- How does one identify needs, discover potential, build capacity, and then create the opportunity for best utilising the capacity created?
This question may be asked at the individual level or at the community level, and it indicates a problem that can be very difficult to solve in practice.
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Why do they keep coming? Why do they keep creating opportunities for themselves?
In the initial month of the project, wehad 4 girls who went every morning, and now they came to the MBC every day and just sat around rather than sitting back at home. When the machines came, they would just sit near the machines. Spend about 3 hours at the very least every single day, just hanging around. Then finally we managed to hook the machines up, and even without the trainer being there... they were there.
These weren't classes, there was no trainer, there was no livelihood involved here, and it would not be possible for these girls to buy or operate these machines at home, but still they came. We called some other women in preparation for beginning classes, and these other women started asking these girls to teach them. I arrived at the MBC mid-morning one day and I found a "class" going on, in batches. Women were coming and learning and going.
- So there is no dearth of motivation. But who are they and what do they want?
Here there is potential, capacity was built by some skill training, and now there is opportunity to build that skill further and have it (hopefully) culminate in a livelihood, in something "of their own", an aspiration innumerable women here have expressed to me.
Why do they NOT come? Why do they not take advantage of opportunities we present?
Lest one think this is perfect and now one just has to provide opportunity..... what about those women who came everyday, attended meetings when "summoned" by the community leader that works with us, spent a couple of hours everyday coming to the MBC in the evening to learn stitching.... why don't they want to come four hours every day to do something for an income? 4 hours?
Every single time that we mobilise and get things going with a trainer or machines, suddenly there are dropouts, we hear them murmuring hesitation, and they start shuffling away uncomfortably and shyly. Why?
Complex motivations and behaviours matching the difficult economic context.
In the case of incense making for example (see Day 145's blog post), we encountered a woman who came to us for training, and after training would come to our office to just chat about all her skills and interests.
She seemed to be a very entrepreneurial person: she had relentlessly gone to the local Khadi & Village Industries Commission Centre office next to her house and attended every single skill training workshop that they had organised in the past few years. (They organise training workshops on typical (and utterly jaded in my opinion) 'self-help group' skills such as production of household cleaners, phenyl, common Indian snacks, incense making and so on.
But why had she attended every one of these sessions? Are her motivations the same as my motivations in college when I'd go to a theatre workshop one day, and attend a lecture on medieval folk tales the next?
Q: But if she is so entrepreneurial or even so engaged and curious, then why hasn't she started anything?
A: An answer to that might lie in the fact that she has adequate financial resources, her husband has a stable government job as a clerk in a local government office, and she and her husband have been able to provide enough for their children that they (or at least a couple of them) are now in college.
Q: Okay. But then why did she walk out from her house to take public transport, travel for about 10-15 minutes by bus, and come to our Micro Business Centre (MBC) office to learn how to roll incense sticks, along with a group of women from the slum?
- Why does she come 1-2 times a week to give us rolled agarbatti in exchange for 20 rupees a kilo?
- Why all this work and yet the risk aversion to starting up some kind of business with our support?
- Why all this enthusiasm for learning new skills but hesitation at availing of an opportunity to turn those skills into an income generating activity via entrepreneurship?
- Is it just the entrepreneurship that seems like such a burden? A risk?
- Is entrepreneurship more of a risk in this economically uncertain context than all the risks undertaken in searching around for ways to learn new (and possibly futile) skills?
- What is the economic calculus for this individual and for others like her?
Our project is certainly not there yet. We don't have a systematic means for analysing, screening or even developing entrepreneurs. But that is mostly because our goals at this initial phase have to do with setting up the foundation for a small-scale, local entrepreneurship hub that targets lower income and base-of-pyramid entrepreneurs, rather than a focus on methods of in-depth engagement with individual entrepreneurs. Sure, one cannot create an effective collective resource centre without focusing on the needs of individuals comprising that collective, but it's a balancing act for us now. As a project and as a nascent organisation, we shall slowly have to figure out our relative emphasis on the two.
(Left): An oven-dryer for baking snacks, or for drying various dough-based Indian foods (like papad) that cannot be easily sun-dried in the monsoon season.
(Right): The spice processing unit ready for the food inspection and for getting a food license. To the right (on the marble counter) is a new addition - a hand-operated sealer that does a better job with the spice wrapping plastics than does the foot-operated sealer on the left. These are cheap, manual (but really hardy) package sealers, so they each tend to work best for one or two types of plastics.