New Year's Message
A Happy and Prosperous New Year to all!
Another year of hard work has passed and one to look forward to, as we continue to fill the voids to keep the fabric of society from reaching breaking point. There are many more new challenges to face and the need for more resources is a perennial problem.
Self-sufficiency: way to go
We encourage organisations to move towards finding sustainable projects within the scope of their activity/work that would help them raise funds. I am also happy to report that funding will be more readily available through the process of Development Cooperation. The third Civil Society Forum held in Brussels has made some serious steps forward.
In this regard we need some volunteer organisations to form a delegation that would negotiate EDF funding policy and allocations. This is of paramount importance and we will be calling on individual organisations to fulfil this role in the absence of volunteers.
10th European Development Fund
The 10th EDF is now operational. Please be reminded of the Non State Actors Panel through which we must liaise in order to negotiate projects. We will inform you of the procedures for interfacing with the Panel as soon as the new Panel is installed and a Chairperson appointed. The first Panel went through the teething stage but this Panel should be fully operational.
The Panel is supposed to assist NSAs with interfacing with the fund. It was expected that the Panel would have received project proposals from NGOs for approval and then pass them on for disbursement through the National Authorising Officer, but this did not happen with the 9th EDF as the Panel came on stream at the end of the 9th EDF. We know that the Focal Area for the 10th EDF is about the development of people or capacity building.
This usually means that funds are available for education, training (including workshops and seminars) and equipment. The fund is trying to target the problems that keep people poor and uncompetitive. This is within the meaning of Development Cooperation. There are funds for private sector initiatives, government programmes and for the work of civil society organisations.
Covenant made easier to enter
We would like to draw your attention to the "covenant" as a fund-raising mechanism. Government is making this process much easier. BANGO had made some representation on this in 2008, at the time led by Adrian Randall from the Heart & Stroke Foundation. The new arrangements will allow the donor to deduct donations from their income tax returns and the minimum period of three years is to be reduced to one year and registering the covenant will be much easier. These changes are supposed to be effected in 2010.
Social Responsibility: ISO 26000
Among the items on our agenda for 2010 is Social Responsibility under ISO26000. This standard is scheduled to be ratified in March in Copenhagen. Barbados is among the few countries that does not yet have a monitoring committee. We had promised ISO that we would have ours up and running by the end of January 2010.
This initiative is being led by Barbados National Standards Institute. The committee is to be made up of NGOs, Government, Private Sector and Labour representatives and is long overdue. At this time, there is a commitment from the NGOs through BANGO and Labour through CTUSAB, but we have no information on the other two stakeholders to date.
The Social Responsibility Standard includes standards for government, corporate and even NGOs which already have a high standard of social responsibility. The standard, however, is not certifiable; meaning that no entity could be ISO-26000 certified, because each country is supposed to set its responsibility standard, which will vary from society to society.
Headquarters for NGOs
We have sought Government's assistance to establish a headquarters for NGOs; Somewhere central where NGOs can have offices and meeting spaces. This would also include a venue where NGOs can hold functions; be it conferences or fund-raising events. This would reduce the cost of fund-raising and allow flexibility as far as services are concerned.
A headquarters would also allow NGOs to have permanent displays of their work and encourage the general public to visit. Within such arrangement there will be plenty opportunities for NGOs to deliver their services to the general public. This would hopefully be the beginning of the Barbados NGO Forum. We had hoped that by now, Government would have made its decision and that we would have been able to launch it last December 5th 2009, but this did not happen. We are promised that this would soon be resolved.
National Policy Making
As NGOs we must be mindful of our role in the scheme of things as we go forward. For the most part we represent interests and it is very important that the interests we represent get to the table. This is the only way to influence policy and since we are able to identify weaknesses in the system, it is well justified for NGOs or Civil Society Organisations to be part of the Policy Making process.
We must also remember that we address problems which are not paid sufficient attention by the institutions of government, who are officially charged with the safety, welfare and well-being of every citizen, but fail in their duty. As Civil Society, we fill this need, yet we are viewed with suspicion and the age old talk about Opposition politicians using NGOs to destabilise government if they are given resources.
It is time to move swiftly to put such arguments to rest. Any politician trying to use an NGO for personal political gain can be easily spotted and the nature of NGOs is that we survive because of great needs which are not met by those who are responsible and those who promise. It cannot be fair that resources are denied on the basis of overused excuses, when we are straining to keep up. This is even more relevant as we brace for adverse economic impacts.
Networking is the answer
Within our own ranks we should pay more attention to networking because networking is the key to good governance. Networking gathers the information that would allow us to impact positively on policy and decision making. Not only does it identify the source of problems, it comes with the local knowledge that would allow us to arrive at solutions.
Networking also provides the opportunity for issues to be represented and for those people most knowledgeable on the subject to be at the table to represent these issues and interests at the national, regional and international level.
One of the problems that seem to be a millstone around our necks is this perception of democracy and inclusiveness. For example we exercise the democratic right mostly for the wrong reasons at AGMs and some organisations have placed a limit on the amount of terms a person can hold office. I think our best duty to ourselves is to ensure that we make the right choices for what is to be achieved.
Too many organisations lose their direction at the changing of the guard. Most organisations which survive the test of time are those whose leadership don't change too often. MESA, after about 8 years still has the same Chairman. PCW went through a roller-coaster ride of leaders until Rodney Grant was able to bring stability and longetivity to that organisation and these are organisations that are moving from strength to strength.
As a sector, networking is the answer because at the national level, what is required is not a leader per se, but a bureau which will gather information which can then be available to policy makers. It is also a way to keep certain information that may become lost from going extinct because of lack of this information. For example, decisions of previous executives are unconstitutionally overturned because there is no evidence or documentation of the decision.
Networking & Evidence-base impact on Policy
Networking is also a way of identifying your best advocates working in particular areas. This is where national, regional and international representation can be achieved. Getting sectors together and getting them to communicate with one another is the best method of determining representation at the policy level.
Information is very important and too many organisations lose information because of lack of continuity stemming from the absence of a system for retaining records and a place for storing them. While this may be a criticism, it has to be taken in the context of the existing environment, lack of resources and the fact that people are volunteering their time. We recognise the importance of information to the extent that once BANGO has a large enough headquarters, quite apart from making office space available to NGOs, we are prepared to accommodate those NGOs who may not need an office but a central location for their filing cabinet and a desk from which they can work from time to time.
Another importance of information is to be able to assess the performance of the sector over time. This is the only way to monitor and evaluate our progress.
The other importance is its relevance to policy making. Local knowledge carries with it the means of arriving at the best solutions given the variables that may exist for peculiar reasons. When we conduct a survey, we are gathering local knowledge and we know how importantly a survey is treated. A network in our case is the constant gathering of information emanating from the work of NGOs.
We thank those NGOs who assisted and supported BANGO during 2009 and look forward to even more support from the NGO community in 2010. We all have a role to play within our competences and much information to share according to experiences. Let us not forget that the economic forecast is that we will feel the brunt of the economic crisis this year. While we know you are all busy running your organisations, we urge you to pay a bit more attention to matters of national importance and start liaising more with BANGO in 2010.