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Enhancing Individual Capability in Rural Communities

By Alex Thomas Ijjo

Inclusiveness is currently high on the global policy agenda, but it has been especially emphasized by the recent transition from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is explicitly mentioned in five of the 17 SDGs. However, the ramifications of its realization in the context of less developed communities are yet to be fully understood. What seems certain is that inclusiveness greatly depends on the capability of individuals to participate in the economic opportunities offered by their societies. The wider socioeconomic and political environment is important, but individual agency is also pivotal to an engagement with the matrix of opportunities offered by society at large.

Generally two broad sets of factors are at work in the development process. The first is the wider socioeconomic and political context, or macro-environment, and the other is individual capability and agency. The macro-environment is usually the product of many factors including culture, ideology, and government policy. In neoliberal societies, governments strive to create favorable macro-environments to facilitate individual agency as the primary driver of economic development. A favorable development environment normally includes, but is not limited to, security of life and property, democratic accountability and rule of law, and facilitative policy. Important as it is, a favorable macro-environment is not sufficient to guarantee inclusiveness. Thus, the enhancement of individual capability, as well as individual motivation to translate opportunities into desired outcomes, are indispensable components of an inclusiveness strategy.  

The capability approach (CA) to development advanced by Amartya Sen is especially pertinent to the idea of inclusiveness. The CA puts emphasis on the capability of individuals to function in given environments, and associates the expansion of individual capabilities with the potential for societal development. Inclusiveness presupposes participation, which in turn presupposes an understanding of how to participate. Thus, inclusiveness heavily hinges on individual capabilities and motivation. Motivation is driven by the perception of the payoff or net benefit of taking action versus not taking action. The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) highlights the individual attributes underpinning entrepreneurial initiative: the ability to recognize opportunities, the awareness of one’s own capacity to act as an entrepreneur, and one’s entrepreneurial intentions.

In Uganda, official statistics showed that the percentage of the population living at or below the poverty line was at 19.7 percent in 2012-2013. Forty-three percent of the population was vulnerable to poverty. Inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient, was at 0.395, with the highest prevalence rates in the northern and eastern parts of the country. In a country where 78 percent of the population was under 30 years old, youth unemployment was officially at 64 percent. These figures pose a serious challenge to the vision of inclusiveness. Although Uganda’s literacy rating is 71 percent, only 25 percent of the working population between 14 and 65 has more than just primary education, and a mere 6.5 percent has acquired any form of specialized training, according to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. In addition, while GEM continues to rank Uganda highly in terms of entrepreneurial initiative, it also ranks it highly in terms of business failure rates.

Thus a key policy recommendation for enhancing inclusiveness is to strengthen individual capabilities and confidence levels in addition to creating favorable economic conditions for development. This requires empowerment through vocational programs and training that teach immediately applicable skills. To enhance its impact, this education must also equip people with the critical consciousness to analyze situations and to take appropriate action to translate opportunities into desired welfare outcomes. These policy suggestions call for the strategic partnership of an active developmental state able to engage with the people in designing creative programs for skill enhancement and attitude transformation. Entrepreneurship should be associated with the possibility of positive transformation, not with ideas of failure and futility. 

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Alex Thomas Ijjo is a senior fellow at the Economic Policy Research Center in Kampala, Uganda.

[Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

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