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A case for business training with women's groups

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In Kenya there are an estimated 20 000 organized women's groups whose combined membership accounts for more than 10 per cent of the country's adult female population. Not surprisingly, both governmental and private agencies view these women's groups as excellent agents through which to implement a wide range of development goals. Of these, income generation for women has been among the most popular and the most problematic. Despite strong support from the government and private agencies, the record of business promotional efforts with the groups shows that many have failed to generate significant income for programme participants. Success has proved elusive because of marginal economic climates, inadequate designs, persistent beliefs about appropriate activities for women, and insufficient skills in business management among both would-be entrepreneurs and those who set out to assist them.

In contrast to the poor performance of small enterprise promotional efforts with women, minimalist credit methodologies (credit without other assistance such as training and technical assistance) are fast gaining recognition as the key to success for programmes in this sector. While the record for minimalist credit is impressive so far, Tototo Home Industries, a Kenyan NGO working to support the development of rural women's group enterprises, found that credit was not always the critical factor for this population. They learned that poor business performance is often rooted in rural women's immediate social and economic environment – in other words, in the informal sector itself. Women are first and foremost members of households and this experience is not often conducive to the operation of an independent business. To confront the poor performance of rural women's businesses, Tototo developed a new approach to business training based on a unique combination of anthropological research, elements from a standard business skills curriculum and nonformal education. While the Tototo programme was developed specifically to address problems identified with women's groups in coastal Kenya, similar problems are common to nascent groups elsewhere in Africa. Consequently, the training has proved adaptable to other situations in East and Southern Africa.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: December 15, 2005

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