Equal empowerment opportunities – it’s about more than just women; influence the full system.

Laura Potgieter  |  9 August 2021

Today, many posts about women’s empowerment will see the light. DevCom’s philosophy around empowerment is, however, one of equal empowerment. All stories, all assets, all opportunities, all disillusionment, and all stakeholder’s matter. We’ve learned this the hard way – through experience. No empowerment projects for women can be sustainable if they focus on women. It has to focus on the systems that the women function in. It must take into consideration the complexity, the reality and the influencers of all social impact drivers. Only when we start to focus on the full picture, the individuals in it and shift the entire system do we achieve long-term empowerment of women – and all things they touch. This case study reminds us of how it can go wrong, how a holistic solution can bring it back, and how the end goal is always achieved if you focus on equal empowerment and dialogue with all stakeholders.

When a skills development and job creation project with international stakeholders almost ran aground, DevCom proved the power of communication in averting a crisis.

DevCom embraced the opportunity to work strategically with The Limpopo Jewellery Cluster (LJC) project to turn an extraordinary concept into a sustainable resource, empowering most emerging black female jewellers.  The project was conceived to empower historically disadvantaged individuals with the skills to establish their own jewellery businesses while also supporting sustainable mineral beneficiation through large-scale production.

The project received R7 million in funding from the European Union (EU) in 2008 and R3 million from a local funder. It was given 18 months to establish itself in Polokwane and produce the first year’s financials.  A project implementation team was to work with the local communities to establish educational, infrastructural, and financial resources for them to become players in their development.

Sadly, mismanagement provided a tragic introduction for disillusionment, lack of leadership, and loss of confidence.  The result: confusion and disappointment within a community whose hopes had been ignited, with the potential of serious repercussions for various stakeholders involved.  The community had been given a chance to take their destinies into their hands, yet this was taken from them due to a lack of adequate management structures and project delivery.   Local politicians used the project’s vulnerability to score political points ahead of local elections, and community members felt the repercussions; the tragic result was disempowerment.  The goalposts had shifted, and Mari Lee, CEO of DevCom, was appointed to bring the team together again, provide a rule book, game plan, and mobilise the stakeholders and beneficiaries to avoid reputational damage and establish trust work towards placing the power back into the concept of empowerment.

Every setting should be considered an enabling environment, but what does this look like, and how can you achieve this?

We know this, yet so often struggle to implement effectively, as sustainable enterprise development projects that can last and provide equal opportunity in our beautiful country.  Sustainable enterprises do not and cannot exist in a vacuum. All enterprises must operate within a political, social, and economic context.  Enterprise development is the act of investing time and capital to help people establish, expand, or improve business. This helps all people equally capable of earning a living or finding a way out of poverty.  This leads to long-term economic growth for themselves, their families, and their communities.

It is vital to consider external environmental factors when supporting enterprise-specific interventions for businesses to grow to uplift communities. Suppose long term sustainability, opportunities and growth is to be achieved. In that case, there needs to be a commitment to enabling environments where clear incentives and entrepreneurs’ expansion is reachable and valid. We are human beings; we rely on our support structures to survive.  The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”, is relevant to everything that we do, and more so when creating fundamental long-term opportunities. Economic growth raises living standards through investment in human and natural resources.  The importance of dialogue, communication, transparency, and tangible support can make or break a sustainable project if not properly identified and addressed.

Keep in mind that it doesn’t have to happen overnight – and nor should it. Through genuine collaboration and strategic communication, the results are endless, and that glimmer of hope can quickly be restored and grow into a multi-faceted diamond that holds potential, mined from equal empowerment.

Read up on this case study here.

“Mari Lee turned one of our projects around and completed it successfully, thanks to her industry, capability and – in no small way – her personality. Her considerable management and communication experience had a hugely beneficial effect on the project in a very short space of time. Her leadership and team-building skills are exemplary, as is her ability to identify priorities, to set down a work programme, and to carry it through despite competing interests,” said David Wood, team leader, Limpopo-led programme (seconded to South Africa by the EU).

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