Today, many development projects are well-intentioned, but are not sufficiently adapted to the local context. They try to fight poverty without being aware of the negative side effects of their actions. Parallel structures and market distortions are some of the logical consequences. Instead of creating room for local solutions, these development actors themselves become crucial elements of the systems in which they intervene; thus, their withdrawal (end of project) no longer guarantees the sustainability of their actions. In this way, entire economic and governmental sectors become dependent on foreign generosity.
Fortunately, in recent years, smarter ways of doing development have emerged. With the inclusive markets or market systems approach, the focus is no longer on addressing the symptoms of poverty through direct subsidies, for example. Instead, the focus is on addressing systemic weaknesses and the root causes of bottlenecks, always in close collaboration with local partners.
Knowing that societies and their economies are very complex structures, only projects that take this complexity into account can bring about lasting structural changes. To achieve this, some questions might be asked: Why can't local products compete with imports? What prevents vulnerable groups from participating in income-generating activities? What are the key support functions and why are they underperforming? These types of questions are the starting point for any market systems intervention. The project team acts as a facilitator, helping local partners find the answers and address the underlying problems. Typical intervention strategies include reducing initial risks for new and innovative products or services and linking system actors to build trust and increase communication flow.
Swisscontact is one of the world leaders in systemic development and has more than ten years of practical experience with this approach in various regional contexts. It is now time for West Africa to join the future of development cooperation.
Swisscontact's Béninclusif project was designed specifically to test this innovative way of facilitating change processes. Its partners are pioneers and each intervention is the first of its kind in Benin. For the first phase from 2021 to 2024, the project focuses on two sectors: fish farming and citrus farming. These two sectors are critical to the government's growth strategy and are relatively untouched by other donor projects. Beninclusif's interventions cover all relevant functions of the value chain, from improving access to specific inputs and structuring and promoting the sector, to capacity building. The main beneficiaries of the project include households, family businesses and SMEs.
Like any new approach, the inclusive market involves risks, requires more flexibility and good adaptive management. The project is designed to implement interventions with partners. Thus, each step is rich in lessons learned and sometimes even leads to (inevitable) failures. However, it is an iterative process of surveying, detecting, and responding that lays the foundation for more meaningful impact in the future. This is why Beninclusif is called a learning project.