At 3:30 pm today, two of the dozen women that had agreed to do tailoring training with us, called us. They wanted to know where we were, that they were waiting in their community centre to start their first training session.
I don't know how to explain this. Beginner's luck? Community buy-in can be one of the most difficult things to achieve in a development sector project. And here we were, our community members demanding to know why we weren't there on time when they were!
Why did we retain so much support post-community meeting, even in the absence of any active recruiting on our part?
First, the following features defined our target group (women of a specific sub-community in the slum). Each sub-community is spatially bounded and characterised by a distinct socioeconomic profile.
- The women we targeted belonged to a sub-community that was economically better off than all others in the slum.
- The women we targeted belonged to a sub-community with already high levels of political and social mobilisation (the community president and secretary came from this sub-community; the Municipal Ward Corporator focused strongly on bringing facilities to this area of the slum).
- The women we targeted were relatively well educated (teachers in the community schoolrooms set up by local NGOs came from this group).
As a result, the following happened:
- After our community meeting, a couple of enthusiastic young women came to us with their eyes sparkling, and said they wanted to open beauty parlours, do tailoring, and set up their own businesses.
- These women then met among themselves at least twice (not at our behest, entirely voluntarily!) and organised themselves into a group that then contacted my project members during our next slum visit.
- These women collectively decided that they were interested, would partner with us specifically for tailoring.
- These women collectively decided that they would go ahead and help us spread the word of our project around the rest of their community.
- Most of these women came to the community centre at the assigned time. The ones that arrived on time either called up or went in person to fetch those that were late, or cajole undecided women into joining in the session.
Individual leaders and their influence
I should mention however, that much of the energy for mobilisation seemed to come from this one absolute livewire of a woman. I don't think her eyes ever stopped shining! Intelligent, assertive, charming and a spontaneous leader, she was as forthright about her full commitment to the project as about the hurdles we might face in retaining the entire group of women throughout the training module. She emerged as the backbone of the entire mobilisation that had occurred.
- Market research: Giving them transport and a guide, then sending them off to explore the following - design and location of the city's tailoring shops, different business models used by local tailors and local garment stores, methods of acquiring customers, existing market linkages, customer service, service delivery by tailors etc.
- Basic accounting, banking, and other financial training
- Matching business model to skills and interest: To be done at the end of technical training and dealing with some initial orders (via market linkages we provided). Comprising sitting down and thinking about what kind of tailoring they liked or wanted to specialise in, what kind of store they wanted to open, and careful consideration of wage employment versus self employment options for income generation.