Partnerships Have A Crucial Role To Play In The Development Agenda: ILO PHORORO



By Hopolang PHORORO, Director ILO Country Office for Zimbabwe and Namibia


Remarks: Launch of the Refurbished SME Centre in Bulawayo


First and foremost, I would like to thank all of you present here today for joining hands in celebrating this great milestone. This journey started with a co-creation workshop in 2018 and has been one in which we have learned lessons and have come up with a blueprint of what can be replicated elsewhere…. the SME Centre!

The need to transform the informal economy in Africa into the bedrock of decent work is growing.



This also the case in Zimbabwe, where prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, about 57 per cent of the working age population in Zimbabwe was outside of the labour market, and the unemployment rate reached 17 per cent.





Among those working, 80 per cent were in informal employment, with almost 8 million people food insecure. The COVID-19 pandemic and associated containment measures have further aggravated these problems. The impact has been particularly severe among informal economy workers, women and youth.



Going forward, the central ambition of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda to leave no one behind certainly resonates with the billions of informal economy workers around the world, including in Zimbabwe.




The National Development Strategy (NDS) 1, 2021-2025 talks to revamping job creation and this will be realized through micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Addressing the decent work deficits in the sector enables informal economy workers to have a chance to escape situations of working poverty.



The United Nations Sustainable Development Cooperation Framework, 2022-2026, which was recently launched in Zimbabwe identifies outcomes towards the realization of this goal. In addition, the ILO recognizes the potential of the informal sector, and its complexity, which requires processes that take time. One of those processes involves promoting higher productivity and better working conditions in the MSMEs in the informal economy.




Over the years, the ILO has observed that the numbers of micro and small enterprises and people working in the informal economy are growing rapidly around the world, and account for the bulk of new employment and for most of the working poor. Micro and small enterprises clearly have the potential to contribute to the social and economic progress for workers and their communities.



However, many – particularly those in developing and emerging countries – are not achieving this potential. Frequently, their employment is in low-quality and low-skilled jobs that offer low wages under poor and unsafe working conditions. In addition, SMEs often fall short, in terms of productivity, competitiveness and market share.




Reiterating one of the central goals of the ILO, the Centenary Declaration emphasizes the need “to shape a … future of work with full, productive and freely chosen employment”, as well as the need for “productive workplaces” and “productive and healthy conditions” of work. The role of enterprises is clearly a focal point of addressing the future of work; “the role of sustainable enterprises as generators of employment and promoters of innovation and decent work” is more relevant than ever, at this juncture.



It is with this belief in mind that the ILO embarked on the refurbishment of the OK Mart, where at least 78 micro-enterprises were in operation from before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, that is not all that the ILO did, which can easily be lost in the celebrations of the day. As you have heard from our partners, ILO’s approach to sustainable enterprises is holistic and therefore, in addition to the refurbishments, the ILO provided several services to the entrepreneurs themselves and to the institutions that serve and govern them.



Today, is not a day about what ILO has done or is planning to do. This is a day for celebrating partnerships because even an organization, as big as the ILO cannot facilitate the formalization of the informal economy alone. Partnerships have a crucial role to play in the development agenda.



To reach the critical mass required to facilitate transition from the vast informal economy to the formal, there must be more concerted effort, greater collaboration, alignment of inputs, and a leveraging of resources and effort.




Most importantly, there is a need to build upon, strengthen and enhance the capabilities of those who labour in the informal economy in articulating their needs in an open process of co-creation led by the constituencies themselves.




This is why this launch was preceded by a meeting of all partners last month, to create a better understanding of the drivers of success and the drivers of failure, so together we can help efforts to create better partnerships for addressing informality.




The ILO recognizes “the role of the private sector as a principal source of economic growth and job creation by promoting an enabling environment for entrepreneurship and sustainable enterprises, in particular micro, small and medium-sized enterprises … in order to generate decent work, productive employment and improved living standards for all”. That is why we cherished the opportunity to work with Old Mutual, the Bulawayo Chamber of SMEs and SME Development Trust.




This would not have been possible without the support of the government, both at national and provincial level through your Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development, but also through local government represented by the Bulawayo City Council. Leveraging the mandates and technical expertise of the National Authority for Social Security, in particular its OSH directorate, the National University of Science and Technology in designing the refurbished Bulawayo SMEs Centre and the dynamism of Junior Achievement Zimbabwe in providing business development services is what brings us here today.





And as the Bible puts it, the last shall be the first – the ILO does not underestimate the role that the micro-enterprises themselves played in identifying challenges, prioritizing solutions and co-creating the nature of the implemented solutions. All this is in line with ILO’s desire to achieve decent work and sustainable development, which ensure dignity, self-fulfillment and a just sharing of the benefits for all.





There are many people, and organizations, that question the efficacy of formalizing the informal economy. These people, and institutions, tend to consider formalization as an end in, and by, itself. In reality, formalization is just a means, or a vehicle, or even a tool, towards decent work for all. One needs to see small steps like we are taking here in Bulawayo to understand the complex processes.




As we celebrate the launch of this SME centre today, I would like to recall, one more time, ILO’s “human-centred approach” as articulated in its Centenary Declaration. Some of you here are old enough to know an African proverb that says, “A youth that does not cultivate friendship with the elderly is like a tree without roots.”





It simply means that when you respect the elderly, you lay down a path toward honor and prosperity. It is therefore upon the 102-year-old ILO to emphasize, again and again – increasing investment in people’s capabilities, increasing investment in the institutions of work, and increasing investment in decent and sustainable work.




These are inspired by ILO’s founding principles of social justice and decent work for all. The refurbishment of the OK Mart is not just about the building. It is, first and foremost, about the people who depend on this building to take a concrete step, or two, towards their aspirations for decent work. Today is about getting to know the people that make the SME Centre the pride of Bulawayo.

Thank you for listening!


Robert Tapfumaneyi

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