The approach evolved almost organically over the first six months of project operations as our experience on the ground grew and our understanding deepened. It was pragmatic, conflict-sensitive, and ultimately aimed at empowering local communities, producers and their organizations so that they would be in a position to participate with some degree of equality in the post-conflict economy and markets that were emerging.
It is important to understand that, while this general strategy and project philosophy remained constant during the five years of operation, the ways in which it was pursued, and the methodologies, tools and tactics used, were adapted to take account of the changing environment, the new challenges, and the progress made by the project in achieving its objectives. The key features included; Local Ownership and Accountability and engagement with the Government. The project management took a decision to engage proactively with government at national, district and divisional levels so as to develop a dialogue of mutual respect and understanding and avoid the atmosphere of suspicion that prevailed at that time between the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) and the UN and NGOs. At a local and technical level this involved providing support to a number of under-resourced departments to enable them to provide technical and advisory services. This also provided the space for them to assume a more executive role in implementation of future project activities and increased their capacity to coordinate the activities of others in their areas of concern.
Active Partnership between Community and Project
At the community level a type of “community contracting” or “delegated procurement” contracting approach to project implementation was adopted. This methodology involved the contracting of beneficiaries for the procurement of infrastructure, equipment and services by transferring the necessary funds for them to manage. This was a radical change in the way external agencies had engaged with local communities up until then. It changed the prevailing paradigm of passive beneficiaries and a paternalistic implementing agency to one of active partnership.
Focusing on Sustainability
The project adopted the position that sustainable improvement in the lives of the poor and vulnerable groups can only be achieved by ensuring their beneficial inclusion and integration in an expanding and growing economy. Initiatives to improve the economic wellbeing and lives of vulnerable groups needed to be creative, innovative even positively discriminatory but they must ultimately also be designed and implemented with the same degree of critical economic analysis and consideration as a commercial intervention, so as to ensure sustainability.
Engagement with the Private Sector
Drawing on experience from other post-conflict environments, the project was aware of the critical importance of the private sector and also cognisant of the risk to long-term peace if the capacity gaps and power relations between the well-developed Southern private sector and under-developed primary producers was not factored into efforts to create new markets. The tripartite nature of the ILO and the relationship with the Employers Federation of Ceylon provided entry points and useful contacts. Although this engagement with the private sector commenced at an informal level it developed into national-level collaboration with the EFC and The National Chamber of Exporters that has now evolved into numerous partnerships that have been, and continue to be, instrumental in creating jobs and decent incomes for thousands of families in the Northern Province. While addressing the immediate needs of decent work and livelihoods at grassroots level it has also addressed the less tangible but more strategic goal of the North-South development gap and the perception of inequality between the two main communities that was often at the heart of the 30-year conflict.
Tools and Process – Territorial Diagnosis and Institutional Mapping (TDIM)
This is a geographically-based tool that provides an overview and informs the project on important social, political and economic issues in a specific geographical area. It is basically a SWOT analysis of a specific area and is particularly useful in post-conflict situations.
In the case of Sri Lanka it has helped identify the most important economic sectors or sub-sectors. It has identified the main actors, their roles and relationships, how they interact, vested interests, potential opportunities and threats, and generally provided an overview of the social, political and economic dynamics in the area.
This involved a review and assessment of the conditions and potential opportunities of a given sector or sub-sector of the local economy as identified in the initial TDIM studies. It examines the sector on a national and global basis to determine which sectors have growth potential and how investments by the project locally may perform in terms of growth, livelihoods and employment. Changes in world demand, government policy, new technology can make traditional products or industries obsolete or help identify new opportunities.
Value Chain Analysis
A value chain is defined as the full range of activities that businesses and producers go through to bring a product or service to their customers. There are numerous publications describing value chain studies and value chain development to which reference can be made. For the project team it was important that these were carried out through an “ILO lens” that examined not only issues of production and markets but also the power dynamics, the roles of different groups, the role of women, and vested interests within any one chain. As with the sector studies this is particularly important in a post-conflict setting in which there is always a danger that initiatives may reinforce existing inequalities and unequal power structures or create new inequalities and imbalances.