• Esmahan Abdulla

Supporting Micro-Businesses in Yemen

Training challenges facing IGAs and potential solutions


Let us say Khadigah is a motivated 23 year old living in Taiz, Yemen who wants to learn a new skill. We raise money to train Khadigah and give her a grant so she can set up her new business and earn an income.


If you donated to this cause, would you assume that she is now fully self-sufficient?


Or, do you think to yourself, this is a business and not all businesses survive?


In charity lingo, Khadijah is involved in an income-generating activity (IGA). These programs are marketed as silver bullets - practically guaranteed to end poverty for those in the program. Income-generating activities are usually initiated through microfinance programs. They are monitored closely by economists and after 20 years, the data is mixed on how effective they actually are (1).


There are few research studies done on this topic specific to Yemen. One of the authors of “Preliminary investigation of Yemeni women entrepreneurs: some challenges for development and barriers to success” by Syed Zamberie Ahmad and Siri Roland Xavier was kind enough to share their work with RFY. Their research finds that the major challenges for women-owned businesses in Yemen are poor access to capital, limited skills (financial management, marketing), limited possibilities for continuous training and support, limited access to new potential markets, and lack of business experience.


Despite the limited research, the conclusions of this research conducted in Yemen aligns with results in North Africa, and the Subcontinent (2). Lack of funding, training, and the environment (socio-economic, cultural, and the like) are common themes when it comes to unsuccessful IGAs.


This article will take a deeper look at training issues that can cause failure in IGAs and potential solutions. After all, even the best business idea will suffocate if the person pursuing it lacks the necessary skills.


Scheduling Conflicts


According to Ahmad and Xavier (previously cited research), household obligations prevent many women from receiving training. A successful training program will have to explore how to provide women with beneficial training despite their obligations. Here are potential solutions:

  • Child care solutions and food provisions must be provided for the family while the woman receives training.

  • Keeping training in close proximity to the home.

  • Leverage social media (eg, WhatsApp and Youtube) to supplement the training so women are not required to physically be present the entire time.

  • Create networking opportunities and female mentors in the local community so women can get customized assistance catered to their schedules.


Training methods

Since there has not been much (if any) hard data coming out of Yemen on which training techniques work best, let us look to techniques that are being tried elsewhere. A mission report by The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), stresses the importance of using a bottom-up approach when selecting an income-generating activity(3). They used question-based techniques to help women identify and evaluate which activity to engage in and how it would be carried out. Questions like, what does a successful business look like, are you already involved in the activity, what skills do you have to help you in this line of work. Trainers are urged to allow participants to freely express themselves.


This question-based technique builds critical thinking skills, it puts the women in the driver’s seat and builds their confidence. It teaches women how to critically evaluate their own ideas, find holes and solutions. The women are not being told what to pursue, they are being given the skills to uncover what is best on their own.


Sales, Marketing, and Finance


The World Bank cites the lack of sales and marketing skills as the most commonly reported problem faced by women entrepreneurs after finance(4). Women in Yemen are no different. Training needs to focus on these critical skills that are commonly understood to be stumbling blocks.


A potential solution that is addressed in the FAO mission report is to create a cooperative. Bring together women with strong sales and marketing skills and partner with women who prefer to focus on providing the service or creating the product. Not everyone is cut out for business, but everyone can participate. This solution requires more work on the charitable organization to arrange and guide but it does solve many problems and creates many opportunities.


Learning never ends


Training cannot stop. Businesses are continuously faced with problems that require new skills to address. Training should constantly be modified for the issues that are uncovered. Early-stage businesses and later-stage businesses face different issues. Training should be provided for women in every stage of their businesses. This is also why a strong networking group is critical. It can provide ongoing learning and brainstorming to help women through difficulties.


Culture


Every training program should be aware of and address the cultural behaviors that may inhibit growth. Some will be uncovered during the training and the program will need to be modified. Others will be known upfront. The research cites negative self-perception and gender discrimination as a problem in Yemen. Creating a culture within the training program of positivity, reminding women that they CAN, and being a strong source of motivation is crucial.


In Yemen, it is frowned upon to hire people outside of the family for a small business. Even if there is no one within the family that has the right set of skills. This holds many businesses back. Solutions like the coop discussed above help push through those views that inhibit growth. A coop could create opportunities for people to see firsthand how doing things differently can yield better results.


While there is not a lot of research and data coming out of Yemen on IGAs best practices and lessons learned, there is enough data from around the world to create a training program to sidestep many common pitfalls.


If you work at a charity, the next time your organization takes on one of these IGAs, consider sharing your best practices. Research papers are couched in theory and cannot hold a candle to what you have learned in the field. With so many organizations working in Yemen (or elsewhere), sharing what you have learned first-hand can exponentially benefit many other people.


If you are a donor, the next time you are asked to donate to an IGA, ask how some of these issues are being addressed.

  • Are benefactors required to receive training before getting the grant?

  • Is training ongoing?

  • How do you make it easy for women to attend training?

  • How do you address negative cultural pressures?

  • Are you training in finance, marketing, and sales?

  • How many people are still profitable after a year?


Use your power as a donor to ask. Most charities will have answers for you. Those that do not will appreciate the issues you raise and will make changes. If they have data on best practices, encourage them to share it so everyone can benefit from what they have learned.



References:

  1. Does Microfinance Still Hold Promise for Reaching the Poor? World Bank

  2. Note: RFY has sifted through dozens of articles and research papers. Since there is not much data that comes from Yemen, we looked at data from other countries in the area.

  3. Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

  4. Preliminary investigation of Yemeni women entrepreneurs: some challenges for development and barriers to success Syed Zamberi Ahmad and Siri Roland Xavier, International Journal of Entrepreneurship and Small Business 2011 13:4, 518-534

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