Developing the skills of African women is one of the primary aspirations of the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and is a vital tool for eliminating youth unemployment. The Agenda’s aspirations stipulate prioritising actions in “Catalysing an Education and Skills revolution and actively promote science, technology, research and innovation, to build knowledge, human resources, capabilities and skills for the African century”.
The disbursement provided by the NEPAD Spanish Fund for African Women Empowerment provided financial support to projects which were in alignment with SDGs. The project's achievements include the provision of business and vocational skills training for women in Africa, small business development and marketing skills training, initiatives to develop women’s agricultural processing capabilities through the incorporation of modern processing techniques, the development and distribution of training manuals, business management and planning training including costing and pricing methodologies, establishment of business incubators which provided technical and support services to small businesses run by young women, the development of women’s business networks, provision of leadership and communication training.
These initiatives helped to spur local economic development and improved the income generating capacity of the women, thus furthering their independence and economic empowerment. The actions undertaken by the NSF organisation were aligned with the aspirations set out in the African Union, Agenda 2063, where African development is people-driven, by unleashing the potential of its women and youth.
Key lessons learned from the projects:
- Support programmes to alleviate the financial constraints that limit women's’ ability to participate in business and vocational skills training.
- Business and vocational training programs should consider the needs of the community and the improvement of skills that best target the empowerment of women in the community.
- Ancillary training methods and business support services should be implemented in conjunction with business and vocational skills training to maximise the efficacy of the training.
Support programmes to alleviate the financial constraints that limit women's’ ability to participate in business and vocational skills training
A consistent feedback from the closing project reports was that financial limitations constrain women from participating in business and vocational skills training. Solutions to this issue are not easily implemented, however methodologies to overcome this include making provision for transportation costs, national and regional policy changes aimed at facilitating training initiatives and the provision of subsidies for female business and vocational skills training and aid aimed at the supply of input materials required over the course of training. It is important to note that the expenses accrued by women are not limited to those associated with the training itself. If vocational training bears no tuition costs, women are still faced with transport, time and opportunity costs to attend such training sessions. The nature of poverty is such that immediate concerns are prioritised over future benefits. This implies that low absolute costs (such as taxi fare) may hold high relative and opportunity costs for these women.
The Good Samaritan Training Centre in Ethiopia (GSTC) provided vocational training to disadvantaged young women from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The project coordinators recommended that in order to stabilise and increase the project’s attendance rate, they need to provide the women with either access to or money for transportation, as many of the beneficiaries could not attend the training due to the associated transportation costs. Similarly, another project which encountered transportation costs as a barrier to women participating in business and vocational training was the Jewels of Faith Academy (JOFA). The solution achieved in this project was to provide financing to the women to subsidise their transportation costs to JOFA learning centres.
Financial constraints were a significant factor in The Employment and Vocational Training Institute (IEFP) project, which provided skills training and business support to young, unemployed women from Cabo Verde. The organisation found that due to inadequate socio-economic conditions, some beneficiaries could not adequately participate in capacity building workshops. For future projects/initiatives, the project suggested that funds should be earmarked for the payment of daily and other related expenses incurred by the beneficiaries to maximise attendance and skills development of the women.
The aforementioned interventions to further the outcomes of women participating in capacity building initiatives are not exhaustive. It is however critical to address the financial strain that business and vocational training can impose on African families and develop comprehensive strategies for its improvement.
Business and vocational training programs should consider the needs of the community and the improvement of skills that best target the empowerment of women in the community
A key finding amongst several projects was the lack of feasibility studies and a needs-based approach to funding projects based on the requirements of the women in the community. This ensures that projects are efficiently allocated and effectively train female beneficiaries to maximise their economic empowerment and contribution to the community. An example of a misalignment of needs occurred during the Juba Women’s Self-Help Development Organisation (JWSHDO) project in South Sudan. JWSHDO encountered difficulty in training the local women on the operation and maintenance of an electric brick laying machine. The project further found that the long-term running of the machine and auxiliary equipment was not financially feasible for the community.
Another project, The Jewels of Faith Academy JOFA, which provides education and humanitarian services to Nigerian women, mentioned in their final report that it was vital to research the needs of the target community prior to the project's commencement so as to ascertain how best to empower the members of the community and improve their livelihoods. Similarly, the project undertaken by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) in Sierra Leone, recommends that projects conduct a needs assessment in the project area after each milestone is achieved as it helped in revealing reliable baseline data on the status of beneficiaries for subsequent planning of activities in the project. The exercise helped beneficiaries air out their views or frustrations over the course of the project, allowing for intra-project optimisation.
Furthermore, the Graça Machel Trust, which focussed on strengthening national networks of African businesswomen, found that a key component of the network capacity building was a mapping exercise to assess the environment in which networks operate, to obtain a better understanding of what is needed to improve the services offered and to ensure that networks engage with their constituencies. These interventions ensured that the project was well aligned with the needs of the women in the communities targeted and that it maximised the project's impact on female businesswomen.
It was found to be critical to correctly align the needs of the beneficiaries in each project to ensure their effective implementation and maximal impact, thereby ensuring the projects addressed the aspirations set out in the African Union, Agenda 2063, where African development is people-driven, by unleashing the potential of its women and youth.
Ancillary training methods and business support services should be implemented in conjunction with business and vocational skills training to maximise the efficacy of the training
The successful implementation of business and vocational skills training relies on a comprehensive approach to its execution. A comprehensive approach requires strengthening the base capacities of the beneficiaries to ensure the successful uptake of more advanced business and vocational training, i.e. ensuring that the beneficiaries have the requisite numeracy and literacy skills to undergo further training. Furthermore, assistance in the form of sharing information and expertise, skills training, and transmission of working knowledge is vital for success. Business and vocational training should, where possible include on-the-job training and apprenticeship elements. Finally having access to sources of finance for equipment and materials related to the training outputs ensures that the skills obtained through the training maximises female economic empowerment for the beneficiaries.
The Good Samaritan Training Centre in Ethiopia provided vocational training for disadvantaged young women from Addis Ababa. While the project's primary objectives concerned the provision of vocational skills training, however before the core training commenced the GSTC initiated a ten-month basic education course to 88 young, vulnerable women. The basic education course consisted of life-skills, literacy and introductory business skills training. After the female beneficiaries base capabilities were improved they were provided with vocational skills training that they could use to generate an income for themselves or find employment. The successful implementation of the project led to the enrolment of 100 young girls for the subsequent academic year.
The LIVE-Addis project from Ethiopia provided business and vocational skills training to young Ethiopian women. 10 training institutions from a diverse array of industries were selected as training partners for the project. The on-the-job training and apprenticeships, covering a wide range of industries, helped to secure employment for 301 of the graduates. The transmission of working knowledge throughout the on-the-job training was vital to the project's success as it provided the female beneficiaries with tacit knowledge that is difficult to transfer in formalised desk-based training. These methods of non-traditional training allow for greater diversity in training experiences and knowledge that is tangible and practical.
Furthermore, the Employment and Vocational Training Institute (IEFP), provided skills training and business support to young women from Cabo Verde. The project facilitated the establishment of a business incubator in São Vicente, which provided technical assistance and other support services for start-ups established by the young female attendees of the project. These ancillary support services ensured that the young women were provided tangible opportunities to apply their newly acquired skills while empowering them to grow income generating businesses.