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Not a Magic Wand, but Grants Help

ONE GETS THE impression that proponents and detractors, for or against a universal basic income grant (big), are equal in number.

A proponent supports something, but a detractor denigrates its worth.

Viewed by proponents as a country’s moral and constitutional obligation, a big is paid unconditionally to all its citizens irrespective of their age or personal circumstances, and it is set at a level sufficient to meet the basic needs of any individual.

In 2002 a big was proposed by the Namibian Tax Consortium (Namtax), a government-appointed commission, as a step towards addressing poverty.

Two decades later the grant payment debate rages on.

Although closely following discussions, I remain unconvinced of the merits or demerits of a big.

But then again, I am an entrepreneur who has embraced a lifelong mission to create wealth and jobs, and to help others do the same.

This approach I view as a tangible contribution towards developing the country’s economy.

I am convinced that facilitating the extension of a grant to start or grow a business is the smart way to help entrepreneurs.

From personal experience gained by working at the front line of entrepreneurship, I know that business start-up and growth grants are essential in a historically skewed economy, like Namibia’s.

This is especially true where accessing funding by most people wishing to embark on an entrepreneurial journey is further complicated when trying to access funding in a security- or collateral-based banking environment.

There is ample evidence proving the impact of small grants, used by entrepreneurs to fund business start-up needs, and later to buy tools, equipment, or material to grow their enterprises with.

Just this week there was a story in a daily newspaper spotlighting the business achievement of an unemployed graduate.

Although frustrated by his inability to secure a job, Omwene-Tupopila Haitula yielded to the entrepreneurial pull. He now runs a growing poultry business from his home at Lihaha village outside Mpungu Vlei in the Kunene West region.

But Haitula is one of many.

One can write a book about how a small grant has helped hundreds of entrepreneurs across the country get started, and over time, to grow their businesses.

But, as always, there are failures too.

Government ministries, regional and local authorities, and non-government organisations have learnt the hard way that grants must not be dished out like sweets to children.

Imperatively grant programmes must have strict entry criteria, and applicants must be interviewed, or actually interrogated, to ascertain their worthiness; to make sure they are not expecting a handout.

In this regard incorporating a competitive element helps.

Monitoring and evaluating to ascertain a grant’s impact is essential, and punitive remedial action in the event of misuse or disposal for immediate financial gain is not negotiable.

Although maybe not magic wand to set Namibia’s economy on the needed double-digit growth trajectory, considering the well-documented impact results, one wonders why the business start-up and enterprise growth grant model strategy is not replicated with more zeal and purpose.

* Danny Meyer is reachable at [email protected]

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