A new race to the bottom is underway in the developing world. If you are reading this, you probably understand this effort as grassroots community development: empowering people through locally relevant strategies by getting the resources of development into the hands of those who need it the most. In this post I’d like to share why we believe that jobs are the most comprehensive approach to community development. They’re just one element to our programs in Peru and Uganda but without them our ladies wouldn’t be changing their lives in such drastic ways.
1. Jobs provide strong and consistent resources. Every year our beneficiaries earn thousands of dollars by crocheting and knitting hats. As a result they are able to meet a host of different needs in their lives. They feed their families, send kids to school, pay for healthcare and purchase homes. These are immense challenges for those living in extreme poverty but are easily met when they are provided a strong wage. On top of that we set our wage level to so that the average woman can save 25% of her income. This money is either saved or invested in ways to bring further income into the household. A wage provides us the opportunity to invest a substantial amount of resources in each woman we work with. As a result they are able to change their life holistically and completely rather than little by little.
Consistency is crucial because exiting poverty is a process. It doesn’t happen in a day or a week. It’s a physical, psychological, social and spiritual process that takes years to unfold. This process must be supported throughout if a sustained change will be made. We find that in the first 3 months our beneficiaries develop good spending and budgeting practices. 3-12 months is the period when we see savings levels start to take off and in the 12-36 month period our beneficiaries start the businesses or education that will eventually provide them an income after they leave the program. This is a natural process that we found must be supported by a consistent income of resources and education.
2. Income meets relevant needs. A person’s needs are very complex and often missed by aid projects, regardless of how good the intentions are. For this reason even well intended projects carried out on a local level have a difficult time achieving sustainable results. We are able to avoid this outcome by putting the resources of development in the hands of the women that we employ. By providing an income to disempowered women we are not only inviting them into the process, but handing them the reigns of the entire thing. Put simply, Beatrice is able to spend her money in ways that are relevant to her life while Pamela, 15 years her junior is able to do something completely different. Why would we expect them to do any different? When women are given the resources to take control of their lives, the results are much better than with an outside intervention.
3. Jobs lead to attitude change among the poor. The attitude change that occurs as our beneficiaries start to see themselves as providers is the greatest enabler of their collective success. Because they’ve grown up in a poverty context, they often don’t know how to utilize (or don’t believe in) their productive capacities. When Krochet Kids gives them a job we help them realize how capable they are. Each woman crochets or knits anywhere from 25-30 hours a week and as a result of her hard work she brings life changing resources home. As she changes her families circumstances they starts to see her as a breadwinner and slowly she starts to believe in her capabilities to take control of her life.
This is crucial because we don’t seek to employ people for the rest of their lives. Our goal is that 3-5 years after entering a project our beneficiaries will enter into locally sustainable livelihoods outside of KKI. Without this attitude change, this transition to starting a business, entering into higher education or getting a job is next to impossible. When attitudes change, stories like this happen… Akello Welsy Olara & Akullu Winny.
Job creation among the poorest of the poor will need to be emphasized within our current development initiatives if we want to leave a better legacy than that of the last 50 years of development. We must continue to get resources to people in the most grassroots and empowering way possible. Providing a job for a vulnerable person does just this.
The next post will explain why we don’t just stop with a job. Our mentorship program is revolutionizing the way organizations assist people through the empowerment process.
- Adam Thomson, Intl. Programs Director
November 9 – Mentorship
November 23 – Monitoring & Evaluation