Escaping Crisis, Embracing Data: A Path to Recovery in Zimbabwe

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Lawrence Oduma is the former country representative of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Zimbabwe. Lawrence has been engaged in the humanitarian and development sector for the past 19 years in Kenya, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Liberia, and Zimbabwe. Due to the success of the Tsunami Rehabilitation Project in Sri Lanka, Lawrence was awarded the Order of Malta Medal of Honour for his performance. 5

For the past fifteen years, Zimbabwe has endured a crisis that has eroded the economic and social well-being of its people. In 2013, the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency revealed that 72.3 percent of Zimbabweans lived below the country’s poverty line. In rural areas, that figure climbs to 84.3 percent, with 16.2 percent of citizens in extreme poverty. The economic recovery remains fragile as a number of issues stand in the way of sustainable growth. These barriers include political uncertainty after the 2013 elections resulting in low business confidence, low agricultural production, liquidity challenges, and very high real interest rates on short-term credit that restricts business growth.

This bleak environment disproportionately affects the country’s youth. The International Labor Organization estimates the general unemployment rate at between 80 and 90 percent.

Exacerbating these issues are a ballooning wage bill in the public sector, ailing infrastructure with no resources to rehabilitate it, and an unreliable power supply. The country has also experienced compression of exports since the slowdown of the global economy. The Zimbabwean government’s indigenization policies, which require foreign-owned companies to sell 51 percent of their shares to Zimbabweans or the government, have resulted in decreased foreign direct investment into the country.

This bleak environment disproportionately affects the country’s youth. The International Labor Organization estimates the general unemployment rate at between 80 and 90 percent. According to Southern Peace Review Journal, youth between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five constitute about 65 percent of Zimbabwe’s population and comprise 80 percent of the unemployed. As a result, a measurable number of both rural and urban youth have been involved in crime, politically-motivated violence, and gender-related violence. Zimbabwe’s youth are also susceptible to manipulation by political parties as they lack meaningful alternatives for livelihood and survival. Many migrate to South Africa where, lacking passports and legal visas to work, they are subject to prejudice and xenophobic violence.

The level of violence against women and girls has generally increased in the country. Women’s representation in parliament has improved—35 percent of members of parliament are women—but only 12 percent of the new cabinet is female, far from representative of the 52 percent of women in Zimbabwe’s population.

With the aim of meeting the urgent needs of Zimbabweans, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) launched the Livelihoods Restoration Program (LRP) in 2008. The project seeks to support the most disadvantaged population groups in the outskirts of Harare and Bulawayo, helping them to improve their socioeconomic status, and avoiding the abject poverty that result in many people engaging in delinquent practices such as alcohol and drug abuse, prostitution, and theft.

AFSC interventions focus on:

  1. Promoting secure and sustainable livelihoods. This includes promoting income-generating activities (IGAs) through business groups, provision of business start-up kits, and establishment of savings and lending schemes and savings and credit cooperatives (SACCOs).
  2. Building social and community cohesion. This includes strengthening a community’s ability to self-organize and carry out advocacy, increasing the capacity of communities to aid small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and hold government officials accountable to their constituents. In addition, conflict management groups are established to mitigate and reduce the risk of conflict in the SME groups. Members learn causes and drivers of conflict, conflict analysis, and conflict management strategies. Group and social cohesion and the fragmentation of families due to child-headed and single-parent homes are addressed as well.
  3. Influencing pro-SME policy and practice. The project promotes entrepreneurship by forming associations to highlight issues related to provision of workspace and lobby for waiving municipality fees for small businesses. Additionally, the project has ensured that up to 400 families receive important, income-generating skills, while a larger number of project participants obtain skills in conflict transformation and peacebuilding. The LRP has seen tangible success in the past few years: over 246 trained persons are actively involved in income-generating activities, while others have sought employment in neighboring countries after training in carpentry, welding, sewing, leatherworks, building technology, interior decorating, hairdressing, grinding mill fabrication, poultry keeping, gardening, and conservation farming.
Escaping Conflict Embracing Data Lawrence Oduma Building Peace Zimbabwe #PeaceTech

Photo Credit: RNW.org via Flickr

Project participants recorded an increase in income due to technical skills training and income savings and lending schemes (ISALS). According to a recent evaluation, 52.7 percent of project participants are earning incomes between US$200 and US$450 per month from the project activities per household as net income; the project provides all the equipment and start-up materials. This income supplements other household incomes from participants’ spouses and other part-time activities, such as seasonal crop farming. This range of income is consistent with the national average earnings.

Overall, 92 percent of project participants indicated their ability to use skills gained from the project to generate incomes. As a result, households are able to cover their food, education, housing, and sanitation expenses with their earned income: 56 percent of incomes are spent on food, 20 percent on education, 12 percent on housing and sanitation, and 12 percent on other needs.

Despite these successes however, the LRP has experienced challenges in measuring the long-term impact and effectiveness of its initiatives. Funding partners require quantitative data collection and analysis to critically measure the effect of AFSC’s work, but current data collection methods fall short of capturing the real impact on the ground: we can measure progress in terms of changing people’s lives through stories of change—qualitative and anecdotal—but in the absence of scientific, quantitative data gathering methods, we may not be able to convince our funding partners that their funds have had a measurable effect on the lives of the communities we work with.

Overall, 92 percent of project participants indicated their ability to use skills gained from the project to generate incomes.

With this in mind, AFSC plans to roll out modern software to collect and analyze data in real time. This integrated program will assess livelihoods and conflict transformation, a unique innovation with the added advantage of being user friendly—members of rural communities will be able to use it easily and the data can be entered into mobile devices and manipulated to generate reports. The data will include the group name, locations, incomes earned over a period of time, interest earned, number of defaulters and amounts, numbers of members participating in meetings and their weekly contributions.  The data will also include changes in lifestyle over a certain period of time, including the ability to afford medical care, payment of school fees for children, and household food demands. Decrease or increase in conflict incidents over time will also be recorded. The data collected will also improve the effectiveness of AFSC’s program, helping us identify key gaps or weaknesses in our planning and implementation and use lessons learned to ensure we continually improve the quality of our programs.

The long-term benefits of this innovation are significant. From the ability to measure the impact of our LRP on individual incomes, to measuring the reduction of conflict at a domestic and community level, the software will enable AFSC to generate convincing data and information for our funders and partners while providing a continuous stream of feedback to inform our programs. Our project participants will be able to improve their own data management and track other information related to the activities AFSC implements. When our project participants are able to understand how their lives are changing through the data at their fingertips, they will increasingly feel ownership of the project. This will ensure the long-term sustainability of the project and help the community safeguard its future.

(Feature Photo Credit: Erik Törner via Flickr)
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