A Major Contribution in Employment Creation by the Commonwealth Secretariat
Posted on September 11th, 2012

By Garvin Karunaratne, Ph.D.(Michigan State University)

On the occasion of the 58 th Conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary  Association in Sri Lanka in September 2012, it is timely to note a major achievement by the Commonwealth Fund in creating employment for the youth. 

This did happen in Bangladesh in 1982 where I served as the Commonwealth Fund Advisor on Youth Development to the Ministry of Labour and Manpower, Government of Bangladesh.
In 1978 the Ministry of Youth Development in Bangladesh had commenced technical and vocational training for youths. By 1980 around 30,000 youths were trained annually. The effort was on the accumulation of skills and technical knowledge and graduating the trainees with pomp and pageantry. The vast majority of the trained lapsed into unemployment.

After the coup de etat in 1982, Air Vice Marshall Aminul Islam the Hon. Minister for Labour and Manpower in reviewing the work done in youth development questioned me as to what contribution I could make to Bangladesh. I replied that the Ministry should establish an employment creation programme.

This  created a furore with the Ministry of Finance insisting that employment creation is not a function of youth development. The greater problem was that a well funded and full fledged programme for self employment creation implemented by the ILO in the three preceding years in Tangail had ended in a miserable failure. Many Ministry Secretaries argued  that I could never  achieve such an objective and that it will inevitably end with a colossal loss like what happened to the ILO Project.  I met all the arguments and insisted that I could design and establish a self employment programme that would change the youth from being consumers in the economy to be net contributors by their becoming commercially viable entrepreneurs. After around two hours of deliberation I was instructed to establish a self employment programme without the offer of any subsidies. No new vote was granted but funds already being spent for training could be diverted for extension work to guide youths when they commenced commercial projects.

I accepted the challenge. Work commenced immediately, teaching youths basic economics and motivating them to establish small commercial ventures, where they were given intensive guidance. Based on the results in two months’ time a Pilot Project was formally approved.

The Design of the program as developed in 1982-1983 took on the following form:

Teaching basic economics to all trainees. This included costing material and labour, calculating profits/losses, commercial viability and strategies for maximizing production,
Studies in the economy, both local and national to ascertain areas of entrepreneurship where there was a high potential for employment creation,

Following the concepts of

(1) Import substitution,

(2) Self “”…”sufficiency,

(3) Assessing Consumer Demand and Production to cater to such demand and

(4) Self Reliance,

All Training Institutes were altered to handle training as well as post training employment creation. The latter was to be done by providing technical assistance to the youths who commenced their projects,
Training was limited to three months’ intensive. Additional training sessions were undertaken  as and when required.  In livestock and agriculture the training was residential.
The trainees were guided to make their own employment creation projects. All projects were to involve their family members. This ploy brought in resources as well as expanded the scope of employment creation projects to include family support and family members,

No subsidies were given. Intensive non-formal education guidance was provided to enable the youths to develop their projects to become commercially viable within six months. The aim was to reach the salary level of a clerical officer in  the Public Sector.

The Progress was outstanding. By Oct.1983 of the first 500 projects, 479 were commercially viable. By then 2,000 were being guided. My task was to design the Program, train the staff and establish the program on a definite basis.

Comments by the Secretaries of the Ministry are as follows:

“Dr.Karunaratne’s significant contribution has been in the field of self employment to the drop-out youths. This programme was not only designed but also guided by him. This activity which was initially launched as a pilot experimental project has been a great success and has now being adopted as a fill-fledged Programme. The Government of Bamgladesh..has been successful in providing meaningful employment to a large number of youths on this Programme” .(Asafuddowlah)

Dr. Karunaratne’s role as the formulator of the program has been particularly commendable. It was mainly through his dedication and hard work that the pilot project has now been formally accepted as one of the most important development projects. (Ayubur Rahaman)

After my assignment the Programme was continued by Bangladeshi administrators who were trained by me.

The Program was expanded to 7,000 by 1987, to 16,000 by 1992 and to 160,000 per year from 1997. By March 2008, 2.9 million youth were trained of whom 56 % “”…” 1.6 million were self employed on a commercially viable basis. By February 2011, over two million had been guided to be self employed.(Report of the Govt. of Bangladesh to the IFAD(FAO) dated 19/2/2011)

The YSEP has stood the test of time for well over two decades. The Five Year Plan of 1997-2002  of the Planning Commission of Bangladesh devotes 8 pages to this Program. This is easily the premier employment creation program that one can find in the world today.  All other programs involve training and apprenticeship only and never include the tasks of motivating people, involving them in non-formal education endeavor to develop their abilities and capacities, through technical guidance and management advice, provided as they worked on their projects aimed at becoming commercially viable. The creation of employment for the youths is today the main task of the Ministry of Youth. A Ministry that once attended to vocational training and social welfare for the youth has been transformed to be the major  institution that attends to economic development, creating employment and national production. It has led to a movement in self employment creation with many non governmental organizations following in its wake.
In a world riddled with unemployment and poverty, this success in youth employment creation does offer us hope.

A full account of this Programme is documented in my books; ” How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka & Alternative Programmes of Success”(2006) and  “Success in Development”(2010) at Godages, Colombo.
Garvin Karunaratne, Ph.D.(Michigan State University)
9 th September 2012

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