The Rebuilding Artisans Programme (RAP) in Liberia

February 18 2013: The Rebuilding Artisans Programme (RAP) in Liberia is an approach to rebuilding sustainable employment and a local capacity for donors to procure services in a post conflict environment. The project was established at the end of 15 years of civil war in Liberia, providing a future for young ex-combatants and “other war-affected people"

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The Rebuilding Artisans Programme (RAP) was established at the end of 15 years of civil war in Liberia, providing a future for young ex-combatants (XCs) and “other war-affected people” (OWAPs). At the time (2004), predominantly NGO-managed public works programmes were employing numerous XCs and OWAPs. However, their inherent dependency on donor funds meant that alternative sustainable activities were required for the long-term economic future of XCs or OWAPs.

Visits to county towns in the immediate post-conflict period exposed the subdued local economy. Although there were significant numbers of qualified and experienced artisans available, many had lost everything and lacked the tools and liquidity to ply their trade. Without this local capacity available to redevelop infrastructure, donor-funded programmes awarded reconstruction contracts to mostly foreign-owned companies.

The design of RAP was a commitment to a locally-led solution, whereby the capacity of local artisans was rebuilt to generate employment through the provision of goods and services to people returning home and for donor-funded infrastructure and construction projects; and that once re-established as businesses, they could provide apprenticeships to local young people (both XCs and OWAPs).

Phase one

This involved selecting 25 artisans in three county towns engaged in carpentry (17), masonry (5) and blacksmithing (3). The scarcity of artisans so soon after the conflict made the selection process difficult and young people were still blighted by feelings of antagonism due to the conflict. Despite this, 25 artisans and nearly 600 young apprentices participated.

Each artisan had their workshop rebuilt, tools and raw materials provided for both themselves and apprentices and three years land rental paid. The apprentices received $30 per month as well technical/business skills training and their exam fees paid. For the first time ever, those who successfully completed the apprenticeship received a certificate with national recognition, awarded by the National Council for Technical and Vocational Education. The average cost of rehabilitating an artisan in Phase 1 was around $4,500 (of which rehabilitating the workshop – in most cases a complete rebuild – cost around $2,500) and land rental a further $600. At least 2/3 of these costs (building and tools) comprised the fixed assets of the businesses – with a life of 20 years or more. The direct cost/apprentice varied from $500 to $1,000, of which tool costs varied from $180-$500.

A review of Phase One in November/December 2006 showed that 93% of those apprentices who started were still involved at the end; most of the reconstructed buildings were well maintained; the level of current business activity varied significantly, with some operating at full capacity and a couple clearly struggling; the technical training was considered to be good but the business management training less so; artisans were happy with the basis for selecting the apprentices – which they did themselves; the extent of problems with discipline varied greatly, but some managed the process much better than others through adopting a participatory approach; 70% of the businesses registered formally with the Government (previously none were registered).

Phase two: expanding rap to the capital – Monrovia

In 2005, RAP was adapted for the capital (Monrovia), taking into account lessons from Phase One. Monrovia presented new problems for the programme, including a lack of land/space, security concerns and an expensive carpentry sector. Surveys were undertaken to verify the types of businesses available and to identify which would be of interest to young people. The following businesses became priorities – bakery, woodwork shop, tailoring, barber shop, beautician, generator repair shop, radio repair shop, metal work shop, auto mechanic, bicycle repair, and watch repair.

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Where county towns suffered from the total destruction of businesses, Monrovia was plagued by the dilapidation of buildings. With buildings already in place however, costs were significantly reduced. For example the cost of rehabilitating shelters varied from $150 (tailors) to $500 (large bakery). Over 70 businesses participated, involving 447 apprentices.

Phase three and four: further expansion to other rural county towns

In 2006, the project was implemented in four other rural county towns of Liberia, involving 39 businesses and nearly 800 apprentices. This phase built on previous lessons and involved a more careful selection process of both artisans and the apprentices and more thorough training. The following year, the programme was expanded into smaller towns in three counties, involving 96 artisans and over 1,000 apprentices.

In total, the programme has had 211 artisans and 2,850 apprentices participate in 8 out of the 15 counties in Liberia, operating in 20 different trade sectors. The number of female apprentices increased from 4% in phase 1 to 52% in phase 4.

The local impact of apprenticeships

Rebuilding the capacity of experienced local artisans through apprenticeships provides an economic future for young people in post-conflict areas. It allows local young people to become engaged in making things – or components of things – that are being built for customers, increasing their immediate awareness of the importance of quality standards and deadlines. Locally, the community achieve a sense of feeling that their young people are being usefully employed, learning skills and providing much needed goods and services. By establishing this local capacity, donors no longer have to turn to foreign companies for redevelopment, but can instead turn to the local community to procure these goods and services for reconstruction and rehabilitation.

This article was also published on the Local First blog. Local First is an approach to international development that prioritises the views and leadership of people and organisations in the countries affected, over those of outsiders from the international community.

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