Some participants of the NPOwer’s 2023 Conference “Connect and Inspire”.
~ NPOs ‘Connect and Inspire’ ~
BELAIR--The NPOwer 2023 conference, which officially opened at Belair Community Center on Friday, February 24, under the banner “Connect and Inspire”, brought together representatives of non-profit organisations (NPOs) and a host of presenters, experts and politicians for three days of presentations and workshops.
NPOwer is Foresee (4C) Foundation’s latest project which aims to bring NPOs together to share expertise, grow capacity, assist with funding, fundraising, marketing, governance and other innovative strategies.
4C Director José Sommers explained that the foundation’s name came from an American think tank and stands for communication, collaboration, creative and critical thinking. The foundation, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary, was set up in 2013. NPOwer was launched after Hurricane Irma in 2017.
Before giving the floor to the speakers opening Friday’s symposium, Sommers introduced NPO Speed Dating. “Almost one year ago, we started Volunteer.sx, together with St. Maarten Development Fund (SMDF), and we have an online platform where we match the needs of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) with people in the community who want to give back,” Sommers said before handing out the first NPO Speed Dating forms to Governor Ajamu Baly and Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs.
The NGOs, NPOs and civil society organisations (CSOs) collaborating with government and businesses are “truly making a difference” in St. Maarten, Jacobs said.
“Both government and our NGOs play complementary roles in society, working together to address social, economic and environmental challenges, and to promote the wellbeing of all members of our society. As organisations dedicated to community development, we move hand in hand, experiencing many of the same challenges and opportunities in the pursuit of community, in the pursuit of nation-building and, of course, in the pursuit of sustainable development.”
According to Jacobs, NGOs play an essential role in community-building efforts, are typically independent organisations dedicated to specific causes or issues and operate outside government structures.
“They often work closely with and in our communities to address social, economic and environmental challenges and promote the same thing that we are all talking about: sustainable development.”
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015, provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing.
Jacobs highlighted two of the SDGs. SDG 11 concerns building cities and communities, “but St. Maarten being such a small country, I look at our cities as communities. So, building inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable communities. That falls under SDG 11.
“And then, of course, the one that I use every time is SDG 17 [partnership for the goals – Ed.], because without collaboration, we would not be able to get where we’re going. So, collaborating for the goals, SDG 17, for me, is very important.
“It’s community-building, it’s a complete process, bringing people together to achieve common goals. I believe the platform of Volunteer.sx, of R4CR, of NPOwer and, of course, our go-to as government, the SMDF, is the way we bring communities, NGOs, MPOs and CSOs, and the individual St. Maartener who wants to volunteer, who wants to make a difference, together,” Jacobs said in wishing the participants in NPOwer 2023 a “productive couple of days, working together to achieve the goals for St. Maarten”.
Governor Baly in his speech spoke about helping others and strengthening capacity. “Helping others contributes to a person’s circumstance, life, and general well-being, the social-emotional value. That’s obvious. Strengthening capacity drives economic development, the monetary value.”
Capacity strengthening can be quantitative or qualitative, he explained. “Qualitative strengthening improves a person’s skills, capabilities, and the like, which in turn allows persons to qualify for better jobs, positions, etc. Quantitative strengthening increases the number of persons in these jobs, positions, etc.
Both quantitative and qualitative strengthening of capacity, therefore, allow persons to be positioned to spend and consume more, resulting in more tax revenue, all driving economic development, hence the monetary value.”
Together, helping others and strengthening capacity, they both add to the richness and overall prosperity of a country, the governor said.
Bonnie Benesh, organisational-change consultant and chief executive officer of Think2Do Institute, an independent global think tank located in Curaçao, was the symposium’s keynote speaker.
As a change agent and connecter, Benesh has facilitated the creation of policy and procedures for development plans, stakeholder dialogue structures, and educational systems to create citizens with competitive workforce skills.
As a thought leader, she is a member researcher with World Economic Forum expert groups. She has served as a guest and adjunct professor for universities all over the world with extensive experience in international economic processes, 21st-century workforce development skills and processes.
In her address, Benesh spoke about resilience and social-cohesion research. Her Curaçao-based think tank is connected to other expert groups in the world that look at developing nations and how they can become resilient.
“We chose the name Think2Do because you have to do more than think about something, you have to do it. One of the ways societies do is through the work of organisations like yours. The role that you play in a society is critical to that society becoming resilient,” Benesh said in sharing resilience and social cohesion research.
“What we know is that when a country does not have social cohesion, it cannot become resilient.” In this process inclusion is important, she said.
“A society that has social cohesion is inclusive. It does not exclude anyone. You build a country for your own people, and if you do a great job of it, other people are going to want to come and see what you have done, but you’re building it for yourself, you’re not building it for someone else. I think that that is a very important thing for us to remember in the Caribbean because of the tourism drive that we have within our economies. Although that drives your economy, you should be building a country for yourselves.”
The second aspect of social cohesion is equality and equal access to health care, education and the banking system. Benesh explained.
The third pillar is legitimacy. “What does it mean to be legitimate? It means that you have approached it in an integral way, not through corruption, but through integrity programmes so that you are sure that you have the right people in the right place to deliver the right services to the people that you are serving.”
Another important characteristic of social cohesion is participation. “How many of your people participate in elections? How many of your people participate in continuous education? How many of your people complete secondary school? How many of your people belong to a volunteer organisation?” Benesh asked.
These dimensions of social cohesion are the foundation for nation building. “They cannot happen without your kind of organisations, because you are the root of developing those characteristics within a community,” she said to those present at the symposium.
Poor levels of trust
According to the International Development Bank, Latin America and the Caribbean have the least amount of trust of any place in the world, with the Caribbean nations having the poorest levels of trust.
“If you don’t trust each other, you can’t work together. Building trust is extremely important,” said Benesh. “Trust is the glue for social cohesion, and social cohesion is the basis of building a nation.
“In your work, you are probably the connectors for society and trust. When you go into a neighbourhood to serve in your NPO role, you have already developed trust, or you are building trust. If all of you collectively come together and show that you do trust in the policies that are being made, and you can influence the policies that are to come, then you will raise the level of trust in your community, you will raise the social cohesion, and you will likely succeed in what you think you would like to do as a country.”
Lack of transparency
“In the Caribbean, we are known for our lack of transparency in giving information,” said Benesh, who thinks this is a cultural thing.
“The culture of fear is very great in a nation that is developing. When that happens, people don’t have access to information. That causes them to not trust. …
“We should never be ashamed or afraid to say that we need to get better at something. That’s a sign of resilience. That’s not the sign of weakness. That’s not the sign of failure. That’s the sign that you really want to improve, that you really want to do better, and that we can always do it together. So culturally, we are defeating ourselves because of the culture of fear, because we are not transparent about the giving of information. That causes people not to trust us. And trust, again, is the glue of social cohesion.
“And so, this is something, as organisations and NPOs, that you should think about,” Benesh said. “You’re the connectors, you’re the ones that help identify those concerns, meet those concerns and inform the government and the private sector leaders as well what needs to change in order for those people to become more involved. So, NPOs and community organisations are great equalisers, because you do reduce the inequities.”