JIS News

A major challenge facing civil society groups is the lack of a thorough understanding of sustainable development, says Judith Wedderburn, Deputy Chair for the Inter-American Development Civil Society Advisory Committee (CSAC).
Ms. Wedderburn observed that many community-based organizations and non-governmental organisations that were involved in various activities and projects were not even aware that they were supporting the sustainable development process.
Sustainable development is defined by the United Nations’ Agenda 21 as: “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
“In some cases however, local organizations undermine the process because they are unaware of the damage they are doing,” Ms. Wedderburn told JIS News.
In an attempt to address this challenge, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) funded three workshops which were staged in Montego Bay, Mandeville and Kingston last November to evaluate projects and activities undertaken by civil society groups in Jamaica.
The workshops had an educational component, as participants were exposed to the Barbados Programme of Action (BPOA) for sustainable development of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which was prepared on the 10th Anniversary of the SIDS held in Barbados in 1994.
This Programme outlined 14 priority areas requiring specific actions at the national, regional and international levels. These were heavily weighted towards the environment, where SIDS were most vulnerable. The areas include regional institutions and technical co-operation, energy resources, coastal and marine resources, management of wastes, national institutions and administrative capacity.
Additionally, participants were enlightened about the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), as set out in the Millennium Declaration, which was adopted by the United Nations in September 2000 and, is aimed at tracking poverty and promoting development in all countries.
Among the goals listed are the: eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women; reduction of child mortality; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and, development of a global partnership for development.
The exercise allowed participants to place their activities and projects within a global context, “so that they could make a connection between what they were doing locally and what was happening at the international level”.
“The various consultations revealed what they were doing, found out what challenges they faced and identified the resources that were needed for them to participate effectively in the sustainable development process,” Ms. Wedderburn reported.
Some participants felt confident and encouraged about what they were doing whilst others were frustrated because they understood what needed to be done, but lacked the resources.
According to Ms. Joyce Hewett, a Consultant with the IDB, who found the exercise very stimulating, “there were many that were a bit despondent in areas but, still they did not give up hope”.
Overall, Ms. Hewett revealed that most of the organizations operated on a voluntary basis. Persons were putting their time and effort, without the benefit of real dollars, but what they got was a fulfillment in achieving their goals,” she explained.
“I found it admirable to find even with all the constraints and obstacles, there are a lot of civil society organizations conducting activities to contribute to development, many of which we did not know about,” Ms. Hewett continued.
Three reports were compiled from the workshops and, were pulled together to form a draft National Civil Society Report for presentation at a National Consultation to be held on February 3 at the Jamaica Conference Centre in Kingston.
The Consultation will bring together participants from the three workshops, to share the findings of the national consultation process and review the final draft of the Report to ensure accuracy and consensus about the interpretation of the findings.
Ms. Wedderburn said the Report should identify and reflect the various tasks of civil society as well as government responsibilities and the work of lending agencies.
Ms. Hewett added that the IDB could begin to see where they could formulate policies to produce or assist in capacity building for the various organizations, which in turn would serve both the organizations and government needs.
In terms of the Report’s expected impact on government, Ms. Wedderburn noted that increasingly, the government recognized that it did not have all the answers and that with limited resources, there was a need for consensus building around the development process.
The National Civil Society Report will lay the groundwork for representation to a special consultation sponsored by the IDB with respect to the MDGs, scheduled to take place in Ocho Rios, St. Ann, from February 18-19.
This gathering will follow a regional conference, which will serve to focus preparations for the Fifth International Conference on MDGs to be held in Mauritius later this year.

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