Posted by: Nathaniel | July 17, 2008

Are IGAs reverse entrepreneurship?

One of our students learns how to make the Invisible Children bracelets in Gulu, Uganda

One of our students learns how to make the Invisible Children bracelets in Gulu, Uganda

One of the activities that’s become an important part of development programming are “income generating activities” or IGAs. They obviously range in type of activity and effectiveness, but basically they’re any activity – agricultural, small goods retail, crafts – designed to provide a source of income for the poor.

In my (limited) experience the IGA programs that were the most succesful shared one of two characteristics:

1. They helped their participants determine what products/services were economically viable for their contexts (rather than planning the products for them)

2. They established the markets in advance (such as the Invisible Children Bracelet campaign – although even this generally well-run program has had some trouble with consistency of demand which has at times disrupted and frustrated local staff)

It’s interesting because in traditional entrepreneurship, someone identifies a market gap and fills it. In other words, they find a way to supply an existing demand. When an IGA program is initiated by an NGO, the order is often reversed. The supply – whatever product or services they’re helping people try to sell – is more important sometimes than establishing or identifying demand.

This is just speculation and certainly not empirical. It came up through the specific lens of refugee crafts in Cairo, where there is, locally at least, a lot more supply than demand. Its too bad too, cause a lot of the stuff is amazing. Finding demand in other places is certainly what organizations like World of Good are trying to use the internet for. But maybe the situation is different for other types of products?

Does anyone have a good example of a particularly effective or ineffective IGA program?

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