The Subtle Art of Rural Enterprise Management
12 / 1993
Who is a good manager. When IRED set up an agency (PRDA)looking after village enterprise development to set up a small scale prawn farming enterprise in the Puttalam district on the west coast of Sri Lanka the manager they chose was an acquaculturist trained in prawn culture in China. After several years at the Fisheries Ministry he worked in Africa and then returned for a few more years to work with a vast private company exporting prawns. He commented profit making was the priority there with no concern for the human resources involved.
In the PRDA prawn project he started in a very technical manner. Soon he found that it was not only his scientific and technical expertise than was required but also the sensitive management of the different sets of people involved.
The foreign donor agencies were bound by a time frame of one year. This was not always practical but they had to take action and report back to their governments in order to justify their survival and continued access to resources and funding.
The funders give the dollars to management and management has the tricky task of translating intangible ideas into tangible goals within the rural context in response to immediate needs and priorities of the people. This has always been a problamatic area.
The donor want to be seen as giving something to the poorest of the poor showing them to be great benefactors. The receipients want to get as much as possible but not always in keeping with their long term interests. The management has to act as the communicating link in keeping with their ideals which insist that not only should there be economic benefit, but also a sustained level of income and welfare benefits to the community at large.
Many goals have to be achieved. The two active participants-donors and beneficiaries-often manipulate each other for quick results. In many villages the grassroot leaders like to maintain their positions to be reflected or toget more than their share of the resources. The donors are not too choosy so long as they can show certain goals like a maximum number of beneficiaries with many activities that have been initiated. It is a demonstration of playing with power. Usually projects cannot be completed in the prescribed time frame so they go straight to the villages so that the project is implemented. Time is the all important consideration. At the same time the donors look for visionaries with fine ideals. They are impatient with managers. They want popular concepts not flexible rules of which there are enough in every state department. The manager has to toe the fine line between idealism and practice.
There is no single comprehensive permanent answer. He has to rely on his experience his hunches and his understanding of each situation as it rises. That in essence is the challange that the manager always has to face.
Management is the finely honed skill of doing the best for each section-donors and recipients- and each situation as it arises so that the people are satisfied the enterprises flourish and there is continued progress and improvement in the qulaity of life in rural communities.
IRED GENERAL SECRETARIAT COLOMBO OFFICE
IRED Asie (Development Support Service) - 562/3 Nawala Road - Rajagiriya - Sri Lanka Tel : 94 1 695 481 - Fax : 94 1 - 688 368