009 budget that was never moved because there was no program officer handling it for South Cotabato Province. The approved Annual Work Plan and Budget for 2009 was literally not touched. So the challenged for me was to make the budget moved through making proposals out of the matrix from the approved budget. And I did. Right now, I am finishing last proposal of including the participation of rural micro enterprises in trade fairs by provision of some assistance. The other proposals were about business development trainings and advocacy mechanisms for the programme.



Logo of IFAD. RuMEPP's Funding Agency

Starting to Understand the Programme

Anyway, what is RuMEPP? RumEPP or Rural Micro Enterprise Promotions Programme is a sort of poverty alleviating programme of the Government through DTI. Basically, it aims to help poor entrepreneurs and rural families in 19 selected provinces (which include South Cotabato) by providing technical and financial support for micro-enterprises, which can in turn benefit other poor families through job opportunities.

Focus on selected five regions in the country (CAR, Bicol, SOCCSKSARGEN, Eastern Visayas and CARAGA), the programme offers variety of services to rural micro-enterprises through capacity building (business development services), financing assistance and consultancies. Increase in income of rural household (as beneficiaries) is an indicator of the programme’s success. The programme is funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
Moreover, the RuMEPP documents states that the programme is unique to DTI’s regular mandated function. The programme would like to be more developmental through being pro-poor, creation of linkages for the poor households to trade and investment, being participatory and promoting gender and development (GAD) mechanisms. Of course, like all other programmes, it is also a complementation of other programmes of the Department.

So that’s it! After being brief with the goals and objectives of the programme and DTI in general, I was asked to focus and concentrate on making proposals. Due to lack of available materials, I forced (if the term is right) my self to understand all the generic documents I have scanned and started making the proposals.


Engaging with Programme’s Management and Operations

While preparing blueprints of the programme, I also participated in relevant RuMEPP affairs. On July 27-30, 2009, I was in Metro Manila to attend the Mid-Year Assessment of the implementation of RuMEPP at the national level. Aside from meeting the very few programme management staff of RuMEPP, some regional and provincial directors of DTI with USEC Merly Cruz, the most fundamental event was getting to know more of the programme and the challenges it is facing. That activity was followed by a light mission (for the lack of term according to IFAD consultant Yolando Arban) of IFAD with NEDA to assess the programme’s implementation. Region XII was selected to be the mission’s focus area on August 5 and 6, 2009.
Those two events gave me important ideas on how the programme would really be appreciated by its beneficiaries.

First, (though not literally stated in the documents) the programme is too ideal to graduate people’s organization in rural communities who have been assisted with livelihood assistance (dole-out in nature) by other institutions to make them entrepreneurs and grow their little businesses by capacitating them with business development tools and best practices and providing them market linkages and other technology support. Therefore, we support the sustainability of the livelihood projects and contribute to the increase of income of rural households.
Second, the Department is said to be the center for market linkages of all micro-enterprises in the business world. RumEPP then can let its beneficiaries market their products after they are assisted with development interventions like business development services, marketing distributions and channels, and appropriate production technologies and processes.

There is one bottleneck that the programme would have to address. It is the financing component. During the IFAD Mission, DTI 12 Regional Director Ibrahim K. Guiamadel said that the ‘microfinancing component should move’ favorably to the beneficiaries. While there is money allotted to finance the development of rural micro-enterprises through (soft) loans called micro-credit and support lodge under the care of Small Business Corporation (SB Corp) and other micro-financing institutions (MFIs), the challenged is for the beneficiaries to be able to access these available funds with requirements that are truly helpful to the rural poor (as defined by the programme as its beneficiaries). The phrase accessing of available funds are also limited to specific areas not necessarily RumEPP assisted. Thus, DTI-RuMEPP should assure that the MFIs (who are handling the microfinance) are available in the communities assisted by RuMEPP. Availability would mean that the MFIs are able to serve all beneficiaries of the RuMEPP. They shall not be selective (assuming that they get funds allotted to RuMEPP beneficiaries).


What can be unintended results yet helpful?

While listening to the proceedings of the meeting between the IFAD Mission Team and some Business Development Services Providers (like local service providers), I got an interesting message from the President of Sarangani Chamber, Sir Bronx Hebrona. He said that to enter into a ‘capital venture’ might help a lot while solving the challenge in micro-financing.

Here’s how this might work.

After DTI-RuMEPP gave capacity building and market linkage, the next step is supposed to be micro-finance. Most of the time, the beneficiaries don’t really got assisted by the MFIs. In between, according to Sir Bronx, the BDS provider can help. Part of the services of the BDS provider in a project contract can looking or showcasing the products of rural communities to some local buisnessmen interested to invest in said products. That can be! I hope we could pre-test that scheme here in Region XII.


Moving Forward


As I continue to understand the operations of the program I am co-handling, I can’t help but think of this always. How would I be able to make the poor really enterprising and how would I be able to formally link them to market world? In between that, how can the programme be really participatory, pro-poor, create linkages and promote gender and development?

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