Support systems for new activities in rural areas
Part 1 - The support system
How to use this guide & Table of Contents
The creation of a support system is the
result of joint cooperation between
all the organisations and people
involved in helping the start-up
of new activities.
- The main ingredient involves listening to the project promoter, adapting
solutions to each case by coordinating all the means necessary for the
project to succeed.
- For the development worker, the key word is "accompany". This involves a
two-way partnership and commitment - never top-down direction or
- For the project promoters, the key words are motivation, commitment and
determination. It is possible to create new activities out of mediocre
ideas, so long as there are good project promoters behind them. However, a
new activity will almost certainly fail, even if the original idea is
brilliant, when the promoters are not sufficiently committed, prepared or
- The commitment to be on site and with the promoters is far more important
than the formal organisation or geographical structure of the support
system. For example, some organisations that operate from a central office
can have a far more immediate relationship with the project promoters than
others that operate from a series of supposedly decentralised locations.
- It is important to set time limits and concrete objectives for each step of
the project in order to be able to control the key human and material
resources required to achieve each objective. That is why many support
agencies prefer to call themselves task forces or missions ad hoc, which
are less cumbersome to manage and allow greater flexibility in terms of
focusing on the real needs of the project at specific stages of its
- After initial creative brainstorming, it is important to be realistic about
the time and cost of implementing objectives. It is not unwise to take the
most pessimistic time-scale.
- Even though it is worth dividing project life cycles into a series of
well-identified and achievable steps or objectives, one of the watchwords
of the entire process is continuity. There is no point taking projects to a
particular point only to watch them fall off the precipice afterwards.
- The full project life cycle, from idea to maturity, is likely to take
between 3 to 5 years:
- from 6 months to around 2 years (depending on the complexity of the
project) to get from the first brainwaves to take-off;
- around 2 to 3 years before projects start to break even or generate a
surplus (it is always wise to budget for losses during the first two
years of project life cycles).
- Given failure rates of 50% for small firms in the first five years of their
existence, there is growing recognition of the importance of systematic
aftercare and involvement throughout project life cycles. However, this
should in no way be taken to mean artificially propping up or subsidising
projects: it is essential to have a clear withdrawal or exit strategy.
- Nevertheless, one of the major problems of monitoring the effectiveness of
support systems is that the time-scales for project life cycles mentioned
above are considerably longer than the duration of LEADER and other
development programmes. This creates a pressure to cut costs on aftercare
and other more advanced services which only produce long-term results.
Each LEADER group will have to find a balance between short term results,
such as the number of jobs created and the private investment leverage, and
the long-term effects on the development of the area.
- LAGs often have considerable experience and ability to support projects
during the first phase of their life cycles and certain aspects of the
second phase (particularly grant allocation). However, in most cases they
are singularly inexperienced or ill-equipped for dealing with the last
phase of project life cycles. This means that in this case they will act
more like brokers and negotiate public and private support.
- The support system can be seen to require three types of job profile:
- local grass-roots workers (information officers, animators, etc.);
- experienced generalists. with a vision and solid training, capable of
orchestrating the entire system in a given area;
- specialists, most often located outside the area, who can be used
whenever necessary to help resolve certain specific technical problems.
- Finally, it is impossible to overstate the importance of imbuing support
systems with economic realism and professionalism: the biggest innovation
is that which is viable over the long term and is autonomous and