By Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU – Democracy Works Foundation (DWF) recently organized a two-day training for youth and women in civil society organizations (CSOs) and SMMEs (small micro and medium enterprises) on the strategic communication skills necessary to engage the duty-bearers on the issues that they want to be addressed.

The participants were equipped with tools of trade to effectively craft relevant messages and interact with the government systems as well as the decision-makers.

DWF in concert with the Federation of Women Lawyers in Lesotho (FIDA) has been implementing the program dubbed ‘Putting Youth and Women at the Centre of Inclusive Economic Growth (PYWEIG)’. The beneficiaries of this program are youth and women in SMMEs and civil society actors.

 The focus is on two priority areas of CSO initiatives that foster the participation of youth and empowerment at districts and national levels; strengthening women in CSO’s capacities to take active participation in decision-making processes.

This European Union (EU) sponsored program has been rolled out in three districts including Butha-Buthe, Leribe and Maseru.

DWF says the performance of Lesotho in the “Ease of Doing Business Index” is considerably “worse” than that of her neighbors. According to the data, in 2019 Lesotho ranked 120th for ease of doing business rankings out of 190 countries.

These ratings are said to be assessed based on the institutional infrastructure to support the economic participation of enterprises, youth participation, and involvement in governance and decision-making processes.

According to the DWF, an organization focused on democracy development in the region, “Women and youth are identified as the most dis-franchised groups regarding access to finance and other resources, even though they contribute immensely to the economic sector through SMMEs.

“The National Strategic Development Plan II policy focuses on promoting inclusive and sustainable economic growth. However, there’s been inadequate progress in implementing the socio-economic and youth empowerment efforts to address Lesotho’s alarming unemployment rate. Women and youth experience the highest level of unemployment and exclusion from economic activities, stalling the principles of good governance, inclusive participation, promotion of sustainable development and economic growth.”

While some of the participants expressed that their CSOs and businesses faced hurdles owing to communication handling skills, some say they leveraged the communication to advance their course.

Some participants, especially representatives from youth-led organizations, said they have been able to achieve some of their goals through their advocacy. 

‘Maseleso Mphonyo commended the initiative for contributing towards her growth as a civil society actor.

She said the skills learned are handy for youth to advance advocacy of the pending Youth Development Bill that the parliament is supposed to pass without involving violence in the process.

“This training has equipped us with the ability to communicate with our organizations. We should communicate every move no matter how insignificant it might seem in the organization. It is important that everybody is brought up to speed,” she said.

Mphonyo said one of the roles youths in Lesotho have to actively play is advocating for the issues that involve them and their plight and taking them to appropriate offices and officials.

Mpho Letima, the program facilitator told the participants that most of the time, when youth and women in business have concerns, they direct them to inappropriate places. Not knowing where to make their submissions. She said that deprives them of the assistance and relief they are seeking.

Letima pointed out that there are laws, regulations, and policies in place that the government formulated for the business and due to a lack of information on where to address their concerns many are unable to get help.

The facilitator cited the Business Licensing and Registration Regulations 2020, saying it addresses some of the trainees’ concerns as it prioritizes local citizens over other nationals in businesses, aiming to ensure that the indigenous population can exclusively benefit without direct competition with the foreign nationals.

This piece of legislation stipulates 47 business activities reserved for the indigenous Basotho. Its implementation has been pending since August 2022 despite the passing of the 12-month transition period, and this law was envisaged to provide opportunities for many youths and women to also have a fair participation in the country’s economic activities. The participants also expressed concern over the delay in the implementation of this piece of legislation.

Some of those businesses reserved for the native Basotho are poultry, tour operators, hairdressing and beauty, metal waste, and scraps, cleaning motor vehicles, cleaning services, sale of motor vehicle parts, repairs of clothing and footwear, real estate agency, road transport and logistics, fast food outlets without fully-fledged restaurants, repairs and maintenance of motor vehicles and motorcycles and the sale of cultural and recreational goods in specialized stores.

The National Youth Policy 2017-2030 that is pending implementation also touches on the ‘Youth Economic Empowerment, Education and Skills Development’, ideas that the youth have demonstrated strong support for. This policy had anticipated that actions would be taken to create an enabling environment for reducing unemployment, hunger and poverty among young people through Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) as well as Youth Entrepreneurship and Financial Inclusion”.

According to the Lesotho Youth Aspirations Survey undertaken by the World Bank, almost 65% of Basotho youth aspire to become entrepreneurs as opposed to waiting for a salary-paying job in the public sector. “The young population of Lesotho accounts for nearly 40% of the country’s total population, and this group constitutes the country’s most productive asset-human capital.”

Moshe Thuso Leshota from the Young Student Christian Lesotho (YSCL) mentioned that he learned the significance of considering the approach and intended recipient to whom the communication is directed to.

Leshota said even how he presents himself is important and recognition should be given to where and how the message is packaged to be able to achieve the desired goal at the end of the day.

“Upon presenting my message to the intended audience, I seek not their pity but rather their acceptance, appreciating the precision and clarity with which I convey myself,” he underscored.

Going forward as a CSO, the training has equipped him with a necessary approach to the potential funders.

Habi Farm Produce representative who participated in the training, ‘Makatleho Habi said the training had opened her eyes to appreciate the kind of environment in which she will be conducting the business.

She stressed the importance of knowing the regulations in place as well as the opportunities to exploit the ecosystem in which one is conducting business.

Habi said normally when there are challenges, those are attributed to the government but through capacity building, she had since learned that she has the role to play as well as the government.

Strategic communication within a business environment is one of the initial steps to guide the conduct of such establishments.

The Lesotho Gender Assessment survey conducted in 2022 addresses the empowerment of women’s financial inclusion and entrepreneurship advocating “short-term measures to support this aim could include legislative interventions, such as enacting the Public Procurement Bill of 2021 and conducting assessments with a focus on lagging rural areas, to inform future public and private sector intervention.

“Medium to long-term interventions include introducing comprehensive gender-focused business development services, particularly in rural areas; developing new mechanisms for evaluating women’s creditworthiness; capacity building in both bank and nonbank financial institutions including microfinance institutions, to address the discrimination that persists, despite the legal protection, and support the effective implementation of laws on the ground.”