“So you think you know why small enterprises run or fall – well, think again”

NAI-researcher Cecilia Navarra returns from the EADI conference on development research with new insights.

Cecilia Navarra, senior researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI), is one of the 447 researchers from all over the world who have gathered in Bergen, Norway, for the EADI conference on development research. She is primarily here to present a paper, but she is also eager to get a better understanding of the field of development research.

“I am a development economist and I have my research background in cooperative and social enterprises, international aid and women’s economic empowerment. I have been working more traditionally with strictly economic approaches to my subjects of research. And with quantifiable figures and data of course,” she says with a smile full of implicit meaning.

“However, I have become more and more involved in the interdisciplinary domains of development studies. This world of mixing qualitative and quantitative data, and exchanging methodological experiences across academic boundaries has opened new doors in my research and it is important for a broader understanding of development processes,” she says.

“This does not mean that they do not serve any purpose, just probably not the intended one

In her career, Cecilia Navarra has done research on many African countries such as Senegal, Burkina Faso and especially Mozambique. Now part of her work has a focus on Ethiopia. Together with a research colleague based in South Africa, Dr Davide Chinigò, she is studying how small enterprises have developed under the government’s efforts to fight unemployment in poor suburban areas.

“We especially look at small business run by women. By comparing small enterprises in the informal sector with small enterprises in the governmental development programs, we have seen little or no correlation to prove that the sponsored enterprises have become more viable. This is not without exceptions, especially among cooperatives, but still the main observation holds,” she says – only to quickly raise a please-do-not-misunderstand-me-finger in the air and add with emphasis:

“This does not mean that they do not serve any purpose, just probably not the intended one”.

When presenting the preliminary research findings at the EADI conference, Navarra ended up in an intense discussion with a panel of experts on social protection. This gave her valuable insights.

  “We are exploring the idea that the tools provided by the government’s small-business development program end up being used as substitutes for lack of social protection tools. In economies with feeble or non-existent social security, where people from time to time have to fight for survival, diversified strategies for making a livelihood become necessary. I think that in general providing proper social protection and income stabilizers is one of the elements that can put the basis for small enterprises to pay off better. It will be interesting to observe the effects of the future efforts towards the expansion of social protection programs to urban areas in Ethiopia”, says Cecilia Navarra.

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