Yes, We Can Create Employment and Production and end the economic meltdown.
Posted on September 3rd, 2023

by Garvin Karunaratne

My mind runs in nostaglia to three of my attempts at economic development in three countries, where in two where I failed and finally in the third I did succeed.

The first was in Edinburgh where in 1980 I worked as a Senior Community Education Worker in Wester Hailes. One of my duties was to work with young lads that had completed schooling and were enlisted on the Manpower Service Commission’s Programmes: YOP and STEP – Youth Opportunities Programme and Short Term Employment Programme. We worked with the lads involving them in all the community work we did and I was also involved when the lads were trained at Colleges of Education. We dropped them at the end and they marched into the dole or to don boots and join the Army to end someday perhaps as CannonFodder.

I submitted a Programme for the lads to be intensively trained in any vocation of their choice at a College of Educaton and be guided to make things for sale under the guidance of economics lecturers and community leaders ending finally as successful entrepreneurs. The paper went to my Director of Community Education Peter Williamson who supported it. But the at the Labour Party controlled Lothain Regional Council it was decided that the idea was good to be implemented when the Labour Party comes to power. Then the Conservatives ruled for long. My attempt got lost in the quagmire of party politics. Shortly afterwards the Manpower Services Commission was abolished and till now there has been no new programme.

The second was in my Motherland, Sri Lanka. I quote from my book: NuwaraKalaviya:

At the Government Agent’s Confeence in 1972, the PrimeMinister Sirimavo called for development suggestions from the Government Agents. None spoke for a while and that included Bradman and Wijedasa. It looked very odd for none of us 22 Government Agents to speak. I suggested that we should have a per farmer plan for paddy production, with details of extents cultivated, problems faced and solutions provided. Uptodate we have never had a per farmer plan. Even today we have only guess estimates concockted by village level officers. The Minister for Agriculture, Kobbekaduwa, the Prime Minister Sirimavo and the Agriculture Secretary were seen discussing for a while. Finally the Prime Minister, asked me as to why the production plans are not working in my district. They had failed to understand what I suggested and I was put on the spot. I got up to explain but some officer from behind got up and pushed me down. That was the Director of Agriculture, perhaps Jinendradasa. He said that my District had met all the targets and was leading in production. I did not have to argue to get out of the ditch. I stood up to explain but the Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture signalled me to sit down. Evidently the Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Kobbekaduwa, the Minister of Agriculture and the Prime Minister, none of them understood my suggestion…. It is no surprise that in 1973 to 1977 paddy cultivation did fail miserably.

Though we had achieved self sufficiency in rice production by1970, since then paddy production has gone down. In 2022 we imported 800,000 metric tons of rice!

The third occasion happened in Bangladesh, when I served as the Commonwealth Fund General Advisor on Youth Development to the Ministry of Labour and Manpower in 1982. General Ershard had taken over the Government in a bloodless coup d’etat in 1982, and Hon Aminul Islam, Minister for Labour and Manpower, in an appraisal of youth programmes, said that he was not fully satisfied with the work done by the Ministry of Youth Development and asked me for the contribution I can make for Bangladesh. I recommended that the Ministry should get down to a programme of employment creation in order to provide training for the 40,000 youths that received vocational training every year.

The Secretary to the Treasury, the highest officer in Bangladesh, pointed out that in the earlier three years, the International Labour Organization(ILO) of the United Nations with all their expertise and unlimited resources had tried hard to establish an employment creation programme which had ended a miserable failure after incurring a massive loss. I was told that the Government did not have funds to waste because the failure by the ILO meant that employment creation was something that could not be achieved. I replied that I had successfully established many self employment projects in Sri Lanka in various industries and agriculture and added that I could establish an employment creation programme in a design that would be suitable for Bangladesh, developing its resources. The Secretary to the Treasury questioned me as to how I proposed to teach economic management to illiterate youths. I replied that I have found it easy to teach illiterate youths basic concepts of economics- to count the cost of inputs, cost of labour building up elements that led to the calculation of profit and loss. I said that it was not difficult to convince farmers and youths of how to try to reduce costs and get into production and sales. I said that I had earlier successfully involved uneducated youths and how we made them think as they worked and how they easily mastered management skills in the actual process of working their self employment projects. I was questioned in detail how I would teach illiterate uneducated youths and replied that they were taught through actual practice. I added that I had in the process built up the abilities and capacities of the youths in the manner that Dr Akhter Hammed Khan had built farmers in the Comilla Rural Development Programme. Dr Khan had built up a great reputation at Comilla. The arguments between me and the Secretary to the Treasury continued for over over two hours with the Hon Minister listening carefully making notes.

Finally the Minister stopped both of us arguing and said that I had convinced him The Minister asked the Secretary to the Treasury as to whether there were any programmes that trained anyone for self employment. The Secretary replied none. Then the Minister asked for the number of youths that were given vocational training. The Ministry totalled the number and it was in the thousands. Then the Minister asked for the number of school leavers in any year who did not go for further studies and were consigned to be unemployed, scraping the barrel for life. . The answer was in the millions. The Minister immediately ordered me to establish a self employment programme for the youths.

The Secretary to the Treasury immediately responded by stating that he will not be providing any funds as he did not have any funds to waste. I replied that I did not require any news funds but we should be give the authority to find savings in already approved budgets and also be authorized to change the remits of all youth officers to include self employment creation within their remits. The Minister approved my request.

I commentced work the very next days teaching concepts of economic management to Youth Directors and Youth workers and also addressing youths , teaching them elements of basic economics reducing economic concepts of production, of buying and selling, the working of supply and demand, the art of maximizing profits, keeping costs down at a minimum, motivating the youths who were being trained to think of drafting a project of self employment, however small with a few dozen chicks or a milking cow. . Some youths obtained funds from their parents to purchase a cow and got involved in selling milk. Some even saved their measly stipend given during the training , purchased chicks and ducklings and made them grow to lay eggs when they got involved in sales. Training Units that closed their gates at five were kept open till ten at night to enable the trainees to use the machinery like sewing machines to make something for sale and they were actively guided to make something saleable.

A countrywide extension service was established to visit youths who faced problems and provide them guidance. Training Sessions were held involving hundreds of youths.

Youths Workers, Youth Director knew the art of working with the youth, of guiding them, rather than pure instruction and before long there was progress.

I trained the Directors and Lecturers in the Training Institutes on how to train and guide the youths.

I, with the directors and lecturers was training 2000 youths to become self employed. By by August 1983, there was success. The Additional Secretary of the Ministry wrote:

The Programme of providing self employment to the drop out youths which was initially launched has been a great success and has now been adopted as a full fledged programme … This is a non subsidy programme in which youths are subjected to non formal education inputs while they are involved in viable but small scale commercial ventures.”

The Secretary to the Ministry in October 1983 wrote:

The Pilot project for self employment has now been formally accepted as one of the most important programmes to be implemented by the Youth Development Department.”

The members of the elite Bangladesh Civil Service who were the Secretary and Additional Secretary, trained by me, continued the programme developing it further and the programme was expanded rapidly. The 3 Residential Training Centers were increased to 64 by 1997.

The Programme became so successful to be commented in the Bangladesh Five Year Plans- the Fifth Five Year Plan (1997-2002) target was to train 160,000 youths per year. In 2011, the Government of Bangladesh reported to the 34 th Session of the IFAD(FAO), one of the funders, that two million youths have been self employed. By now(2023) the number self employed would be over three million. It is easily the largest and most successful employment creation programme the world has known.

Yes we can bring about economic development in Sri Lanka..

Garvin Karunaratne

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