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Allen Banick's Peace Corps Adventures in Cameroon
Allen Banick's Peace Corps Adventures in Cameroon
To get a sense of the economic environment in Cameroon, you should imagine urban America in the early1800s with unregulated business initiatives everywhere—street vendors selling a variety of goods, food being prepared in the open air, dirt roads lined with shops and drinking establishments rampant. To the outside observer a general sense of disorder seems to be the economic situation in Cameroon. Luckily, an in depth understanding of the situation reveals that actions are often determined by a specific set of rules and circumstances centered on the perceived best economic choice.
Cameroon’s financial sector supporting the acquisition and use of credit may be classified as in its infancy. Changing behavior through the introduction and adaptation of business methods and tools will be one of your missions. Compounded with cultural differences, limited business experience and the general lack of knowledge of good business practices, you will find many other challenges.
Peace Corps’s small enterprise development project seeks to assist the neediest sectors of the population, while affecting the largest number of people. Although SED volunteers work under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce, there is little contact with governmental officials because nearly all our efforts are directed toward the private sector. Therefore Volunteers will collaborate with private community based organizations and non governmental organizations (NGOs) that furnish a credit and savings service while at the same time providing entrepreneurial skills training in the context of the informal sector to the marginalized socio-economic groups to assist them in better managing their businesses and the credit they receive.
Volunteers in the SED project address these difficulties by providing small business people with technical support and training in management, marketing and other entrepreneurial skills while at the same time serving as consultants in the prudent management of their small loans.
Currently there are 32 SED Volunteers serving in financial institutions, credit unions, community based banks and local non-governmental organizations throughout the 10 provinces of Cameroon.
Small Enterprise Development in Cameroon centers around two principal goals: improving the overall efficiency of financial institutions through training and technical assistance in management and business skill transfer, and identifying and developing business skills of organizations, individuals and participants in the informal sector of Cameroon’s economy.
The project will match Volunteer business advisors to small credit and savings organizations in regions of the country where such organizations have been identified. These advisors will train and consult with entrepreneurs and thereby increase their productivity and income. In predominantly small towns and rural areas where the economic development level is subsistence, Volunteers will work with the local cooperatives, NGOs or other governmental organizations to increase income and efficiency of both individual entrepreneurs and the host financial institutions.
Tasks within your assignment as a Peace Corps Volunteer will vary depending on your site. You will work closely with local counterparts to transfer skills and knowledge. Your role is that of a trainer, consultant and facilitator of the development process rather than that of a “doer.” As a small enterprise development advisor you are expected to build the capacity of your host organization to effectively access market opportunities in the community and provide services to the general business community through promotion and business counseling. You may be asked to represent your host institution in discussions and negotiations with entrepreneurs. You may find yourself providing management training to staff, assisting in the development of organizational by-laws, and setting up financial management systems. The people you will be working with have a varying range of education and experience, i.e. college degree to illiterate, hence you will need to adapt your approach accordingly.
Typical work tasks may include the following:
*Conduct community and organizational needs assessments.
*Analyze the resource and training needs of entrepreneurs.
*Help to either organize or formally establish local credit and savings organizations or to improve the ones that already exist.
*Mobilize and organize the outreach of these organizations to entrepreneurs.
*Assist entrepreneurs in market research and promotion.
*Identify and execute activities to ensure the participation of women in business management and development.
*Assist host institutions to develop business plans, maintain financial records, conduct financial analyses, and incorporate sound management practices into daily activities.
*Assist entrepreneurial groups through individual business counseling and organized workshops to include marketing, developing business plans, inventory control, budgeting and accounting.