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Support systems for new activities in rural areas

Part 1 - The support system
Guiding principles

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 substitution.

  • 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 united.

  • 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 development.

  • 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 sustainable.

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