Zanzibar in Review. What Did I Accomplish?
I now fully understand the collision. I was recruited to be a volunteer methodologist and grant writer by two groups — International Experts Service Corp (IESC) and Statistics Without Borders (SWB). Because the project required interaction and recommendations to the government of Zanzibar, SWB had to drop out of the project because their organizational policy did not allow direct interaction with foreign governmental bodies. Thus, I worked exclusively with IESC who received money from Volunteers for Economic Growth Alliance who received money from USAid. My cost going to Zanzibar was covered, but I did NOT get paid for my work. It should also worth noting that the University of Louisiana at Lafayette generously donated my time and great inconvenience to itself.
My job was to work with the Zanzibar Office of the Chief Government Statistician (OCGS, r.e., Census Bureau) to develop a grant proposal that would study the problems of local business — especially the burgeoning “informal” economy. As Zanzibar transitioned from a socialist to a market economy, the informal sector (including unregistered and businesses without adequate business) has become an increasing problem. Depending on definitions, the informal sector accounts for 50-80% of all businesses and deny the existing government tax revenue, safety regulations, consumer and employee protections. What would convince these businesses to register and work with the government?
The problem quickly came down to the definitions. What is a business? What is an “informal business?” What is meant by registration? An admittedly confusing mass of regulators and business districts created an understandable problem. A business may be registered by one definition but not by another. The original goal of the survey was to define the size and description of the informal economy. In preparing for the project, I read two previous studies by the OCGS. In 2014, the OCGS created the Informal Sector Survey which centered on family-owned businesses and projected 79% unregistered businesses. In 2016, OCGS performed a Census of Establishments which counted 27,000 businesses with 20% registered. When considering business with records of income, expenses, and employees, the estimate of formal businesses drops to 10%.
Clearly, It was necessary to understand the nature of the informal business sector within a common definition. As an outsider, it was not my place to create that definition but to encourage the choices within local law, national law of Tanzania, and the academic history of Africa. Therefore, my first step was to rewrite the Request For Applications to include a qualitative study. A series of focus groups and key informant interviews would determine definitions that can be applied consistently over the years. Second, I started secondary analysis of prior study to see what I could learn. The 2014 Informal Sector Survey asked respondents why they did not register but did not analyze the results. One surprising finding quickly became apparent. Less than 10% of the respondents did not report the assumed problems with registration — difficult process or cost. The majority claimed they did not know they needed to register or felt they did not need to register.
While rewriting the original RFA and reconsidering prior data, I started working the OCGS to construct a response (to the RFA I was writing). I admit it was weird to representing both the granting agency and the applicant. My time ran out, and the application did not come within the three weeks of my time in Zanzibar. OCGS completed the application without me. In a way, that is what was intended. It built their capacity to write research proposals. I now wait for the determination of the granting committee. I wish them luck.