Giving LIWAY some leeway

Naming a programme is always difficult. LIWAY comes from an acronym; Livelihoods Improvement for Women and Youth, which reflects the intention of the programme. We did hear people, however, suggest that the name sounded like we were trying to leave room to wriggle our way out of results.

Fast forward almost four years and the name has never seemed so appropriate. Leeway is the “the amount of freedom to move or act that is available” and the programme has needed every inch of this freedom. Since we began, Ethiopia has been through three states of emergency, a civil war, and a global pandemic. The seemingly irrepressible economic growth that characterised the last three decades has been very much repressed. In the face of such challenges, many programmes may not have been fit for purpose.

However, owing to its innovative design and Sida’s excellent technical comprehension and programme management, we have been able to employ adaptive management throughout the programme to create the conditions for success.

LIWAY works in three cross-cutting systems; labour, micro and small enterprise (MSE), and medium and large enterprise (MLE), which together address the present and future concerns of Ethiopia’s urban poor and are all supported by reforms to the skills system. As macroeconomic conditions have changed, LIWAY has been able to continue working on the relevant systemic issues in these systems without the need to focus too explicitly on niche segments – as other programmes do – such as the export garments industry for example, which will likely collapse as Ethiopia is excluded from AGOA and result in mass redundancies both of people and skills. Other donor funded programmes have focused on digital product development, yet connectivity is frequently removed or restricted by government for security reasons. And others have focused on international investment when in fact, current investment is in retreat. These are common and yet major challenges for programmes that take a sectorally focused approach and one way in which LIWAY sets itself apart from most other donor funded programmes.

By addressing constraints within the labour, MSE, MLE, and skills systems, LIWAY can support women and youth not only to gain meaningful employment and self-employment opportunities in the short-term, but also to build their own resilience and capacity to adapt and change pathways over time, in turn giving them more leeway. It also means that LIWAY can adapt its interventions within these systems to address new constraints as they arise as a result of the changing context.

The types of constraints LIWAY seeks to address are therefore not unique to one sector or sub-sector, but rather are constraints that apply across multiple sectors and systems. In the case of labour for example, one major constraint is that many employers have a negative perception of employing youth and women and generally there is a lack of trust between youth and women and potential employers. Another major constraint is the lack of transparent information on employment opportunities, required skills, and career pathways, which prevents women and youth from knowing what types of opportunities they can access and how. For MSEs it may be the lack of information on market demand or the lack of skills to diversify, and for MLEs it may be low productivity or poor access to quality and affordable inputs.

By addressing these constraints at a system level, it is more likely they will be unblocked for women, youth, and businesses across a range of sectors and in turn support more youth and women to access opportunities.

COVID-19 is just one example of how LIWAY was able to adapt. In the early stages of the pandemic, LIWAY introduced a COVID-19 strategic response fund to support initiatives targeting individuals and businesses that were affected by COVID-19 in ways that aligned with the core programme objectives. Bayush Alcohol Drinks Factory was one of 31 businesses that benefited from this fund. Bayush saw a huge drop in sales following closures of hospitality and retail due to government-imposed restrictions. They learned, however, that LIWAY was working with the Food, Beverage & Pharmaceutical Industry Development Institute (FBPIDI) to support companies with facilities to manufacture sanitiser and alcohol-based cleaning products, which were widely used in response to the pandemic (read case story here). LIWAY and FBPIDI co-developed training manuals and rolled out training to several manufacturers who were then able to adapt their operations to manufacture these products. FBPIDI also partnered with Addis Ababa University to ensure the training and guidance provided met WHO standards, as well as provided companies with testing kits to check product quality. As a result, Bayush was able to remain operational, expand its product offering, retain all staff, and even create new employment opportunities for 15 youth, 11 of whom were women.

The critical success factor, and the core of LIWAY’s strategy, is the emphasis on how adaptive management helps to build resilience. Ultimately, it is about ensuring youth, women, and the businesses that employ them have the appropriate skills, platforms, relationships, and linkages to overcome the constraints and adapt not just now, but also in the future. This in turn will lead to growth and ultimately to more employment opportunities for others.