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Harnessing the Power of Shared Values: Linking Labutta to Markets

Linking Labutta to Markets (LLM) improves the performance of smallholder farmers in the rice value chain and provides diverse off-farm employment and economic opportunities for landless and vulnerable women and men. A market development approach was at the forefront of LLM’s project design, in which the intervention is adapted to create linkage among stakeholders involved in vocational training, and support for employment and migration.

In this conversation with Poshan B KC, Senior Portfolio Manager and Technical Lead of LLM, he talks in depth about how development actions must be primed and best address the shared values for the key actors.


The systemic approach can be considered a big take for a development project. Were you concerned of the holistic collaboration scope needed among the stakeholders?

In a nutshell, market systems approaches address the root causes of why markets often fail to address  the needs of poor people. The focus is on interventions that adjust the incentives and behaviour of businesses and other market players – public, private, formal and informal – to ensure lasting and large-scale beneficial change to poor people. This means that there can never be a 'one-size-fits-all' approach; instead, each is shaped and refined through the careful analysis and understanding of a specific value chain or industry.


In the LLM project we tried to encompass all the major players in the value chain by bringing them under one roof. Igniting trust among the key stakeholders is key to the success of any interventions. In the past many direct delivery projects were deemed successful on account of them having reached all their stated targets. However, many such initiatives petered out following project closure and often created a distortion in the market. The LLM project has played the role of a catalyst rather than being a temporary market player. As we end the project, we can visualize the market players to be very much existent and going  from strength to strength. 


Were there any challenges that you faced while indentifying and introducing relevant vocational skills to better link the target group to local labour markets? What was the catalyst for its feasibility?

After a rigorous market analysis, four trades in the form of Industrial Garments, Hospitality, Construction Technician and Mechanics (Farm Machinery) were identified. Among the four occupational areas in which LLM provided skills trainings, a high number of women showed interest in the industrial garment and hospitality trainings. Jobs for these two occupations are mainly found outside of Labutta, which means the number of women graduates obtaining jobs in Labutta is low, while outside of the township it is high – which further discouraged women to participate in the trainings. The project mobilized local CSOs to sensitize potential women participants on the applicability of job placements. At the end of the project, more than 50% of this training program were women, of which more than 90% were engaged in a garment factory in Yangon. These individuals have been role models for more people from their villages to follow in their footsteps.


The industry-based trainings in Construction and Mechanics (Farm Machinery) had largely men participants. Due to the longer-term nature of the training compared to the modular short-term trainings, it was more difficult to convince participants to attend the training, even though the project had confirmed job guarantees from participating companies.


Changing the mindsets of the training participants was arguably one of the biggest challenges faced by the project, and the inclusion of a Life Skills module in standard training packages went a long way in improving the ability of participants to deal with issues faced when working in a new environment, especially when working in big cities.  


What can you attribute as one of the most defining achievements of LLM?

The project’s success has been charted out in terms of three major cornerstones innovation, impact and sustainability. The project brought in innovative aspects to the skills training program. The linkage to industries for workplace training and jobs was one of many innovations the project introduced. Previous skills programs were limited to providing training without substantial linkage with prospective employers. The project was successful in facilitating a model, creating demand from the supply side (trained individuals) which was matched by the companies’ willingness to hire the LLM-trained graduates. In addition, the project worked directly with market players to invest in quality service provision – for example, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Myanmar (MGMA) was involved in both training and providing quality human resources to its members. This is in itself a sustainable output where in market players are involved in the whole eco system of skill training (from provision of training to employment).


Likewise, in the sphere of workplace training, farm machinery manufacturing units and construction companies co-invested in the training together with the project. After the completion of the on-the-job training, most of the trainees gained full-time employment within the companies.


The strengthening of the government training school has been an unexpected success, given that this intervention lasted for less than 2 years. Following the efforts of the project, not only has the training school been able to revise its curriculum to cater to market needs, but additionally the training courses have been much sought after by unemployed youth, with enrollment increasing.


This initiative is a positive example for including the local Government Training School, and working together with three major stakeholders – employers, vocational training skills centres, and training participants – to have more sustainable linkages over the long run. Bringing together multi-level vocational training actors in the Delta region enhanced the coordination of activities and consensus on common issues, as well as improving pro-poor inclusive development.


How have the local CSOs been able to profit from LLM’s activities?

Since 2018, LLM had started to build the capacities of two local Civil Society Organisations (CSO) as local service providers. This ensured that these civil society organizations have systems and networks in place enabling them to continue to provide quality vocational training and employment placement or migration support after the project, which is key to give continuity to sustainable linkages. Swisscontact selected these CSOs based on their related experience in facilitating skills training in the area, and their network and mobilization competency in the communities of Labutta. The major role these CSOs played was in mobilizing and raising awareness on the benefits of skills training to potential participants. In addition, the CSOs also facilitated linkages to training providers and provided support in job linkages. One of the key activities performed by these local level facilitators was the provision of life skills training – pre and post support - such as counselling and mentoring to the trainees.


According to the CSOs, the impact of the program was instrumental in providing livelihoods as well as income in participating vulnerable and landless households. Many of these households are grateful for the benefits it brought – mainly through empowered youths as well as increased economic gains in the communities. The employment rate of the learners through various trainings is around 75%. As a result of this, there has been increasing demand for the skills training – especially with the garment sector, which is popular among women, and the mechanics training which is popular among men. We have also observed an increasing number of LLM trained youth establishing businesses in Labutta upon their return from a few years of work in the industries of Yangon.



Coming to the end of project, what systemic progress has been made?

Under LLM’s skills and employment component, we aimed for the continuation of quality skill development that is suited to market demands at the local level. Through capacity building local civil society organizations (CSOs), they now run and mobilize learners and manage training and work placement. And of course, the training model remains as the workplace-oriented approach, integrating life skills. LLM initiatives are being adopted by government training schools, building on the existing network with private sector achieved through the project.


In addition to promoting the rice value chain for small holder farmers, the project is working directly with market players to invest in quality service provision for off-farm livelihood opportunities. For example, the Garment Manufacturers Association of Myanmar is involved in both training and providing quality human resources to its members. This is in itself a sustainable output where market players are involved in the whole eco system of skills training (from provision of training to employment).


How do you think enterprise promotion programs could better engage private sector in the value chain?

Value Chain promotion can be successful only if all the players in the supply chain are able to play their role in strengthening their respective functions. There have been instances in the past when the supply chain has been shortened ostensibly to benefit the input suppliers and the end market beneficiaries. However, these interventions are not sustainable and instead impact the dynamics of the market. Trust is a very important element in improving the linkage between farmers and traders.


Inclusion was a major criterion during participant selection. Likewise the prospective employers  upon seeing that the trainings addressed the requirements of the industries, showed their willingness to collaborate with the project right from the onset of the project. Companies shared the costs of trainings in the form of free accommodation, meals and cost of trainers. Engagement with these private companies also allowed the programme to understand the market demand on specific skills better. The program ensured that private sector actors provided feedback to the curriculum resulting in the courses being more practical oriented.  These types of arrangements resulted in the private sector’s increasing role in the training and preparation of project participants for employment.  This created more ownership from the private sector and led to increased investments on capacity building and investment in training infrastructures. 


Towards the end of the project, LLM supported small holder farmers to form farmer producer groups and trade their paddy through the contract rice farming model. Additionally, over 50 companies in the manufacturing and service sector are now employing landless youth who received training in technical and vocational skills. 


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