Mind the Gap: Linking People and Social Services

A recent update from the World Bank on the Philippine economy notes that the country’s poverty incidence has barely improved from 26 percent in 2009 to 25 percent in 2012 — suggesting that recent higher growth has yet to benefit many of the poor. The World Bank cites a “lack of good jobs” as a leading cause for this persistent poverty and recommends raising the productivity of farmers and small enterprises as well as “addressing skills shortages” as important steps in alleviating poverty.

I recently had the opportunity to spend two weeks in Davao with representatives of two local agencies working to directly address these needs — the City Agriculture Office and the City Social Services and Development Office. Both are partners on a project Beyond Access is supporting in Davao, and our discussions shed light on the day-to-day challenges these agencies face.

Barriers to service

Davao City is surrounded by agricultural and fishery communities, and the City Agriculture Office works to provide them with information and services so they can create and maintain environmentally sustainable and economically viable enterprises.

Another major social services office in Davao, the City Social Services Development Office, provides services to marginalized people and communities. One key program provides women with entrepreneurship and job skills training to help them develop supplemental streams of income.

Both agencies face similar challenges in fulfilling their mandates — their offices and the bulk of their human and information resources are in the city center, but the people they serve are not. This distance creates several barriers for the communities they want to reach.

It is costly for users to come to the city center

The groups these agencies work with tend to live in villages on the outskirts of the city. The cost to travel into the city center (both in money and time) is often prohibitive for these people, which in turn limits their access to services.

Agencies struggle to extend their services beyond the city center

The agencies make a concerted effort to reach out to communities on the edge of the city, but they face their own challenges. For example, the Social Services Department offers training workshops for women and people with disabilities, but they struggle to find training venues in the villages. Meanwhile, the City Agriculture Office hosts a database of resources that can provide farmers with valuable information on new technologies and techniques for farming, but it is only available at the central office.

Digital skills and and digital access are limited

Though the City Agriculture office has a wide range of electronic resources, the farmers they work with often do not have the digital skills to make full use of these resources. The Social Services Office offers training in basic digital skills and even in more advanced skills like graphic design, but the individuals they train struggle to find places to regularly access the technology they need to make full use of their new skills.

Libraries as bridges

While the needs of these communities and the mandates of these agencies may be clear, operational challenges create barriers. Social service agencies need bridges that link them with the communities and individuals that most need these types of services. In this case, the Davao City Library is beginning to function as that bridge.

Libraries help extend the reach of municipal agencies and bring services closer to the communities that need them

The City Library has a network of district libraries and reading centers throughout Davao. And thanks to the partnership with Beyond Access, three of those libraries are newly equipped with computers and internet connectivity. These sites can operate as service delivery points for municipal agencies. They have the space to host training workshops, the technology to provide ongoing digital access, and trained professionals to support these activities. This reduces cost and time burdens for both the users and the agencies.

Libraries centralize services and provide access to internet and technology

A central component for each of these organizations (City Social Services Office, City Agriculture, and the City Library) is the need for improved digital skills among the communities they work with. Centralizing these services in the library — a place where infrastructure investments have already been made — is an effective and efficient use of resources.

Co-locating services from multiple agencies can also provide clarity and promote serendipity for people within the community. Co-location limits the need to know exactly what agency handles which service. All they need to know is that people at the library can help.

 

Beyond Access has been working with the City Library in Davao to train librarians and support them as they transform their libraries into modern information hubs and centers for economic opportunity. Learn more about the project and explore how they are empowering women with new technology skills

 

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