Civil Society

The Small and Micro Enterprise Service (SMEPS): Bridging the Void

This post is also available in: العربية (Arabic)

Yemen, home to one of the world’s oldest civilizations, now ranks as the poorest country in the Middle East. The challenges crippling the country are intensified by endless cycles of violence and political factors that have pushed it to the brink of destruction. Daily commodities have vanished from markets and prices are soaring high as ports are under threat, with many having stopped functioning altogether, and so importing food and medicine is near impossible. For a country largely dependent on imports to cover essentials, this has led to economic paralysis. A voice of hope and change is needed to help alleviate suffering and mend devastated souls. The role of humanitarian organizations is to help relieve suffering by providing aid; but putting the country in a constant aid acquisition mode only serves as a temporary solution. Providing both aid and development is the response many organizations try to realize.

 image courtsey of SMEPS
Image courtesy of SMEPS

The Small and Micro Enterprise Service (SMEPS) was first established in Yemen in 2005. As a subsidiary of the Social Fund for Development in Yemen, their work primarily focuses on economic development, specializing in private sector development. They are driven to create more jobs and opportunities, by increasing the number of beneficiaries affected and focusing on developmental projects. In a country torn apart by conflict, creativity in implementing strategies is key to help achieve SMEPS’s main goals in Yemen. Through a market-oriented approach, they were able to penetrate the fabric of society, providing interventions to build and facilitate both economic and technical capacities to drive the market and revive the private sector, while working with local partners and international donors to help facilitate communication. Pursuing and combining development and humanitarian projects has proved to work effectively on the ground.

In order to realize a mission, it is necessary to have the right team. And teamwork is valuable to help understanding and collaboration. However, it is not easy to create a team working coherently to serve common goals. Empowering communities, giving them a voice and shedding a light on their needs are major tasks that require well-informed and constructed teams. “All SMEPSers believe in three key terms: honesty, attitude and personality”, says Farah al-Wazeer, describing the core traits of team members. Focusing on development and positive change and turning the volume down on other distractions have helped unify teams working for common goals. “Each employee works in their own field, but we all work towards achieving the same goal”, added Farah. It is not an easy task to create hope and sustain it for either the communities or the teams working to better their conditions. However, to build and maintain a cooperative environment of trust is one of the main tasks of a successful team. Such an environment promotes dialogue and debate within the team, helps to shape team vision and is crucial for the productive functioning of the team.

Training, empowering and supporting are the foundations of the way SMEPS conduct their projects: training helps individuals acquire suitable skills and knowledge; empowering individuals and communities allows them to be problem solvers and decision makers; extending support helps them secure the necessary grants and equipment to start projects, which they can sustain and grow.

Image courtesy of SMEPS

Vital and sustainable outcomes require parallel efforts by humanitarian and development actors. Experience on the ground indicates that development and humanitarian support are often needed simultaneously, especially in complex and protracted crises. There is a requirement for them to be complementary; however, humanitarian and development efforts should not be confused with one other. Principled humanitarian action must be established when countries are in crisis and in dire need. However, development agents must also engage early, and with continuity, with humanitarian actors to bridge the humanitarian and development nexus so that crises are more likely to end sooner and are less damaging if they reoccur.

Food security and the humanitarian and development nexus

One group that has been significantly affected by the conflict is the farming community. The soaring price of fuel has stifled agricultural life, leaving farmers to turn to other jobs to provide for their families. The once fertile land has turned barren, a desert without prospects. Farmers have watched the soil harden, because the earth gives only to those who care for it.

With the war continuing across the country over the last few years, it has been difficult for aid and resources to be acquired safely. On a daily basis, lines form for basic provisions like food, fuel and water. A statement of who is winning in this struggle can hardly be issued, but a clear knowledge of who is losing is strikingly clear. According to the United Nations, 75 per cent of the population are in need of assistance, and eight million are on the brink of starvation.

 image courtesy of SMEPS
Image courtesy of SMEPS


“Measuring sustainability, SMEPS focuses on something we call the ‘replication affect’. That is, for every farmer we support, how many farmers replicate our efforts. This is important because it practically demonstrate ‘market up-take’ for development efforts in a sustainable manner. So far we have supported 4,000 farmers, and those that have replicated are more than 12,000, which demonstrated huge market up-take and sustainability”, says Wesam Qaid, SMEPS Executive Director, explaining how success is measured inside SMEPS.

The scale and nature of today’s humanitarian emergencies require a combination of short and long-term solutions. Humanitarian aid delivers immediate relief to people in need; development focuses on long-term solutions to fundamental problems. Both work together to reduce human suffering, and that is the premise around creating the nexus. Working to create a bridge between humanitarian aid and sustainable development has been the focus SMEPS aimed to achieve. “We have able to generate enough evidence to show it works. We create thousands of jobs in the process, we support relief, and this relief is actually long-term”, says Qaid, explaining how SMEPS is able to bridge aid with development.

Due to working in a country in need of aid to sustain its population and prevent famine, food security was set as a long-term goal. By focusing on that goal, humanitarian aid workers and development enthusiasts were able to work together in order to achieve food security. “Get them focused on the problem, to agree on what the problem is and to think about opportunities around that problem for change”, was the solution Qaid employed in bringing humanitarian and development workers together. By providing farmers with adequate training in the latest farming techniques and land irrigation, providing modern watering equipment and fertilizers, and providing direct consultation and support whenever was required, a nexus between the two factions – humanitarian and development – was created, to serve one goal.

However, the measures of success during wars are hindered by many obstacles. “One of our challenges is helping the communities we serve carry their voices beyond their village and further afield, because their calls help target remittance to developmental efforts. In this way our team and our communities come together to amplify the voice of development”, Qaid explained.

A country living in constant unrest cannot provide a fertile environment for development and economic stability. The fact that almost the entire infrastructure of the country has been destroyed was a rude awakening for all the efforts fighting for development. It is not impossible, but it is one of the most challenging barriers to overcome. When giving up is not an option, fighting for a better future is the only escape. Those who dare to challenge, build the future – every member of a community, no matter how broken, can find a reason to fight a little harder for a better future.

Development is not a clear procedure to follow: it is a mindset that has to be established first, a culture to be built. Without awareness of its importance, no actual results can be attained. To be able to change, people have to believe that change is possible. Hope is the fuel human beings consume when confronted with unimaginable harshness and tragedies. Chances taken to support fragile communities in times of war are a catalyst in keeping the hope alive for a better tomorrow. Development alongside aid are two parts of an equation aiming to alleviate suffering and return stability to society. “Development is progress, and it is freedom, and it is power, which means ultimately sustainable development is a route out of war. It is a path to peace. Humanitarian assistance although important will not contribute to ending the war, but development will”, says Qaid, concluding his idea about the urgency of development.

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