The past year, 2018 at Silveira House in the Technical and Vocational Skills Training Programme (TVSTP) was characterized by the phasing out of three projects and opening of a new one in Mutoko and Mudzi. It was also a year of celebrating the successes of our advocacy efforts that saw the development of the Traditional Apprentice Programmes from entirely informal to different levels of formal industrial training programmes. The macro-economic environment was also a huge factor to our work as an institution and to the beneficiaries of our programmes. There were a lot of changes to our practices and serious navigation of the system in order to cope. A reflection of such dynamics can never gloss over the inevitable challenges of coping with a hostile macro-economic environment. It is a matter of life and death for the poor who are the most vulnerable.
To begin with the new project on board entitled, Building Resilience through Improving the Absorptive and Adaptive capacity for Transformation (BRACT) of Risk Communities in Mutoko and Mudzi Districts of Zimbabwe, has proven once again the important role that Silveira House plays in development work in a consortiums, especially on technical skills training. The technical skills component brings along direct economic empowerment and employability, linking community participation and entrepreneurship by the youth and vulnerable people. Self-reliance which is key to resilience building is also another outcome area where Silveira House plays a big role as one among a few organizations in the country currently offering Training for Transformation, an excellent tool for individuals, groups and whole communities sensitization. Another new and very promising area that we have ventured into is food processing as part of value addition. It is an exciting and promising venture.
Silveira House exited from three districts this year, namely Hopley, Binga and Matobo where we ran most recent versions of sustainable livelihoods projects since 2015. The projects looked similar in all three areas on face value, but their implementation involved different aspects in each district in response to the specific needs of target beneficiaries. In Binga, we had an education programme that fostered community dialogue in addition to the technical skills and enterprise development training. This came about as a response to the very minimal participation of youth in community development activities by mobilizing those we worked with to participate actively in their communities. From a single problem we could get the entire community to come together and discuss, bring out issues and workout solutions as a collective. In Matobo, an adult literacy and innumeracy programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education became a visible feature as a response to the challenge of our apprentices who, despite doing very well in their practicals, could barely meet the theoretical requirements for accreditation by formal training institutions. Quite a number had no college entry results to accord them a place within formal accreditation categories.
As part of our advocacy work, we pushed for formal recognition through accreditation of our apprentices by well-established vocational training centers such as Westgate Industrial Training Centre. This had an impact of adding value to our work as Silveira House and also to our beneficiaries whose chances at employment have increased. We have, nonetheless, maintained a dual education system, formal and informal apprenticeship, to encompass a wide range of participants including those who are not part of our projects. We are humbled by this development as it sets us apart as one among a few organization in Zimbabwe offering this open for all education opportunity. There are, however, some important adjustments that we have had to make to our programmes in order to meet the demands of the institutions that provide accreditation to our apprentices. The length of our courses has increased from an average of three to six weeks. This development mainly comes in to accommodate more theory in order to ground our apprentices in concepts and open them up to creativity and innovation. We are also developing the capacity of our trainers, having first created categories of those with informal and others with formal training as well.
An area of advocacy that we really made progress on these past two years involved acquisition of workspace for our beneficiaries. This has actually moved from being a major challenge in the past to not even a problem for us. We managed to get the government’s support with facilities beyond just buildings and land. An example of this is the common building plan for SME shelters that was approved by the Binga Rural Council which is readily available to future groups at a very affordable price. This will go a long way towards saving costs for startups. To consolidate our rural development initiatives in Binga, a new business and shopping center has been pegged as a result of our advocacy. The Matobo SME Centre that was established from a former beer hall is another example to prove that local authorities are opening up and responding to the needs of the startups. However, the changes in line ministries that came and are still coming with the new political dispensation are a phenomenon we constantly have to grapple with. Which relevant government ministry to work with is no longer that clear since the dissolution of the Ministry of Youth, Indigenization and Economic Empowerment.
One problem that remains for us that requires more attention is the retention versus dropout rates of beneficiaries in all our projects. The problem lies in tracking the numbers of surviving enterprises and of active members in those enterprises. On the surface it appears as though the dropouts are as high as 35% to 45% based on a head count of beneficiaries during follow ups on groups that are operating in the designated sites and spot check monitoring visits. Preliminary research has given us some insights into some factors to consider in order to get a more helpful assessment of the situation. For instance, the opening of the marketing season at tobacco auction floors close to Hopely has an effect of pulling unemployed youth, including our beneficiaries, to “greener pasture” as they cease the opportunity to diversify their sources of income through vending, loading and unloading trucks and transporting merchandise. Another phenomenon is the splitting of the initial groups into smaller groups for practical, administrative and operational reasons. We had to devise new data collection tools that can track individuals rather than groups to get a handle on such developments. The take home lesson is that, programming should not be blind to the micro and macro-economic events which have practical implications on how the people we work with make decisions and act. The selection criterion for beneficiaries could be another point of departure but difficult to decide whether to base on seriousness and commitment or to carry on leaving no one behind.
Other challenges resulting from the changes in macro-economic environment include the costing of products in an unstable environment. Some groups have incurred losses that threaten the continued existence of their enterprises. They also struggle to make sales due to the shortage of cash since their market is largely informal. The digitization of the currency and payment systems meant that they had to open bank accounts which are subject to taxation and interests on running and maintenance charges which they are not yet prepared to meet. All these developments threaten the very existence of the informal sector, hence livelihoods of poor people.
Moving forward, we see the need for thorough research to inform our planning and implementation of projects. It is unfortunate that we no longer have an independent and well-funded department to coordinate and undertake such activities. In order to adequately address the problems of tracking progress in our projects, we need to create good baselines, identify relevant indicators and design appropriate tools and constantly review the projects. To support this structure would mean adding more manpower to our thin staff complement, at the least, some interns studying in the area of micro-enterprise development and task them with documentation and analysis as their theoretical background would help to easily grasp the dynamics. It is also our hope that we will have some upgrades on our fleet of vehicles. Given the travelling demands and terrain of our field work, cars are an indispensable resource and their current condition needs urgent attention. We have been building training kits and manuals to launch courses that can run locally, for the Harare catchment area. Some courses like electrical installations and home décor should take off early 2019. We hope to attract people who have innovative ideas and those interested in sharing knowledge and skills through weekend sessions of appropriate technology interactions among other initiatives. These activities will help to boost our fundraising efforts in addition to providing young people with opportunities for mentorship and exploration of their talents. Sponsorships, partnerships, mentorships and networks will be realized through such establishments. 2018 has been a very eventful year, we look forward to an even more exciting 2019.