Secure livelihoods

VSO has secure livelihoods programmes in more than 20 countries across Africa and Asia.

For VSO, a secure livelihood means having the income and resources necessary to meet basic needs and survive shocks. Our main objectives in this area are therefore to strengthen the ability of disadvantaged people to access sufficient food and income, and to have more control over how and when they access these essential lifelines.

Agriculture and food

VSO recognises the important role played by small farmers in developing countries; however, they are facing growing challenges in the form of declining investment in agriculture, outdated skills and technology and access to quality inputs. We are working with local partners to remove the barriers experienced by disadvantaged people in accessing quality training and technical support. We also encourage innovation and the development of agricultural enterprises. For example, through an irrigated farmer field school project in Malawi, VSO has supported small holder farmers to install or improve irrigation schemes, learn new sustainable agricultural production techniques and to diversify crop production to increase incomes.

In addition, recognising that a secure livelihood is dependent on functioning institutions, policies and laws – as well as more individual factors such as personal skills and physical assets, VSO works with agencies, institutions and networks that support local communities. These include ministries of agriculture and fisheries, regulatory bodies, training institutions, umbrella organisations and local non-governmental organisations that represent and advocate on behalf of small-scale producers.

Natural resource management and climate change

Our volunteers have been supporting natural resource management for many years. They work with partner organisations to ensure that poor and marginalised people are able to access and protect the land and natural resources on which they depend for their livelihoods, as well as raising community awareness of policy and planning information for natural resource management.

Recently, rising food prices and threats posed by climate change are adding to the pressures affecting poor people's lives. This creates more competition for declining natural resources such as water, forests and fisheries, and encouraging unsustainable practices such as deforestation, pollution and over-fishing.

VSO is supporting disadvantaged communities to adapt to the effects of climate change. Extreme and variable weather patterns, land degradation and water scarcity are being addressed by exploring alternative livelihoods opportunities where traditional options are no longer viable and building national and community resilience to environmental shocks.

For example through the Cuso International project, Building Nigeria's Response to Climate Change, VSO has piloted community adaptation projects such as the promotion of fuel efficient wood stoves, the introduction of early maturing varieties of seeds that are more drought resistant, and rainwater harvesting for land irrigation. Also, a volunteer working closely with the Special Climate Change Unit of the Ministry of Environment helped to develop a draft National Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Plan of Action.

Enterprise development and access to markets

A significant element of VSO's livelihoods work is focused on helping disadvantaged people identify markets for their products and making the most of the opportunities that the market offers. In Kenya, for example, handicraft producers are trying to market their products in tourist resorts, but lack of understanding about the quality expected by western tourists meant their businesses were not as successful as they could be. A VSO marketing expert helped them to understand the importance of market research, branding and quality assurance, which means they are now more successful in selling their products through high-end tourist resorts.

In some areas, enterprise development is closely linked to natural resource management, and volunteers work with communities to find ways to conserve their resources and find alternative ways to earn a living that won't impact negatively on the environment or their ability to access food supplies. For example, in the Philippines, volunteers are helping communities protect their fish supplies by developing businesses in seaweed production, breeding mud crabs and producing coconut oil.

Access to quality jobs

With unemployment reaching record levels in developing countries, particularly among youth, VSO is focusing increasingly on vocational training and access to employment in order to get more people into work. This means improving the quality and relevance of training opportunities so that young people develop practical and marketable skills. It also involves working with employers to enhance and expand job opportunities that are available for young people. The aim is to help successful and profitable businesses to create decent work and allow youth and women to share in the benefits of wealth creation.

For example, in Uganda VSO is working with partners to deliver market-driven skills development for young people. We link trainees to work and career development opportunities, and help people to access start-up resources to assist them in developing their own viable businesses.

In Northern Uganda VSO is working with local government and the Northern Uganda Youth Development Centre (NUYDC) to assist youth groups to develop sustainable enterprises. Our volunteers are also supporting the management of NUYDC to develop a hub for youth development. In addition, VSO are also supporting disadvantaged young people to engage effectively with local authorities so that they provide relevant services and address issues that affect them in their day to day lives.

A range of volunteers

Volunteers working in the area of secure livelihoods come from a wide range of technical and professional backgrounds and can offer support in a number of areas. These include enterprise and small business development, marketing, advocacy and lobbying, financial planning, and in technical skills such as coastal resource management, horticulture and agriculture.

Support from Accenture

VSO's secure livelihoods work is supported by our corporate partner, Accenture, as part of their global corporate citizenship initiative, Skills to Succeed.

Through this partnership, VSO has received grant funding for the global project 'Making Markets Work for the Poor'. Thanks to the provision of pro-bono consultancy support and the secondment of Accenture staff to volunteer placements VSO has been able to build its capacity in key areas such as business development and knowledge management.

The development of learning centres in Tanzania, Malawi, Nigeria and Cambodia have been central to this partnership, with a focus on a cluster of volunteers that are helping to establish good practice guidelines for our work on market development with disadvantaged groups.

VSO International