I don’t know how unbiased you can be when reviewing an activity hosted by your own organisation. Nevertheless, I am writing on “Community Conversations,” a panel discussion hosted yesterday evening by the African Heritage Foundation (AHF).
I start by noting the poor attendance. Expecting numbers in the range of 75 to 100 persons, the AHF as well as others there were very disappointed that fewer than 30 people took the time to attend. Even though a last minute change in the venue was one of the likely reasons for the low turnout, the new location could not be fully responsible for the failure to draw a good crowd, especially for the organisations the event was supposed to be benefiting. The venue chosen due to availability and affordability was apparently a deterrent for some. People seem to have had reservations about going into the Spiritual Baptist Church and indicated they would not meet there. I must say here that if we are to go forward as a people, we have to rise above the attitudes and mentalities that keep us divided. However, we give full respect to those who did not attend because of the venue. Another possible reason for the low attendance was that the event was mistaken for a political meeting. Maybe our NGOs and Community Based Organisations are too party affiliated to unite and organise for their own development? Who knows the other reasons that people chose not to attend.
We started about 30 minutes late as we waited for people to arrive so we could have a full conversation with as many stakeholders as possible. The discussion started with an introduction of the United Progressive Party and the Chairperson, Ms Lynette Eastmond, talked about herself and her reasons for forming the party. She touched on how she viewed Civil Society Organisations and what she would do if she were to ascend into power. Ms Eastmond spoke well as she presented her ideas on how the various organisations could be better empowered. She gave tangible plans of action, such as creating a national NGO handbook that would be used as a guide to help young organisations successfully navigate their way through the maze of starting up their different initiatives and becoming self sustaining. She also talked about providing government subventions or subsidies that would be reduced each year as the organisation improved its financial strength.
I am of the opinion that our organisations and their missions lack the visibility needed to gather the support they need. Ms Eastmond is open to the idea of raising awareness of the work being done by NGOs, CBOs and Grass Roots Organisations as her party campaigns for seats in the upcoming election. The idea of integrating of NGOs into formal government seemed to be well received. A department or agency that would not be affiliated with any particular party would oversee the constant development of these organisations. It would be responsible for publicly disseminating information about funding available through the government, government agencies, private entities and international agencies, as well as helping the organisations through the application processes and the implementation of their projects. Ms. Eastmond noted that new funding opportunities are made available every year, but only a select few know about them.
Although various other topics related to the development of the country were discussed, I am going to keep the review within the context of the theme of the event, which was NGO, CBO and Grass Roots Organisation empowerment. The interaction following Ms Eastmond’s introduction was encouraging. It was agreed by all that the empowerment of these organisations should not have to wait on when or if the United Progressive Party wins the election. Ms. Eastmond talked about being able to gain access to community centres and other government facilities that are not used regularly, especially since they were all constructed with our money through our taxes. She indicated that she wanted to push the idea that our elected officials and government resources should all be easily accessible and that those who hold seats should be held accountable to the people who elected them and who indirectly pay their salaries. She said Barbadians ask for too little of their elected officials and that NGOs and community based organisations could be more active in putting pressure on the government in representing the needs of the people.
Organisations that were in attendance shared challenges they have experienced over the years with funding and capacity building. Regional registration of organisations was raised and presented to the UPP as something a government should look into. One brother spoke of organisational entrepreneurship. He encouraged organisations to look into business development as a base source of funding. I raised the dangers of obtaining international grant funding and talked about having to bend over backwards to meet the requirements of the donor agencies. However, the brother encouraged us not to write of international funding, advising us not to put all our eggs in one basket.
The conversation ended with a proposed plan of united action to implement structures that start to facilitate the empowerment of our organisations – not next month or next year, but right now. The time to act for the betterment of our people is always now. With this type of thinking, the UPP may find itself the grass roots government of the island, working for the people from beyond Parliament. A government such as this would not have great financial rewards for its members, but it would give them the respect and admiration of the nation.
The AHF was broadcasting the event live on Facebook and the recordings will be available for anyone who wants to hear the details of the discussion. We will also provide updates on some of the plans proposed by the UPP and by the AHF. I really hope that what we are experiencing here is the beginning of a new era of governance for Barbados – an era that will usher in a true people’s government and not a government merely voted in by the blind faith and misguided trust of a nation.
All eyes are on you Ms Eastmond. Walk Good. Say what you mean and mean what you say. We don’t expect perfection but we do demand honesty and accountability.
I must end by saying that even though I wrote what could be considered a harsh review of Ms Marsha Caddle’s presentation at the recently held Sir Grantley Adams Memorial Lecture, I wonder what would have happened if Ms Caddle was not surrounded by her party and its stalwarts who represent the living ghost of our colonial past. On the other hand, would Ms Eastmond have been as free to speak as she did yesterday evening if placed once again under the constraints of the BLP and its members. I do think Ms Caddle has the right intentions with very good ideas, but I also think she has planted herself in a garden that will now allow her to truly show her beauty and produce the kind of fruit that will give the nation sustenance.