2000 TNZ: The Review of UNICEF-supported Women Economic Activities (WEA) Project
Before UNICEF's "Strengthening Strategies to Improve Women's Economic Activities" programme was implemented, few programmes in Tanzania had focused on women's income generation as a means of improving the status of women. UNICEF, therefore, initiated the programme with the intention of using it as a part of an overall learning process for UNICEF, the collaborating partners, financial institutions, and the donor community. The findings of this assessment, therefore, should be read in the context of this experimental approach.
Purpose / Objective
The purpose of this assessment is to:
- describe the project implementation process
- assess the impact of the project, including the relevance of various objectives and approaches used
- consider the strengths, weaknesses and institutional capacities of collaborating partners
- assess the impact of the project on the beneficiaries and the support system, considering the long-term objectives of women's empowerment and mainstreaming
- recommend a general framework for thinking about a future strategy for UNICEF's support to women's economic activities and income-generating activities.
The assessment of the WEA component included a review of existing UNICEF literature and information pertinent to the programme; visits to 33 women's groups in four regions, representing 19% of all groups assisted by the programme.
Key Findings and Conclusions
Significant learning has been achieved over the course of the past five years of programme implementation. The groups who have achieved the most successful results in terms of income, savings and loan repayment share several common characteristics: the women themselves initiate and control their activities; the activities are managed according to the principle of individual incentives combined with mutual accountability; and the groups are small enough to manage and develop mutual trust among the members (these groups tend to range from 4-6 members). Also, these more successful groups tend to minimize bookkeeping activities, generally by giving the group's entire working capital to a single member who can use it for a set period of time and then is expected to return it with an additional amount to cover her portion of the group loan and, in some cases, savings.
The correlation between better performance and a credit system that relies on group accountability and capitalizes on the existing skill of women, including memory skills, is high. Although only five of the 33 groups interviewed (15%) fall into the "successful" category if income, savings and loan repayment are considered, these groups nonetheless highlight important lessons for assisting groups to organize their activities in the future. Two groups (50% of those interviewed) involved in oil processing also provide interesting and significant examples of the possible.
The current WEA programme as structured, however, has made only minimal impact on the women's groups if income, savings and loan repayment are considered as primary indicators of success. Of the 33 groups interviewed, 21 or 64% reported that the projects distributed no income to individual group members. The overall level of savings also tends to be low. Twelve or 36% of the groups had zero group savings; and six groups account for 70% of total savings. The savings level of only two groups is adequate to cover loan payments in arrears. In terms of overall loan repayment, the women's groups also are performing poorly (as explained below).
Although time constraints and the limited information available prevented an assessment of the impact of the projects in terms of women's allocation of time, it seems unlikely that women's labor burden has been reduced significantly, given their own household responsibilities that are dictated by a strict intra-household division of labor and resources, combined with the fact that the projects do not generate enough income to hire assistance at the household level.
In terms of economic literacy, the programme has made some progress. Women, many for the first time, are more comfortable with savings accounts and banking services. Improvement, nonetheless, needs to be made regarding women's understanding of the lending process and concepts such as investment and interest. Related to lack of economic literacy, most of the supported women's groups do not fully control the operations and finances of their projects. This was particularly true in the case of grain mills for which women tend to be dependent on village authorities and technical assistance providers.
Finally, there existed among most groups interviewed a lack of feeling of ownership of and responsibility for the projects and, therefore, a lack of initiative. In sum, the programme, as structured, does not fully encourage the ownership and control by women of productive resources, nor does it facilitate full participation of the women themselves.
The Credit Mechanism:
The credit mechanism, as currently structured, is an on-lending model whereby the banking partner lends money deposited by the donor agency to groups designated under a specific programme. The WEA credit mechanism operates under a decentralized management structure, relying on the input of various collaborating partners, with no single center of accountability. As of July 1993, UNICEF had forwarded Tsh.100,775,110 to the National Bank of Commerce for the purpose of on-lending to women's groups under the WEA programme. Of this amount, Tsh. 93.36 million had been disbursed as of 21/12/93.
Presently, the loan portfolio is performing poorly (71% past due rate overall) due in large part to the weaknesses inherent in the credit mechanism. The current structure lacks a single center of accountability. Credit analysis is weak due to the social orientation of the collaborating partners. The bank participates only passively, due in part to the existing incentive structure. The Management Information System is in unacceptably poor condition, making efficient and reliable tracking of loans impossible. Follow-up and technical assistance provision is inadequate. Repayment schedules often are not matched to project operations. The WEA programme does not apply set credit policies to past due loans, write-offs, confiscation of equipment, or interest accrued. Interest rates are highly subsidized. Finally, credit is not linked to savings so that the women have neither a required amount of ownership in the project nor a cushion to protect their working capital from household needs.
Gender sensitization was provided to the bankers and leaders of the collaborating institutions. This is a relevant component, although the programme did not bring to fruition a significant increase in the level of commitment of either to women as potential managers of viable businesses. It should nonetheless be understood that attitudes change slowly. On the other hand, if women successfully repay their loan obligations, the chances of bankers viewing them as potential clients and local officials viewing their activities as real businesses increase dramatically.
The training, as structured under the WEA programme, has not proven effective in providing necessary skills either to extension support staff or to women's groups. Although all CDAs attended a formal training session and two follow-up workshops, they have not effectively translated the training into practical skills. Feasibility studies are weak and assistance given to the women's groups is of poor quality. It also should be noted that training courses included sessions neither on credit nor technology. The women's groups were unable to apply the skills taught at the training sessions they attended. Especially in terms of women's groups, given their cultural orientation, significant time constraints and literacy levels, a formal classroom approach may not be the most effective method of imparting needed skills.
Institutional Capacities of the Collaborating Partners:
The institutional capacity of NBC to administer the loan portfolio undoubtedly will remain extremely limited in the short-term. In addition to its ineffective management information system (MIS), three reasons account for NBC's limited capacity: the poor quality of its commercial lending portfolio; the consequent financial restructuring of the Bank that is likely to lead to the discontinuation of informal sector lending; and an approach to the women's projects that is socially-oriented, assisting the women's activities as projects rather than assisting them to become viable businesses and, eventually, clients of the bank.
The Local Government Administration, namely the District Councils, is responsible for providing extension support services and advice to women's groups in project preparation and implementation. The Community Development Department of the Councils plays a leading role in co-ordinating these activities for the different departments responsible for providing support. The current administration of the project under this structure is weak for two primary reasons. First, the Community Development Staff lack business and credit skills, and their approach tends to be welfare-oriented. This, combined with low morale and difficult logistics, have meant that most CDAs visit the groups infrequently and are unable to assist the groups with necessary skills and information.
Other organizations, both governmental and non-governmental, are becoming involved with micro-enterprise activities in Tanzania. Because all of these organizations are at a pre-nascent or fledgling stage of development, it is not possible to determine whether they might serve as potential collaborating partners at this time. There are, however, several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) operating in various countries around the world. The Grameen Bank, Banco Sol, and Women's World Banking Ghana, Ltd., all successful, share common elements that include savings mobilization, an emphasis on mutual accountability, group solidarity in lieu of collateral, commercial interest rates, and small loans with short payback periods. UNICEF is recommended to examine these organizations and their potential as possible models for a sustainable savings and credit programme in Tanzania.
UNICEF must be clear as an institution whether it wants to support a welfare-oriented approach or a business-oriented one to improve women's economic activities.
If UNICEF chooses to support a savings and credit programme in the future, this programme should have a financial and management structure that operates separately from the CSPD programme, have distinct yet complementary objectives, and preferably is an organization that operates independently from government.
For the implementation of an effective savings and credit programme, UNICEF should identify stronger collaborating partners.
UNICEF should continue to look outwardly for models that address women's economic situation through the creation of sustainable financial institutions that are structured within the context of the local environment. UNICEF may want to support local initiatives that are based on successful models in other countries. To this end, a Women's World Banking affiliate might serve as an effective collaborating partner.
If UNICEF intends to continue to provide women access to appropriate technologies and credit, it must be willing to support the transfer of technologies with intensive skills development and follow-up of the women's activities. At the same time, it must be recognized that such technical assistance may be expensive and, at least, in the short-term, require funding separate from that of the credit programme so as not to reduce the programme's financial viability.
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