Posted October 2000
The importance of having cash income increases with the advancement of societies. Many African women undertake income-generating activities in order to sustain their families and have some private income. However, too often, these activities provide only a small income. This is why improvements in social / health services at National and Sub-national level are often not accessible by the poorer strata of the society, in particular women, as they lack money.
Numerous international fora, like the Beijing Platform for Action, and its Regional preparatory Conferences, have highlighted that illiteracy and lack of basic business management skills are part of the reason why many economic activities fail and have therefore incorporated this problem in their Platforms of Action. Similarly, the three strategic objectives of the FAO Plan of Action for Gender all include aspects of strengthening women's skills in order to achieve: i) gender-based equity in access to and control ofproductive resources; ii) increased participation in decision-making and policy-making processes at all levels; and iii) a reduction in workloads and enhanced opportunities for remunerated employment and income.It is in response to the above mentioned problem that the FAO Regional Office for Africa produced training packages for adults in numeracy and simple bookkeeping during the first half of the nineties.
Preparations for the numeracy training (note: Work started in the FAO executed `Integrate Development of Artisanal Fisheries' project, based in Benin and continued from FAO's Regional Office for Africa) showed that numeracy components of existing literacy programmes didn't respond to the needs of rural women: the numbers taught were too small given the relative low value of the currencies used. This is why FAO developed new training materials, using day care and primary school books as examples and adapting them according to the needs of adult learners. The new manual, entitled "Figures for Bookkeeping", teaches Arabic figures, calculations and manipulations with money. The training material differs from other materials as: a) it only teaches Arabic numbers; b) uses the local currenc in the examples and exercises; and c) employs amounts relevant to the local economy.
The 'Simple Bookkeeping and Business Management Skills' training is a continuation of the numeracy training. It aims:
The course targets small-scale entrepreneurs, both from rural and urban areas. Participants can be individual entrepreneurs or groups engaged in agricultural or other small-scale economic activities. Even though the course is mostly directed towards women, its content is also relevant for male entrepreneurs. Participants are expected to be able to do basic calculations, but they do not necessarily have to know how to read and write words. Where appropriate, symbols are used instead of words. Literacy courses can be held supplementary to the course on 'Simple Bookkeeping and Business Management Skills.
The course explains the difference between "Money in" (credit) and "Money out" (debit) and provides examples of "Income" and "Expenditure". It teaches how to maintain a "cash book" (using symbols for the goods sold or the services rendered) and practises calculations on "profit" and "loss". Participants learn that "Profit" should be divided into: monies used for the household, for the business and for savings. "Savings" should be divided into: money to replace tools (or depreciation), money to expand the business (investment), money for emergency cases and money to improve the way of living. Furthermore, the participants learn when to sell or buy on credit and how to keep track of repayments in a "credit book". The training also includes lessons on "Costing and Pricing" and teaches basic notions of management when establishing a new business.
FAO provides technical assistance but is not a funding agency. Its mandate includes the development and testing of innovative training programmes, which can then be used by development partners for further implementation. Examples of how this is done are presented below
I. TechnoServe (an International NGO working in Ghana) - started a 3 year numeracy and simple bookkeeping programme in 1997. Initially, the programme included a literacy component, which was later handed over to a specialised languages training institute. The NGO specifically targets illiterate women as their socio-economic position is sub-ordinate to that of men in Ghana. In all, 58 groups completed the numeracy training and 34 groups continued with the simple bookkeeping training (adding up to an estimated total of respectively 900 and 500 participants).
II. Roman Catholic Diocese Jasikan and SNV (an International NGO working in Ghana) - a numeracy training component was added to the Women and Development Project implemented by R.C. Diocese Jasikan and SNV in Nkwanta District of the Volta Region (Ghana) in 1997. In 1999 a Simple Bookkeeping and Business Management Skills training component was added to the programme. Numeracy training is given in addition to the literacy classes implemented by the National Non-Formal Education Department (NFED). The participants are: a) members of saving and credit groups, related to the project; b) members of productive groups; and c) literacy class members. Most participants are women and they are usually engaged in trading and/or farming activities. The programme adapted the simple bookkeeping training manual to the local needs. NFED has recognised the positive impact of the Simple Bookkeeping and Business Management Skills training and has enquired about possibilities to include the training in its own adult education curriculum.
III. Direction d'Alphabétisation et Education des Adultes Togo - During the mid-nineties, the Department of Adult Education in Togo joined the FAO Regional Office for Africa in adapting the numeracy and simple bookkeeping training materials to the Franc CFA zone. Since April this year, the full package exists in French, ready to be used in all French speaking West-African countries. NGOs and civil societies fund most of the Department's activities, as Government funding for adult education has all but dried up in Togo. This is an indication that the department's knowledge and experiences are well appreciated in the country. Numeracy is an integral part of the literacy training programme, which covers four aspects: writing, reading, numeracy and general development (e.g. nutrition, health etc). A number of organisations, such as SOTOCO - the Togolese cotton society, are adjusting the training materials developed by the FAO according to the specific training needs of the sector they are working in. This is done in collaboration with the Department of Adult Education.
The impact of the numeracy and simple bookkeeping training programmes can be classified under three categories; namely:
Increased skills and knowledge
Participants mentioned the following skills obtained through the training programmes:
Greater trading skills and higher economic returns
Improved self-esteem and general well-being
Learners reported :
Numeracy and simple bookkeeping training courses can enhance the management skills of micro business entrepreneurs and thus not only increase the returns from their productive activities, but also improve their self-esteem, their general well-being and their status in the community. Increased self-esteem helps women build their confidence and open their perspectives to further development. Moreover, numeracy and simple bookkeeping training offers opportunities for acquiring a "professional status" and thus, interalia, contributes to improving access to formal banking systems or to rural organisations. It is important that social and economic support programmes include managerial capacity building of the individuals / groups they aim to assist, as this is the only way that such programmes can achieve a lasting effect.
In this regard, it is recommended that Home Economics Institutions consider or enhance curriculum components preparing their students for development approaches, catering for social AND economic needs of their ultimate target audience. Seldom will social advancement be achieved without economic betterment and improvements in individuals' economic situations will most likely contribute to increased power and participation in household and community decision-making. This will contribute to linking micro-level improvements with intermediate and national level development opportunities.
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