A few weeks ago the legislation governing the civil society sector was introduced publicly. Several benefits of the legislation were articulated and generally the initiative received the support of the civil society sector (CS). Unfortunately, I fear that some of the follow up action needed to keep the importance of the legislation and the possibilities it affords has been left undone.
I will think aloud here this week to try to express some of the untapped potential of the civil society sector and its organizations. Perhaps this column could lead to a panel discussion or more public dialogue that sensitizes the public of Barbados about CS and its possibilities. I skip the discussion on the definition of CS because Kristina Hinds’ recent work, Civil Society Organisations, Governance and the Caribbean Community is an easy read that adequately sets the stage for discussion of CS in the Commonwealth Caribbean.
I want to frame CS as an economic actor because as we continue to rebuild the economy of Barbados, it still seems that anything outside of economics does not have a place in the national discourse. CS has significant economic benefits and the attempt to regulate CS in law further enhances its participation as economic partners. CS can contribute to three traditional areas seen useful to economic growth, namely job creation, foreign direct investment and streamlining government goods and services.
The World Economic Forum quotes a study that quantified Civil Society employment in six countries. They averaged employment in the sector to be about 54 million across the six countries. In North America, CS is also counted in employment statistics and CS is given a range of incentives that assist its ability to employ. There is a supportive government. CS in North America is tax exempt at both the federal and state levels. This means that there is more of an ability to use funds for direct stipends to those engaged in work. CS in Barbados does provide job opportunity at some levels. I believe that with the expansion of the focus of CS there can be even greater opportunities.
We may not be in a position to provide full employment out of work in CS in Barbados immediately, but I would at least like to see us move to the granting of stipends for those engaged. It aids in a number of ways. First, those who are engaged in the sector are at least enabled to make their contribution. A volunteer should not have to expend gas money or lunch to engage in service. Some people simply cannot afford it.
Second, it insulates the resources of CS. It is not a secret that Barbadian CS has had its fair share of financial misappropriation. I believe that ensuring that rewarding those engaged in the sector is seen as necessary can help to insulate the broader Society.
The third reason that job creation in CS is possible and important is because of the impact it can have on women. Much of the work involved in CS is care work. We know that women are always disproportionately saddled with care work. We also know that it is not quantified and thus monetarily rewarded. Paying attention to seeing CS as a part of the job market is a way to engage more women in flexible and rewarding employment.
The contribution of CS to foreign direct investment (FDI) is often overlooked. When CS in Barbados partners with other regional or international CS, there are often monetary inflows in foreign dollars. Most times that money filters through to the poorest and most vulnerable people in Barbadian society. Setting up a stronger CS framework provides an even greater opportunity for FDI through CS work.
Something as simple as government foreign missions always highlighting the CS activity in Barbados and providing information on how linkages can be made can assist. Ensuring that foreign businesses set up in Barbados are tied to donating a percentage of profits to CS is another mechanism that foreign businesses will be accustomed to because it is an international best practice.
There is funding available to CS which governments cannot tap but which CS needs government support to access. Paying attention to these framework areas can reap tangible dividends for Barbados.
The final area I want to highlight is CS’ ability to contribute to the more effective provision of government goods and services. We are all aware of the thick bureaucracy in Governmental functions in Barbados. This leads to bottlenecking in service provision for some of the most vulnerable in society. CS, by nature of its set-up, has less bureaucratic structures and partnerships with government can have mutual benefits.
Marsha Hinds is the President of the National Organisation of Women.