Recently, at Gulu Disabled Persons Union itself, we sat down with Ojok Patrick (Gulu Disabled Persons Union co-ordinator and ETC at GDPU Project Leader) and Musema Faruk (ETC at GDPU Project Officer) to discuss the end of the Pilot Phase. From a snowy UK and temperatures well into the minus to 37 degrees in dusty Gulu, Northern Uganda, but it was wonderful to be back with the team.
To ensure the sustainability of those businesses set up by disabled students under the earlier Youth Development Programme. Experience on that programme had taught us that hard inputs (cash, materials, machines etc) were unproductive, students needed skills training, psycho social support, monitoring and guidance far more.
To help GDPU become a business hub for people with disability in the area, through gaining new knowledge, skills and materials from the external experts/consultants contracted to support ETC, and through making a workable development plan.
When we sat down to look back at the pilot project and last six months or more, we wanted to think about the two outcomes of the project and certain issues in particular:
Outcome 1: Working with ex- YDP students
Did the initial assumptions about planning the project work, ie that beneficiaries would know best what sort of training and support they needed.
Had the subsequent skills training and support been successful?
What does success look like and had the four groups we had chosen for the pilot achieved it?
And most importantly: what next?
Outcome 2: GDPU Business Hub
Had GDPU managed to start writing a business plan for themselves
Had people at GDPU developed their own skills so that they could train others? If so in which areas and which still need development?
And of course; what next here as well?
This first meeting was just to get everything going, the next step was to go out to the field. To meet the four pilot groups again, to see how they were doing in Gulu Town and Acet. Then we would get together again to discuss what we had seen and to work on the Pilot Evaluation report that had been prepared by a local consultant. All that in the next blog.
As I was writing this report, Faruk (the ETC@GDPU project officer) emailed us to say that Gulu PWD Athletes have been in the national news again, this time for a major wheelchair marathon.
On 12th November, two members of the ETC@GDPU pilot group: Gulu PWD Electronics, competed in the MTN and UAF Wheelchair and Tricycle 10km road race in Kampala. It was a nail biting finish, after leading the pack Ocira Richards was only beaten into second place because he came off at the last bend in very slippery conditions, Okwonga Charles also finished well, coming fifth. You can read more about the race here; our heartiest congratulations to them both; first and second places next year we hope!
Next Steps for October: Training News, ‘fixing the gaps’ and future planning
Further evidence that the pilot programme has worked and members income has increased
Monthly follow up activities and decisions to make about the future
Training in Business Management and Book Keeping/Record Keeping
The recent training programme at the ETC@ GDPU project shows the importance of ‘reflection’ meetings with the people you are training. After those meetings in September the ETC@GDPU Project Officer realised that one of the most important areas identified as gaps needed attention.
Where was that gap?
It was in Basic Book Keeping and Business Management
Why does that matter?
Unsuccessful training in business management and record keeping was one of the areas that caused poor sustainability amongst the earlier YDP youth enterprises.
Because they failed to analyse their profit margin, members didn’t know how much they were spending on materials and because they didn’t keep other records for their businesses, they didn’t know how much money, if any, they were making. Therefore, members didn’t know which areas of their business were successful or unsuccessful. The young enterprises cannot plan, develop or even understand their own business without such basic information.
Aim of the extra support training
to help strengthen and develop the business enterprise by the end of November.
What did ETC@GDPU do?
GDPU Identified KENVIC CONSULTANCY Firm and the expertise of the GDPU accountant to train these youth in areas of Business Management and Book Keeping/Record Keeping.
The training was conducted successfully in Omoro Acet Centre and Gulu Municipality targeting 4 members of NYEKO RAC HAIRDRESSING AND COSMETOLOGY, 2 members of RWOT AYE TWERO YOUTH ENTERPRISE and 6 Members of GULU PWDS ELECTRONICS REPAIR & MAINTENANCE. Trainings were conducted on Friday 20th 10 2017 at Acet Centre and Tuesday 24th 10 2017 in the Gulu office.
This extra training was beneficial to the four business enterprises, under the ETC pilot project they have now learnt how to manage finance and take records for their daily expenses and sales. The four groups were provided with a simplified book of accounts and were trained on how use them. Members were encouraged to design and enter their income and expenses and calculate their profit at the end of the month. They can now make a record book indicating income column and expense in local language that might actually be used, unlike the complex written English based systems they had ignored before.
Village Saving and Loans Associations
Saving pass books were given to Gulu PWDS electronic and Nyeko Rac enterprise to help them improve on their VSLA.
Monthly follow-up activities at Acet centre, Omoro District: Nyeko Rac and Rwot aye Twero youth enterprise
The ETC@GDPU project officer followed two youth enterprises based in Odek sub county Omoro District, checking on their progress in skills training and progress in work.
Business plan for two groups were completed successfully, each member has clearly understood the purpose of having a business plan, how to follow plans and strategies and to make their enterprise out-compete their competitors.
According to the assessment of the youth enterprise there is an increase in income generation compared to assessments made before the start of the project. Members of Nyeko Rac Hairdressing enterprise have recorded increase in their income:
Before the project started daily income was (0-5000 shillings) and now most members agree that the list range per day is 5000-10,000 shillings and during market days (every Wednesday) they make 10-30,000 shillings. This income increase is because of improved skills in plaiting, record keeping, customer care and business management; fixing the gaps appears to be working for them.
Issues for Rwot Aye Twero
Rwot Aye Twero enterprise have had training problems. Initially GDPU contracted a knitting and tailoring instructor to train the youth twice week, but continued absenteeism by that instructor (who stays 4km from the Centre) meant that the youth did not get sufficient training to improve the quality of their products and therefore get more customers. They have received some trained in knitting V-shape sweaters, but were not trained in joining sweaters using a sewing machine, because they don’t have any machine for training.
Follow up at Gulu Municipality: Gulu PWDs Electronics
Skills trainings was conducted every Tuesday and Thursday from 8:00 am to 12:00pm for electronic group. They were trained in Radio, TV and Phone repair and have greatly improved their level of income and confidence.
ETC@GDPU pilot provided a digital meter to Gulu PWD electronic to improve on their work, in order to capture more profit.
Development at GDPU itself
The GDPU coordinator and ETC@GDPU project officer have worked at improving publicity at the organization. They have redesigned the organization sign post showing all partners’ organization at the union, improved on flow of the main reception and the business office. Office signs were put in each office door and currently they are working towards developing the GDPU Business plan.
Training for PWDs electronic in repair of electronic appliances is ongoing up to 19th November 2017.
GDPU will continue to follow up the youth enterprises, supporting them in areas in which they face challenges, guidance/ counselling programs and life skills until the project is evaluated by the funders and new plans are agreed.
GDPU will engage on Skype with the funders to look for the way forward for the greater project.
Gulu PWDs Electronic and other members of Gulu Wheelchair Basketball Team took part in a National Sport Gala for Persons with Disabilities organized by Uganda Paralympic Committee and won! See this earlier post.
Members taking part in ETC@GDPU report significant increase in income as a result of their training
An in-depth Reflection Meeting will really help us all evaluate what has worked in the pilot project, and what has not, and where to go from here.
Skills Training Report
The ETC@GDPU project officer followed up recent trainings in Omoro and Gulu, to ensure that the pilot business enterprises are building their capacities in areas such as:
Business plan development,
Conflict management and resolution.
The youth are now actively participating in the training programme and 75% are reporting that their levels of income are increasing because:
Their area of coverage has increased
They can now repair more things compared to when they started project.
The training program is running up to the end of October and the GDPU project officer is following up to ensure that they are getting the required skills and that relevant knowledge is imparted
Hairdressing at Acet
Five members of Nyeko Rac Hairdressing and Salon at Acet Centre are trained in areas they need. These are:
styling and twisting hair
Savings are being made among members of Nyeko Rach hairdressing,
Conflicts are being resolved among members
Some materials for hairdressing are now available at Nyeko Rac Hair Beauty Salon at Acet, although lack of material for weaves, chemicals etc
Gulu Pwds Electronic
The ETC@GDPU project officer has reported before about difficulties with Gulu PWDs, their lack of cohesion as a group, their disinterest in saving money and in training for anything but phone repair.
Training is going on for two months from 11th September to 19th November 2017, aimed at addressing problems areas where they feel they face difficulties:
Discovered the use of charcoal stove for soldering gargets such as Radio, TV, phones etc
Changing/repair of mouth piece, charging system and screens
Discovered the alternative for Blower Machine by using candle when there is no electricity
The training program was affected by the National Sports Gala which took place from 25th to 30th September 2017.
Village savings and loan association (VSLA) is not active among Gulu PWDS electronics members although they attended training for VSLA
Business location for PWD electronic is neither favourable or easily accessible, it is hard for them to keep customers appliances because they operate their business in a corridor.
Some phones are complicated to repair, spare parts are not available for most bought in the area, especially Chinese phones.
Unlike their business competitors they lack software to unlock phones
Business is not growing for electronics
Limited knowledge and skills on other electronic appliances such TV, Radio, DVD players, Smart Phones and Amplifiers
Customer demand lower prices than are viable
Radio repair is doing well for Akera Robert, Rubanga Na Electronics business plan was successfully developed and completed by Akera Robert and GDPU project officer
Security for his place of work is still an issue, Akera Robert still operates under the veranda
Knitting and Sweater Weaving
Sweater weaving is doing well, they get contracts from schools and local community members. Support training is aimed at improving their quality of work and building customers trust, training area for knitting is:
joining using sewing machine
making V shape sweater
High-level absenteeism from the instructor for knitting and sweater weaving might be affecting the positive development of the programme.
Customers take long to pick their items
Customer demand lower prices than are viable
Conducted by GDPU project officer and ETC and Project Coordinator GDPU to check on the impact of ETC project in Gulu and Omoro District.
What has worked?
The local community attitude towards PWDs is that they are best known for leather work. Yet as this and the YDP proved, they are able to do other income generating activities such hairdressing, motorcycle repair, electronic repair and maintenance.
Skills training has improved the ‘offer’ of all the business groups
Active in repair of electronic gadgets, hairdressing and sweater weaving, i.e. businesses are growing although some are slower than others.
Record keeping is now observed in all enterprises, learnt how to balance books of account because of financial literacy received during the ETC project.
Learnt to communicate effectively with customers, most of the youth enterprise members had bad communication skills that made them lose customers but the capacity building trainings offered by the ETC@GDPU project has improved this aspect.
Learnt how to deal with large number of customers, greatly improved customer services by use of first come first serve.
Challenges: Solutions and the Way Forward
The reported rise in members incomes is very welcome, how can we continue this increase? Which parts of the programme are working and what do we need to do to improve them as part of the pilot programme and for future programme planning? Diversification and widening the ‘offer’ of each group, further investigation into sources of investment and increasing the self-confidence of members could all play a part. As could:
Linking the enterprise to other service providers available in their location
Having a by law on mandatory savings
Inclusion saving for disabled and non-disabled
Continuous follow-up and support from GDPU project staff
Further tailor-made refresher training in specific areas e.g. Repair of modern phones, TV radio etc
More advertising using posters
Enterprise members to carry out market survey to check on the prices of commodities and services to be comparable with other enterprises and avoid over pricing.
Apologies for the late posting of this months news, also we (the UK founders of ETC@GDPU) had hoped to be flying out to Gulu at the end of this month to discuss and evaluate the pilot phase and how to move on to the full project. Sadly, Mark was involved in a motorbike accident in the UK just weeks before departure. Although he will be OK his mobility is restricted for a few months. Ironically Mark clocked up 12,000 kilometres on a motorbike around Gulu and district with only a few bumps and scrapes, riding in the UK is far more dangerous. If you are a car driver, please look properly before you pull out of a side road! However we hope to carry on the project development by Skype in the next few months and return to Gulu in February.
Wheelchair basketball has long been a feature at GDPU. From 25th to 30th September 2017 Gulu PWDs Electronic, one of the three pilot groups on the ETC@GDPU project, along with other members of Gulu Wheelchair Basketball Team took part in a National Sport Gala for Persons with Disabilities.
The Gala was organized by The Uganda Paralympic Committee and hosted by Gulu district. They took part in wheelchair race, wheelchair basketball and sitting volley ball.
Gulu Wheelchair Basketball Club kept their national trophy by defeating arch-rivals Kampala Wheelchair Basketball Club 26-17. The exciting final of the Uganda National Paralympic Games in Wheelchair Basketball, held at Kaunda Grounds in Gulu, was witnessed by chief guest Kameda Kazuaki, the Japanese ambassador to Uganda.
Gulu Pwds Electronics members of that winning team were: Ojara Charles, Ocira Richard, Okwonga Charles, Akera Robert, Oloya Kenneth and Omony Patrick, congratulations to them and everyone else who took part.
During August, the ETC @ GDPU Project Officer and Project Leader followed up on business plan development, record keeping and conflict management making sure that they were being implemented by each business enterprise. A busy training programme continued and proposed activities for September look equally focused.
Skills training were offered in Hairdressing, Electronic Repair and Maintenance and Knitting & Sweater Weaving in Omoro Acet Centre and Gulu Municipality targeting 4 members of NYEKO RAC HAIRDRESSING AND COSMETOLOGY, 2 members of RWOT AYE TWERO KNITTING and 6 Members of GULU PWDS ELECTRONICS REPAIR & MAINTENANCE.
Training: Village Savings and Loan Associations
Trainings in Village Savings and Loan Associations (micro finance) were carried out. VSLA pass books were distributed to the saving groups created by each enterprise to encourage the culture of savings in their enterprise.
Training: Conflict Resolution
Training in Group Dynamics under Conflict Resolutions was carried out in Acet.
But as the initial stages are completed, challenges were registered by the project officer during his visits. These were: poor attendance; high expectation for money (Especially refusal to attend meetings without payment see Sitting Fees below)); difficult attitudes; skills gaps; luck of trust from customers etc.
These challenges were particularly noticeable in Gulu, with high levels of absenteeism, lack of commitment to customers and work, lack of skills in: radio; TV; video decks; speakers; computer repairs. Members only specialise in phone repair which does not bring in enough income. Finding a qualified instructor to train Gulu PWDs in electronic repair and maintenance has not yet been resolved.
Although the Project Officer suggested their fellow disabled electrician (Akera Robert), who has all the skills they want, members were not interested. The P O believes that there is no unity and love among PWDs in Gulu municipality, that is the reason why most of them are not successful, because of the differences amongst them.
Challenges: Sitting Fees
Sitting Fees (or payment for attending trainings or meetings) are a great example of the unintended consequences of well intended actions. I believe that sitting fees were originally paid during the conflict, as a means of quickly getting money directly to those who badly needed it and bypassing those who would take a substantial cut. But now, demand for sitting fees and refusal to attend without payment is a constant problem. Most NGOs refused to pay sitting fees because the payments eat up small budgets and badly distort training sessions. The people you really need to reach either refuse to turn up or invitations are issued in turn to those who have not yet been paid a fee or to those who are powerful enough to demand that they always get one. Sessions are either taken up with endless arguments as to why participants should be paid substantial sums, or on the odd occasion where fees are paid, participants leave, in body or mind, once they have been paid because they feel their work had been done; either way nothing is achieved.
The only surprise is that the challenges for ECT @ GDPU had not begun earlier, these are all difficulties that are common on any project of this type in this sort of context.
There is no simple solution, this culture (Sitting Fees especially) is deeply embedded and will take years to change. But we intend to try some of the approaches listed below and begin that process
Thinking about the simplest non-financial reward systems is an important part of the pilot programme. Actually, faced with this problem during the earlier Youth Development Programme we found that:
sport or other competitions
Cultural activities, eg dance and drama
and of course, food.
Were all good ways of bringing people to meetings and making them engage without concentrating solely on the money.
Regular VSLA meetings can also be a useful time to carry out training.
Challenges: Solutions/ Communications and Mentors
Group dynamics, and communication could be the key that unlocks this door.
During the VSLA sessions it was noted that members will not take leadership roles, even just for the workshop; leadership training as part of a drive to improve self-esteem might be worth following up too.
Relationship between the groups, their customers and skills trainers (especially the Gulu PWDS) are a challenge that could be met by finding the right mentors/ role models to show members where their hard work might lead to in the future. Groups need to see why they are doing what they are doing, how the rewards are not immediate but are worth waiting for; could mentors help in that aim?
None of the challenges noted above are unusual, they are to be expected in this context and in a project of this type. There is no need to feel downhearted, it is important to remember that this is still the pilot phase, there are still opportunities to work on many different approaches and be experimental; many exciting possibilities ahead. We must keep pushing on well!
The ECT @ GDPU team have been very busy in Gulu and Acet this month carrying out the first training sessions on areas of weakness identified by the pilot groups themselves. These groups included Nyeko Rac Hairdressing and Cosmetology and 6 Members of Gulu Pwds Electronics Repair & Maintenance, Rwot Aye-Twero and Kica Pa Rwot Knitting group and some of the students studying at GDPU also attended the trainings in business plan development and conflict resolution in group dynamics.
It is great to see that the training given directly reflects the needs identified in earlier months. Although this is a pilot, it is reassuring to see that the activities reported for July are all focused on building the participants abilities to sustain their own future.
As a pilot phase the July report raises questions, but these concern methods of delivery rather than direction of travel; in particular:
Group and personal dynamics are going to be the crucial element for these participants as they establish their sustainable future (low self-esteem is an important factor to work on) .
Core Skills: Building up core vocational skills alongside developing knowledge about basic business procedures is a slow process with constant reappraisal
Memory: during the pilot, facilitators and the project team will working on the best ways for students to develop what they already know, to learn new things and most importantly, to remember what they have learnt and apply it as part of a long term process. Classes are conducted in Acholi (the local language) and texts are translated, using local knowledge; stories and culture will help ground what is learnt.
Absenteeism: a major difficulty with frequent refreshers is frequent absenteeism, so the Gulu team will be concentrating on follow up support in the workplace rather than in the classroom.
Mentors: The team in Gulu are looking to find role models who can talk about their enterprises to motivate members. These role models will also become part of the network that students can use on their own for further learning through mentorship, and of course students will become mentors in their own right as the project develops.
Numeracy/ Literacy: low skills in this crucial area are already holding students back, work on record keeping/ planning will demand more work on numeracy and literacy as the project develops.
Lastly, some other routes to sustainability, identified in the project proposals and initial audit, will be further emphasized as time goes on:
Diversification as a survival mechanism, so that if one aspect of the enterprise temporarily fails there are others that will keep it afloat;
The role of Village Savings and Loans Associations as a ‘pull factor’: keeping group members together and the single activity around which other group activities revolve. However the group numbers in our pilots are small, eg Gulu PWD electronics 6 members, and Nyeko Rac group in Odek are 5 members. As they have suggested that they need training on VSLA to increase their savings, ECT @ GDPU will support the groups in this area, perhaps joining with other interested colleagues to make a total of 10 members at minimum. VSLA groups usually meet on weekly basis to deposit savings and we think this could be a motivating factor to work harder, so that you have some saving each week.
The project team in Gulu have obviously realised these difficulties and factored in a series of follow up sessions across the range of areas identified. It will be exciting to see how these develop. Activities for August include: training in conflict resolution and group dynamics at Acet Centre; skills training in Hairdressing covering areas of Styling, Pencil, dreadlocks etc; training in electronic repair and maintenance in areas of radio, TV, phones and DVD players etc in Gulu Municipality. A busy and productive month to come: pushing on well indeed!
The purpose of both meetings was to begin to find out what each group thinks they need to sustain and develop their businesses.
In essence what the groups want to do is:
Upgrade their core vocational skills,
Develop their offer to customers
Learn how to plan effectively for that development
Learn better record keeping
Train for better group dynamics
Find out how to work with money/ learn a ‘Savings Culture’
Find out how to pay for the above
Diversify, especially into agriculture, to cover lean times
These training needs imply greater investment, helping each group find the money for that investment is one of the next steps for this project. In his initial audit reports, Faruk noted that group members find it almost impossible to access bank accounts, loans or possible grants, although some have started to use Village Savings and Loan Associations (micro savings and finance). He thinks this is down to a combination of poor self-esteem, lack of knowledge and barriers (physical and cultural) erected by the institutions themselves.
All groups want to acquire new equipment (sweater weaving machines/ sewing machines/ portable generators/ carry wider stock etc) but apart from learning how to use, maintain and repair them well, owning such equipment brings inevitable security problems. Theft by others, by group members or by domineering relatives is a common problem and solutions will need to be found.
Faruk reports that fear of taking risk, poor group dynamics and low self-esteem might well hold all the groups back in taking the next steps, so careful psycho-social support will need to be part of the pilot and subsequent programme.
All in all though, some great steps forward; really pushing on well!