The aim of vocational training is, of course, to get the trainee from training to lasting work; to a sustainable life. As the VPlus programme for youth with disabilities in Gulu, Northern Uganda has shown, core skills training is only a small part of that process. What happens for example, after training at the centre is equally important.
‘Post Training Support’ as it is called has always suffered from one major problem: capital. Graduates are keen to get their business working, to do what they have trained to do. But they haven’t earned money when training and rarely have capital of their own; start-up costs what they haven’t got. How to solve the first problem that derails so many before they have even begun?
In the past, donors gave out boxes of tools or cash to get things going. Perhaps surprisingly, free stuff didn’t help, far from it. These gifts distorted training before it even began. The first question would-be trainees asked was: what tools are you going to give me? how much money will I get? The gift became the goal, not the training or the aim of a sustainable life. That expectation ruined so many vocational training enterprises; no one values free money. And, anyway, most free tools were sold or stolen with days. Some cash also went to thieves or debts or parties, the vulnerable were preyed on by the powerful; very little went to the new business.
The Revolving Loan Scheme
The solution Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU), who run the VPlus programme, has come up with is innovative: the Revolving Loan Scheme. It depends, as schemes in this context should if they are to last, on strong connections with family and the community. Learning from the first VPlus cohort, GDPU deliberately built good bonds with families in the second cohort.
How the Scheme Works
In essence, and all participants are told this right from the beginning, they will have to contribute themselves. The trainee or more likely, parents, the community or both will part fund their graduates’ start-up costs. The rest of the start-up money comes from a ring fenced fund set up by GDPU and financed by ETC of PWD.
The Importance of the Plan
For example, a group of graduates want to buy a knitting machine for a sweater weaving business. Those graduates will have costed their needs while drawing up a business plan during training. That plan will be the basis of their loan application. The amount to be borrowed, payback terms, the parental/ community contribution and involvement will have been discussed with all concerned, at some length and formally agreed. After the loan terms are agreed and the matching fund is in, GDPU will buy the right machine at a good discount from their suppliers in Kampala (guaranteeing quality and supply etc).
Tweaking the Scheme
At each subsequent Post Training Support visit, staff from GDPU will also look at the graduates record books (training in bookkeeping etc is of course part of the training). But, the actual financial process is now handled by the VPlus/ GDPU accountant, rather than PTS staff. It was found that graduates feared staff would demand money rather than give support, so graduates refused to be contacted. Separating out support from loans has now removed that problem. GDPU has also reformed repayment schedules, making them flexible according to income and circumstance as recorded by each graduate in their all important record books.
What is also new, is that participants know from the start that the repaid loan is not returned to ETC or GDPU. This money goes into a separate account, used for the next graduate loan. It becomes a growing capital fund for the disability community. Parents and graduates are reminded that repaid loans help their community and the next person down the line; this seems to help repayment. Second cohort parents are far more keen to support and keep their children working, after all their income goes toward paying the loan. GDPU has even started training family members in core skills, so they can keep enterprises going when graduates health and disability makes work difficult.
Is it Working?
Early reports look good, the money is being returned. Already graduates from the earlier etc@gdpu programme are setting up their own access to the scheme, others we hope will follow if the scheme can be kept running.
A revolving loan indeed.
Want to Know More?
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This project is match funded with UK aid from the British people