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Industrial Clusters and Poverty Reduction
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by UNIDO 17 the future of Developing Countries

Towards a methodology for poverty and social impact assessment of cluster development initiatives

This study addresses the relationship between industrial clusters and poverty. This is a relatively underdeveloped theme within policy research on clusters. The focus on poverty is driven by contemporary concerns on poverty targeting in development assistance. The study also seeks to develop a methodology to conduct poverty and social impact analysis of cluster development initiatives.

Industrial clusters, or geographical concentration of firms and ancillary units engaged in the same sector, can generate various advantages for small firms, from agglomeration economies to joint action benefits. The cluster model emphasises internal linkages, whereby cluster gains are furthered by local firm cooperation, local institutions and local social capital. The growing evidence on small firm clusters in developing countries competing in local and global markets has driven much of the policy enthusiasm on promoting clusters.

External linkages also matter, global buyers can help local clusters access distant markets, acquire new forms of knowledge and upgrade. The nature of governance in the relationship that local clustered firms have with buyers in global value chains is critical to this, determin-ing the autonomy and power of local actors. The value chain methodology helps map how local clusters are inserted into global value chains. It also provides a basis for charting the link to poverty by mapping “poverty nodes”.

Industrial clusters lend themselves to poverty concerns both directly - through employment, incomes and well-being generated for the working poor, and indirectly, through their wider impacts on the local economy. Conceptually, clusters and poverty are related in three distinct ways. Through cluster features, cluster processes, and cluster dynamics. Certain types of clusters may have a more direct impact on poverty. These include clusters in rural areas and in the urban informal economy, clusters that have a preponderance of SMEs, micro-enterprises and homeworkers, clusters in labour intensive sectors and clusters that employ women, migrants and unskilled labour. Agglomeration economies reduce costs and raise the capabilities of workers and producers. Cluster joint action takes such capabilities further, strengthening capacity of local firms and reducing vulnerability to external shocks. But, cluster growth produce winners and losers amongst firms and workers. For a poverty agenda, it is critical to note which types of firms and workers gain over time and which lose.

Few cluster studies have explicitly addressed poverty concerns. A review of existing evidence underlines the relationship between clusters and poverty. There is substantial evidence that clusters generate employment and incomes for the poor in the developing world, and on their growth dynamics. It is in the more advanced clusters, that evolved from poorer inci-pient clusters, that employment growth is most substantial. The limited evidence on counter-factuals suggests a relationship between clustering and gains in employment and incomes.

In incipient clusters, small producers advance by taking small riskable steps in coordination with others in the cluster. This allows small producers and workers to survive and to grow, thus raising their income and well-being. We observe that this can be accelerated by the gains that clustering brings about. Local agglomeration economies are central to growth, as well as to the income and well-being of those engaged in incipient and mature clusters from rural Indonesia to the urban informal sector of Lima, to the export clusters of Mexico and Brazil and India. Joint action is also important, especially in the context of assisting local
producers and workers to confront external shocks as seen in Sialkot, Pakistan and the Palar Valley, India. There is evidence that social capital can contribute to strengthening cluster capacities and the well-being of local workers and producers.

It is evident that growth results in differentiated outcomes. Local linkages can give way to external linkages. Conflicts between the competing interests of large and small firms become more apparent. There are clear signs that particular categories of workers, especially women and unskilled workers, often lose out as clusters upgrade.

In order to further our understanding of the effects of cluster development programmes (CDP) on poverty, it is necessary to develop a methodology for poverty and social impact assessment for CDP. This paper combines a value chain mapping and capabilities approach to do so, arguing that the impact assessment perspective adopted should be one that is designed as a means of improving impact.

A value chain mapping of clusters helps identify links between key cluster stakeholders, both entrepreneurs and workers, and cluster institutions. Poverty profiling helps identify the main “poverty nodes” where poorer groups are located within the cluster. Further disaggregation facilitates poverty impact assessment of different categories of firms and workers, and iden-tify differences in poverty impacts based on gender, ethnicity and religion.

The paper develops a methodology for impact assessment of poor groups within clusters drawing on a capability approach, in order to assess how the well-being of poorer groups identified in the mapping is affected. This draws on a mix of quantitative, qualitative and participatory methods. It examines ways in which a baseline can be constructed, and the issues involved in establishing a “comparator group” through which the differential impact of cluster programmes on poverty can be assessed. Finally, it considers how this can be embedded within cluster programmes as part of an ongoing learning process.

These findings stress the need for policy interventions. Policies aimed at supporting margin-alized producers and workers. Such policies need to identify the capability deprivation of poor workers and entrepreneurs and identify how their well-being could be enhanced. A policy agenda on clusters and poverty needs to have, as a starting point, a method for ex-ante identifying clusters where poverty concerns may be especially valid. The discussion on the relationship between poverty reduction and specific cluster features, cluster processes and cluster dynamics provides us with a basis for mapping clusters and poverty.

Cluster development initiatives need to distinguish between incipient clusters where poverty incidence is high, and growth engine clusters that can generate incomes both directly and indirectly for the poor, and have strong local institutions that strengthen the ability of clus-tered actors to engage in pro-poor collective action. Thus, a pro-poor policy agenda needs to be engaged at two levels. First, the tweaking of existing cluster policy initiatives to make them more effective for a pro-poor agenda - such as poverty targeting, training, and micro-credit provisioning. Second, concentrating on particular areas where cluster development pro-grammes have often tended to ignore. These include, in particular, labour and ethical standards, conditions of work, and health and safety issues.

The study underlines the need for further research, in terms of comparing poverty impacts across a range of distinct types of clusters, from mature clusters to incipient urban informal clusters to rural clusters. It also calls for the effective inclusion of poverty and social impact assessment within cluster development programmes as part of on-going agenda of improving policy.

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