WEE-RDP (Women Economic Empowerment-Rural Development Program)

Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Program (AREDP) over the years while working for overall Enterprise development in five provinces, has consciously involved more women in its program. The program has facilitated women to build on their economic security through participation in Savings groups, Enterprise Development, Village Level Savings Groups (VSLAs), SMEs, etc. The fact that the overall women participation in AREDP program is about 58% on a weighted index, it talks volume on its intervention strategies and approach for women economic empowerment.

With the Government of Afghanistan’s step towards strengthening WEE and thereby taking up WEE-NPP ( Women Economic Empowerment – National Priority Program ), which is much more inclusive and one of its pillar is WEE-RDP (Women Economic Empowerment-Rural Development Program), AREDP with its experiences and successes so far, looking forward to be more systemic in its approach and work in partnership at all levels of its intervention and strengthen the business service providers and institutions in general and those of Women focused in particular.  AREDP while transitioning to WEE-RDP, would be more of a facilitating agency and involve Implementing Partners (IPs) & Facilitating Partners (FPs) who have been strengthened by Citizen Charter for overall growth of the rural economy.

WEE-RDP is designed to be a more women centric program and it would be scaled up to 34 provinces with better institutional alignment with WEE-NPP objectives. The new project intends to build on the overall experience of AREDP and would simultaneously leverage the institutional platform of CDCs established & nurtured under ongoing Citizen Charter program of MRRD. Under WEE-RDP, greater emphasis is being given to collaborating with non-governmental institutions, private sector entities, service providers and organizations and civil society organizations (CSOs) in implementation of project activities while fostering partnerships with both the public and private sector to leverage technical resources and access to finance. Synergies will also be built among potential government organizations (e.g. MoWA, MoLSAMD, MoCI, MAIL etc) and non-government and civil society organizations. The project will follow a demand-driven/market-led approach to establish market linkages at the national, provincial and local levels and special emphasis will be given to identify & support women centric sub-sectors.  Women led enterprises   and its further aggregation to higher level institutions will be promoted under WEE-RDP.

1.Project Objective:

The Project Development Objective of the WEE-RDP is “to increase social and economic empowerment of poor rural women in selected communities of Afghanistan”.

The overall goal of WEE-RDP is promotion of women’s economic empowerment through strong financially sustainable and self-managed community institutions, improved income, sustainable enterprises, and developing increased access to finance and markets, with the following key results:

  • % of women from poor and ultra-poor households mobilized into savings groups (SGs) and are federated into financially viable and sustainable8 organizations i.e. VSLAs;
  • % of SGs/VSLAs linked to financial institutions (both formal and informal);
  • % increase in the proportion of SG members having new livelihood enterprises; and
  • % of SG members reporting increase in productive assets base

2.Project Components:

COMPONENT-1:  Community Institution Development:

The objective of the component is to build sustainable community institutions through social and economic mobilization. The project will heavily draw on the mobilization efforts undertaken by Citizens’ Charter program of MRRD and leverage the network of facilitating partners working with the program.

Sub-Component 1.1: Promotion of Savings Groups and their Associations/Clusters:

The purpose of the sub-component is to mobilize poor, socially and economically marginalized women around internal thrift and credit activities and build vibrant and self-managed community institutions in the form of Savings groups and their higher-level associations i.e. village savings and loan associations (VSLAs). These federations/associations will act as community based microfinance institutions for SGs and EGs. Through this sub-component, the project will develop a culture of savings and inter-lending among poor rural women and build a strong institutional platform for their social safety nets to cope with various health or livelihood shocks leading to consumption smoothening in the first instance and eventually economic empowerment. VSLAs will also work as higher level support institutions for SGs by linking with CDC structures, which would bring institutional sustainability to the model. Existing groups promoted by various organizations, civil society organizations e.g. AKF; Afghan Aid; UN-Habitat etc. in the project areas will be brought under the fold of WEE-RDP and will build on this social capital, wherever possible. The cost of facilitating partners or sub-provincial team deployed and engaged in the promotion of SGs and their Associations/Clusters would be covered under this sub-component.

Sub-Component 1.2: Training and strengthening of Savings Groups and their Associations/Clusters:

The sub-component will fund various activities related to enhancing capacity, quality and financial performance of various community based organizations, particularly SGs and VSLAs. Investments under the sub-component should include developing capacity building modules, training aids, common accounting and reporting systems; developing credit scoring methodologies and rating mechanisms for SGs, VSLAs and other CBOs. This could be also utilized to build the financial literacy/planning; financial capability; business plan preparation and documentation for individual entrepreneurs/producers for their direct linkages with MFIs/Banks. This will include improving know-your-customer (KYC) norms and proper documentations at the VSLA and SG level and real time digitization of all SGs and VSLA transactions and making them available to partner organizations. The project will also invest in developing a cadre of good quality community resource persons (CRPs), community managed bookkeepers and other field functionaries to support the network of these institutions. Strong linkages and active participation of SGs/VSLAs in the CDCs activities will be ensured for larger social accountability; transparency and good governance of both CDCs and VSLAs.

Component - 2: Building Access to Finance and Linkages with Financial Institutions:

The component will facilitate empowering of both community institutions i.e. SGs/VSLAs and its members to develop direct linkages with financial service providers including MFIs and commercial banks. The component will support activities under both the demand side as well as the supply side of building access & linkages with financial institutions.

Sub-Component 2.1: Seed Capital to Build Bankable Credit profile of CBOs and its members:

The Seed Capital or matching grant (in proportion to accumulated savings of SG/VSLA) is designed to transfer financial resources to mature SGs/VSLAs based on a participatory demand- driven micro-planning process for use as a catalyst to build their institutions, credit history, improve their livelihoods, acquire productive assets and generate income. As promoter, the project will take the first risk (like angel investors) and invest in these institutions based on the micro planning process and their business plan, which will in turn, in the long run build the confidence of MFIs/Banks in these community institutions so that they can eventually become their direct clients. The grants would be entirely owned and managed by these community based financial institutions and would work as resource in perpetuity as per the agreed norms or MoUs signed with the project. Seed capital combined with the savings of SGs/VSLAs is expected to multiply the project funds thus increasing overall credit availability to its members.

Sub-Component 2.2: Development of innovative financial products and services & building partnerships with MFIs & Commercial Banks:

The objective of this sub-component is to work with MFIs and commercial banks to create an enabling environment for investment in the livelihoods of rural poor by increasing access to financial services. The project will look to building institutional partnerships with MISFA and other like-minded MFIs so as to promote lending and financial inclusion of women groups. Investments will be used to develop co-production models with like-minded MFIs and commercial banks e.g. supporting partner MFIs & banks in setting up exclusive/dedicated cells for lending to groups and federations; financing VSLAs and SGs promoted by WEE-RDP, etc. The project will adopt a crowding-in strategy by pursuing alternate channels for delivery of financial services e.g. VSLAs functioning as business-facilitator, bank-correspondent etc. for MFIs and Banks. The project will also explore piloting of IT enabled delivery of financial services e.g. M-PAISA; development of appropriate products and services with partner banks/MFIs -Sharia compliant financial products etc. Various training/capacity building/exposure programs for MFIs and bank staff will be organized jointly with the Financial Inclusion dept. of the DAB to promote financial inclusion of rural women. Efforts will be also made to leverage the high-level steering committee of the WEE-NPP to work with public and private sector banks to identify and eliminate various institutional constraints around women’s access to formal banking and micro-finance, specifically in rural areas.

COMPONENT-3: Providing Technical Assistance and Improved access to Markets:

The first two components of the project are universal and all households mobilized under the network of Savings Groups would benefit from the above mentioned two components. A sub-set of households having growth potential and who are part of either economic clusters or value chains would be specifically supported with improved access to market and requisite technical assistance under this component. The component will enable the project to work with various technical partners and promote public-private community partnerships towards improving the supply of key support services for market led production systems and greater economic opportunities. The component will support:

 

Sub-Component-3.1: Development of Enterprise Group (EGs) and Producers Associations (PAs):

The purpose of the sub-component is to maximize economic potential of rural women entrepreneurs and producers to improve demand side constraints of market access, deliver technical knowledge, raise basic business skills and leverage economies of scale to decrease the cost and increase the value of their sales and produce. Various studies like provincial situational analysis; value chain and market assessments, emerging investment opportunities etc. would guide and inform the investment facilitation process or micro-planning process of members of community institutions to make investment decisions. The EGs/POs at the CDCs level will be organized around a common/anchor activity or commodity and will focus on high value commodities such as vegetables, horticulture, milk, poultry, ship; fish; goat; carpet; honey, handicrafts etc. The sub-component will facilitate input supply, technology, extension, crop/weather advisory, market access opportunities for their producer/enterprise members and management of enterprises.

Sub-Component 3.2: Technical Partnerships with public and private Sectors:

The objective is to mobilize various public & private sector initiatives (including SMEs, Social Enterprises, Corporates) to promote vertical integration of small producers/local entrepreneurs with private investments in input supply; access to new technologies and post-harvest value addition initiatives including agro-processing, and to develop various livelihood/enterprise clusters in the farm/non- farm/off farm sector. This will also promote trading linkages between EGs/POs and SMEs and develop provincial, national and global markets, and support community enterprises in establishing backward and forward linkages. Various product/commodity based market assessment studies to identify opportunities to increase women’s participation in value chains could also be funded under this sub-component. As part of WEE-NPP, systematic efforts will be made to converge and establish linkages with the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) and programs of other relevant ministries/ departments for promotion of productivity enhancement related activities, setting up farmer’s field schools, undertaking front line demonstrations etc.

 

 

COMPONENT 4: Project Management and Knowledge Management (including implementation arrangements):

Under this Component, the project will finance salaries of project staff, consultancies, training programs, office equipment, and incremental operational costs of set up under MRRD and provincial units. The component will also support project coordination, implementation, monitoring at the national, regional and provincial levels, learning and evaluation systems, Management Information System, financial management, procurement, human resource management, knowledge management and communication systems as well as environmental and social safeguards management, and running of the grievance redress mechanism. The project will leverage the existing institutional infrastructure available in the CC program at the MRRD level for various project management activities including procurement, financial management and possibly third-party monitoring. This component will also support overall oversight, guidance, mentoring, field implementation support, coordination with various line ministries as well as core administrative and HR functions. Other areas of support under the component include:

  • Technical assistance to inform implementation and policy development, and capacity building of some of the MRRD directorate/cell/units to mainstream and ensure long term adequate staffing as part of exit strategy.
  • Partnership arrangements with some of the projects in India/Pakistan e.g. JEEViKA, Bihar in India or PPAF, Pakistan for overall technical assistance and implementation guidance;
  • Overall training and capacity building of staff/community professionals; identification, development and deployment of CRPs; organizing study tours and field learning trips; exchange of knowledge etc. could be also supported as part of this component.
  • Monitoring and evaluation (M&E), MIS; Procurement and financial management, communication & knowledge management functions. 

 

3.Project Area:

Under WEE-NPP, WEE-RDP is the largest stand-alone and most significant national program, which is mandated to contribute to bottom four pillars (out of the six pillars) of WEE-NPP. Design of WEE-RDP is based on the success of its predecessor program i.e. Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Program (AREDP), in addition to lessons drawn from similar projects implemented in other south Asian countries. It is expected that as a national program, WEE-RDP will cover at least two districts from each 34 provinces of the country over a course of next 5 years. It is expected that around half a million households from 5000 additional CDCs would be mobilized into 40000 WSGs in 70 selected districts of 34 provinces.