Nora Tager

Ashoka Fellow
fellow-12351-5875_SF_headshot.jpg
South Africa
Fellow since 2009
This description of Nora Tager's work was prepared when Nora Tager was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2009 .

Introduction

Through community centers and forums where rural residents can access services like childcare, farm extension advice, and access to market information online, Nora is revitalizing rural communities by positioning agriculture as the engine of the local economy. And not just any rural communities. Nora works in former “black labor pool areas” that the South African apartheid regime had established to house black migrant workers and serviced with only the most basic electricity and sanitation. Nora’s approach has revolutionized the thinking in these areas resulting in the creation of viable hubs for economic planning and implementation.

The New Idea

Recognizing that current thinking on rural development does not comprehensively and inclusively implement interventions to address their broader challenges, Nora chose to see specific community needs as part of a larger functioning system. As a result, she has developed a successful approach to scaling commercial farming in the least hospitable rural areas of South Africa.

The heart of Nora’s work is helping inhabitants of former “labor pool areas” become knowledge entrepreneurs who can transform their previously depressed communities. To do this, she has created a system that provides incentives for people in terms of production, consumption, education and infrastructure. Through her comprehensive approach, as people begin to produce more and capture more value, they are simultaneously provided with ways to consume more by investing more in local services, rather than simply commodities.

Nora has helped numerous communities in South Africa’s economically depressed deep rural areas gain a strong financial foothold through her P.E.A.C.E. Foundation, which has developed a system of connected communities and support structures. Previously, government-run rural development initiatives were dependant on capital funding for setting up and registering co-operatives, but through P.E.A.C.E., Nora can provide training and resources to assist small scale farmers in taking advantage of government seed funding. This cooperative then provides the impetus for the community’s development.

Though the multi-faceted efforts of the P.E.A.C.E. Foundation, scores of poor subsistence farms have now committed to a new and vastly more productive way of farming and have begun to recognize the importance of knowledge.

The Problem

For the 60 years South Africa practiced the apartheid policy, rural areas occupied by black people suffered from extreme neglect and under-development. During that time, the majority of black people were removed from urban areas and forced to live in remote rural areas where they were provided with only the bare minimum in terms of sanitation, education, and housing and served as the unskilled labor force for white South Africans. White enterprises were specifically located close to such areas so that they could access these low-cost labor pools. This created a vibrant white-owned entrepreneurial sector that built its profit margin on access to an extensive supply of cheap black labor.

As a result of the social structure, conditions in these areas were extremely poor. Farming there tended to be for subsistence only as the architects of apartheid viewed these regions as markets for labor, not than agriculture. Denied resources and development opportunities, generations were born into abject poverty in these deep rural areas with little hope for the future.

Since achieving democracy, developing these areas has remained a challenge. The Rural Areas Proclamation (1997) revoked restrictive movement and domicile laws and allowed all citizens the freedom to live and work where they chose. White employers could no longer depend on cheap rural pockets of labor and labor legislation ensuring fair wages further discouraged the development of enterprises close to rural areas. As a result, rural South Africa became isolated from the country's broader economy and its social infrastructure, both basically urban in nature.

As during apartheid, rural areas are marked by dilapidated school buildings, overcrowded classrooms, inadequate instruction, poor teacher training, and a lack of textbooks and subject curricula in languages, math and science. Despite these conditions, the students who are able to complete secondary school face even more challenges should they want to continue to their studies. Although the fees for university education are affordable and the opportunity exists, basic access to educational resources is not readily available.

As a result, there is a palpable sense of desperation and a lack of hope for change in these former labor pool areas and in rural South Africa. Young people leave for urban centers as soon as they can and even skilled workers are unable to create sustainable livelihoods. Local government structures and processes designed to feature inclusive and integrated development plans to reflect economic and development priorities have failed to fully engage the community, oftentimes leaving essential information inaccessible. Consequently, the real, specific and contextual needs of rural communities are still largely unmet.

The Strategy

The first step in Nora’s strategy is mobilizing the community through the establishment of a central forum. The community forum provides a base for comprehensive discussion on community issues and an inclusive method of finding and developing local solutions. It recognizes the premise that, while the provision of roads, water and housing are essential in the fight against poverty and improving the quality of people's lives, these factors do not empower people unless accompanied by the development and improvement of local people's skills and capacity to generate income.

Nora has ensured that the forum has representation from all the community groups and that both formal and informal leaders have been included to ensure community buy-in and the sustainability of all interventions. The committee also provides the “permission” for the work and intervention of the P.E.A.C.E Foundation, which legitimizes Nora’s efforts and fits into the Planning component of the P.E.A.C.E concept. With the help of an officer from the P.E.A.C.E. Foundation and a member of the community forum who oversees processes and occupies the role of mediator, the community comprehensively deals with each construct of the model.

A significant first step for success is the establishment of the (MPC). These are physical spaces owned by the community which serve as learning and development facilities. They serve as child care facilities, bases of support for income generation projects, and platforms through which both local rural communities and private and public sector stakeholders can interface predominantly through appropriate IT networks and central management and monitoring structures. Nora, through her vast networks, ensures that the centers are built and paid for by private funders and that ownership is handed over to the communities.

However, because rural areas are as vast as they are divers, Nora has also provided for easy accessibility by creating a system that locates a MPC as a main location with smaller hubs in other areas that link directly with central services and facilities. Linking smaller local hubs to a regional hub or MPC also creates a number of regional networking opportunities such as logistical support for hubs and local business, the consolidation of local cooperative needs into a regional secondary cooperative, regional consolidation of marketing activities, regional service nodes with part-time local service delivery options and the consolidation of bulk buying through a regional facility.

In conjunction with an IT specialist company, Nora has also developed a groundbreaking solution to the connectivity and communications problems in remote rural areas with regard to accessing educational material and resources. The intervention, called the Growth in Education, Agriculture, and Resources or “GEAR” box, is comprised of a fixed box on the wall of the school or community center which can receive streamed information through satellite technology into the community and transmit information through wireless networks.

Distance learning is being presented as an affordable and effective tertiary education initiative for previously disadvantaged and rural based students in South Africa. With UNISA being a recognised entity, a number of students are achieving academic success through this distance learning mechanism. Nora’s partnership with UNISA and her IT project has created locally based and easily accessible resources. The use of IT as a virtual means of studying provides an alternative for students who would otherwise incur significant travel costs. Nora has negotiated with UNISA to subsidize students who attend the local hubs which in turn is an income source for the entrepreneur managing the hub. In addition, the hub creates access to business information and for co-operatives, agricultural systems, waste management, recycling, health etc. For example, each hub has a containerized workshop where vocational training courses (welding, carpentry, block making, etc.) take place, adding on another sustainable business.

After the establishment of the MPC and the partnerships, the planning and the educational component (GEAR), the remaining constructs of the P.E.A.C.E. model are initiated, which include improved access to health care, agricultural development, business development and entrepreneurial development. Based on decisions and strategies decided by the community forum, Nora sets up links with networks, information sources, government departments, citizen organizations and business in these areas to develop a plan for implementing the services required.

Nora’s model is emerging as an innovative design that is blazing a new trail for rural economic development. In the community of Ndumo, the first of Nora’s sites, there is now a multipurpose centre, a well-resourced school, income generation schemes, SMME activities, and the basic provisions which were not in place before Nora’s intervention. The development of the recent key partnerships and the keen participation of Local Government bodies and the endorsement of the local mayor are providing a unique opportunity to implement the model in other areas. Nora’s mode and has recently garnered international interest and support from organizations such as Toyota South Africa.

The Person

In 1990, Nora was introduced to a community in Kwazulu-Natal which had no basic services or infrastructure and only inadequate educational facilities. Initially Nora and her husband raised funds for the community to provide resources. Although her work began as a trust to disseminate funds for community needs, this proved to be only a first step. Since then, Nora has continued to invest in rural communities, but in a more holistic way and through her P.E.A.C.E. initiative.

Nora spent most of her early years raising her children while being actively involved in her community. After being professionally trained as a social worker and completing her Masters degree in KwaZulu Natal, Nora decided to act on her desire to effect change in rural communities by creating the P.E.A.C.E. model as an alternative means of development.

Nora’s life story is peppered with instances where she made a difference. For example, while she was raising her children on the farm, she initiated various efforts to assist the poor and deprived rural communities. In addition, she worked in many voluntary positions within citizen organizations and communities in the Limpopo province before her intense involvement with the Indumo community. During her six year stint as a lecturer at a previously designated Black university during the apartheid era, she was involved in developing and initiating bridging modules for those educated through the inferior Black education system.

Her drive to change rural communities is fuelled by her belief that there are enough resources for all to enjoy and she will not rest until she realizes that possibility for the most marginalized of communities.