Drawing from the experiences of developing micro enterprises in Kerala, KS-NRO works with partner-states to develop customized approaches suited to the local context. The strategy adopted for promoting micro enterprises in partner-states is distinctly different from that of Kerala as on one hand, the existing mechanisms in the district/block (of partner state) supporting micro enterprises may not be strong enough and on the other hand, entrepreneurs are relatively ill-equipped to face operational challenges and do not have adequate business knowledge. It is in this regard, the MEC project aims at developing field-level structures focused on providing multi-dimensional support to the rural microenterprises of the poor in partner states. The idea is to identify individuals from the community, train them and equip them to provide necessary handholding support to potential and existing rural enterprises.
MEC Project was drawn up with the following objectives
• Creation of sustainable livelihoods for rural people through self-employment initiatives
• Provision of community level handholding support through trained micro enterprise consultants (MECs)
• Enabling State Rural Livelihood Missions (SRLM) to formulate state policy for enterprise promotion and support
The project output is to identify, train and place Micro Enterprise Consultants (MECs) to provide hand-holding support to enterprises in a sustainable manner. The major activities under the project include identification and selection of MECs from the community, building their capacities and placing them in groups, establishing MEC-CBO linkages and rolling out sustainable monitoring mechanisms. It is about providing end-to-end support to potential entrepreneurs from the poorer sections of the society.
Among the National Resource Organizations approved by National Rural Livelihood Mission under the Ministry of Rural Development, Kudumbashree NRO has done pioneering work in the area of promoting sustainable micro enterprises. When an interested state approaches Kudumbashree NRO, the first step for developing a partnership is to sign a MoU with the relevant state’s rural livelihood mission (SRLM). It is followed by exposure visits by officials from the SRLM to Kerala to understand the model as well as exploratory visit by a team from KS NRO to the partner-state to devise the scope and extent of the project. The next step is to place mentors in these states who will be responsible for driving the project on ground. The mentors are responsible for studying the existing enterprise scenario in the district/block and for establishing a mutually beneficial relationship with the community network and officials from the SRLM. Potential MECs will initially be identified by the SRLM. KS-NRO will be responsible for designing the selection process and conducting the selection-orientation workshop, at the end of which, a pool of MECs will be selected.
The next step is to train the selected MECs. Training programs like TED (Training in Entrepreneurship Development) & TEAM (Training in Enterprise Administration and Management) are provided through Master Trainers to equip them with basic arithmetic and business management skills. At the end of the trainings, MECs will be capable of formulating business plans for new enterprises and conducting business diagnostics for existing enterprises. It is with this acquired knowledge, the MECs offer their services to entrepreneurs in the MEC project district. Once the training is completed, the MECs are divided into groups and each group will be supporting a different zone in the district.
The MEC group will be responsible for benchmarking of enterprises in their area which includes collecting data on existing enterprises, grading them, and development of sectoral performance and business result indices. The MEC group will then engage with the community network to identify entrepreneurs and provide them with necessary support including forward and backward market linkages. They will also be responsible for encouraging women to start their own enterprises.
Micro Enterprise Consultants are the pillars of this project and shoulder the primary responsibility in supporting enterprises in the block. Their specific services to new and existing enterprises include identifying viable business opportunities appropriate to the conditions of the entrepreneur and the market, developing bankable business plans, linking them with financial institutions, helping entrepreneurs with sourcing of raw materials and facilitating market linkages. The MECs are also trained in maintaining web-based and app-based mechanisms which will be used for monitoring the financial performance of the businesses they support. The MECs will then use this information to guide the entrepreneurs in taking decisions which will be most beneficial for their business at frequent intervals. For the services provided by them, the MECs are paid as a group by the community network based on the MEC policy issued by the SRLM.