Re: Social protection to protect and promote nutrition

Peter Steele Independent Consultant Agricultural Engineer, Italy
Peter Steele

Encouraging the private sector

It was encouraging to read the contribution of Christine Namukasa of Hunger Fighters Uganda (HF-UG) with her reference to the role of the private sector within national efforts to promote nutrition and to provide some measure of social protection to local people. Unfortunately, Ms Namukasa does not describe the extent of this role apart from reference to ‘pipeline’, ‘synergies’ and ‘partnerships with CSOs and government’. The logical place to find this information would be on the HF-UG web pages, but I couldn’t encourage their search engine to shift into gear. The site listed the usual selection of UN agencies, international NGOs and others as partners; no reference to private sector partners.

This is, of course, no critique of HF-UG – it is sufficient to have raised the issue (for the role of the private sector) – but it would have been interesting and perhaps of value to learn of what the private sector in Uganda may be doing to promote social protection, and particularly of small-scale, grass-roots, community-based, etc. interventions, that have proven of value in Uganda that could then be tried elsewhere. A successful private sector provides that measure of economic security long-term that comes from making a profit.

Others may have a similar contribution to make and this leads neatly into my contribution; the risks of relying upon the public sector, the donor community, international/national NGOs and others with non-profit objectives that depend ultimately upon the goodwill of external funds, effort, intellect and interest.

The model for community self-interest with the most fundamental of community functions – child care, nurturing and security – was described earlier in the first contribution by George Kent of Hawaii; check out the model, it contains the child at centre within seven nested circles of security. After ‘family’ and ‘community’ the assumption is one wherein the public sector should take responsibility; there is neither reference to the private sector nor to the risks of dependency that comes from reliance upon others. If either the family or the community is sufficiently capable of becoming financially/economically self-sufficient, then clearly that those children will be more secure as they grow and, importantly, they become more capable – more self reliant citizens - as they, in turn, shift into adulthood.

There is only so much that can be covered in a few words, but the thesis here is one of focus upon the self-reliance of family and/or community; teaching/encouraging people to rely upon their own resources/effort/intellect/etc. and to shift away from dependency upon others and, particularly, from the dubious/irregular decision-making of sometimes distant central governments. For all the best will in the world – public sector people are not always the most appropriate source of social development/investment expertise.

(You only have to look at a handful of key countries across the MENA region and selected national food/energy social support programmes that have routinely provided subsidized prices of staples across the country in an effort to placate their mainly urban populations – to the detriment of real farm prices, rural poverty, import dependency and more; to appreciate the risks of inadequate planning. Many governments in the region continue to pay off their citizens in state-supported interventions to ensure civil stability – and more so since the impact of the Arab Spring on the region.)

On much the same tack, the private sector is not some benign benefactor comfortably allocating a proportion of company funds for social responsibility spending – leastways not on small-scale, and rarely in the low-income countries. Too many of the SMEs involved are working close to margins that simply cover cost plus – but, crucially, keeping workers and family intact and in-food. Workers and family are, typically, one-and-the-same; it’s this thing about starting up a business and people being required to ‘work twice as hard for half the income’.

Private enterprise and markets are no panacea for future well-being, but provide opportunities for shifting away from traditions of ‘government provides all’; government used to try to provide all, but has rapidly stepped back within the complexity required of modern national management. We are no longer in a post-colonial world of newly independent states with all that this implied for ‘old models’ of donor/development assistance from others. Middle income people are a feature of all new countries, responsible for the wealth that is being created on the basis of intellectual creativity, sensible investments and market risks.[1] You sometimes have to look hard to find those old models – sure they exist – but they are rapidly disappearing within the modern images of urban development, shifts in agro-technologies and determined people that you meet everywhere.

The key is one of education, confidence, self-appreciation and the development of a ‘can-do’ society.  Check out and invest in the young in your community.

Peter Steele
Agricultural Engineer

[1] More information. Access your favourite search engine with ‘private sector’, ‘social responsibilities’ and similar key words. USAID, for example, at: describes global, regional and national partnerships with >US$3B investment funds in the pipeline. And, if any of those companies are local to where you are, check them out for the opportunities that may arise for partnerships, provision of services, contracts and more.