Our Readers' Opinions
May 25, 2007
Building social capital through grass root investment, initiative


Editor: Our Vision for 2020 is on the right path when we focus on developing a “Strategic Plan”, which is a road map to going forward. This approach demonstrates that our government is willing to take a strategic and planned approach to our development. Our broad macro policies are the main pillars on which our development will be based also include the Thrust in Education, International Air access, Investment in the service sector mainly Tourism and the diversification in and around Agriculture to name a few.{{more}}

However, we must note that it is critical that this plan effects a paradigm shift in our attitude towards Time management, Investment, Work and Productivity, and Health and the Environment. Therefore, public consultations are good to allow for grass root participation to provide that upward flow of information that would inform the broader strategies and at the same time start the process of building Social Capital which makes it easier for “public buy in” that will pave the way for a successful implementation.

Thus, our future development should not rest solely in the hands of the Government but instead depends whole-heartedly on the efforts of every Vincentian, whether at home or abroad. Hence, our efforts must be to include all law abiding citizens, while empowering the poor to ensure their full participation and our strategies on developing initiatives to make the investments in our people at the grass root or community level. In this regard, the objectives should focus on building social relationships in terms of trust, mutuality and reciprocity that would be beneficial to the individual, groups and the society. In effect it is called ‘Building Social Capital”.

The initiatives and investments to effect changes in our attitude must focus on the following:

1. Investing in community groups and cooperatives: This will allow for more involvement of the community while spreading the necessary risk associated with the projects involved. Such cooperatives include some of the following:

a. Church Cooperatives- To support the church not only to focus on the spiritual development of its members but a more holistic development, which would involve the economic and social aspect (Investment).

b. School Cooperatives – To fund projects like poultry and pig farms, which would inculcate the technology, entrepreneurial skills, and thriftiness in our youths. Also, creating an awareness and appreciation for the environment by creating additional projects such as the generation of biogas from the waste from the tuck shops/ cafeteria.

c. Agricultural Cooperatives – To help its members source raw materials and market their goods collectively.

d. Social Cooperatives- To help its members improve their livelihood. For example, health groups can work together to source medication and equipment.

2. Invest and build capacity in sports, and other cultural arts such as dancing, music, drama etc). We need to increase our investment in the programmes and support systems that would help to nurture and develop the abundance of raw talent available. We could use these vehicles to inculcate the discipline and attitude in our youths that will benefit them for life.

3. Need to create cheaper cost of education: The escalating cost of education especially at the university level means that we must find ways to ease the burden on our young students. This can be achieved through the following:

a. Looking for cheaper sources of funds to on lend

b. Create a National Work for Credit Programme:

i. This could be two fold in that community service or volunteer work could be linked to grant funding or preferential lending rates for student loans.

ii. To provide tax credit to individuals for community service or volunteer work in the same context in which a business would receive tax credit as an incentive to expand. For example, a graduate teacher could provide X amount hours of volunteer work to the Adult Literacy programme, which would be equivalent to X amount of benefit – this is tax deductible. This would in effect reward the contribution of those who give so freely of their time and expertise, and would also encourage those who return with a university degree or some technical expertise to contribute more to our development.

iii. The necessary support structures to ensure checks and balances must be in place at the various ministries.

In addition to the above, I firmly believe that the Government needs to find ways to ensure that there is more collaboration between ministries and other governmental organizations that will build synergies that are beneficial in providing the necessary support to grass root organizations. These organizations such as the Social Investment Fund, The Development Bank and the Centre for Enterprise Development must work together to educate these special organizations on wealth creation, micro financing, project management (budgeting), and small business management. Further, there is also the need for the mass media to get on board in promoting this type of education.

In concluding, investing in building capacity at the grass roots level and using our resources to fund social and economic polices that seek to empower our poor people can only help to improve our democracy and contribute to creating a sustainable SVG.

Cerlian “Maff” Russell