It is a mere 14 years old this year, yet its work can be seen, and its effect felt, across the length and breadth of Jamaica.
Since its coming into being, its mission has been to address the immediate social and economic infrastructural needs of underserved communities, in a manner that is quick, efficient, transparent and non-partisan. It has managed to achieve this aim through a strong partnership between itself and central and local government, involving communities and private and public sector organisations.
We speak, of course, of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), an organisation jointly funded by the Government of Jamaica (GOJ), the European Union (EU), the World Bank and through private sector grants.
Since its inception and up to January 2010, some 1,254 projects, valued at approximately $6 billion, have been approved for implementation by the organisation, of which 862 have been completed.
Part of the new block of classrooms built by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) at the Barracks Road Primary School in, Montego Bay
During the same period, in western Jamaica, which includes the parishes of Trelawny, St. James, Hanover and Westmoreland, JSIF has some 205 projects approved to date, valued at over $1.4 billion, with approximately 170 of them completed at a value of approximately $915 million.
With poverty eradication and sustainable rural and urban development among its main aims, it is no surprise therefore that the projects implemented in the western parishes have to do with roads, schools, water, life coping skills, agro processing, conflict resolution and health.
Over 110,000 persons have benefited, directly and indirectly, from the projects implemented across western Jamaica, with most having a personal input through sweat equity in the community projects.
JSIF’s General Manager, Technical Services, Mr. Omar Sweeney, in an interview with JIS News, stated that since its inception, JSIF has been able to carry out its mandate, in terms of being able to deliver basic social and economic infrastructure for the poor. He added that it is very important that over one million persons have benefited, directly or indirectly, from JSIF implemented projects.
“What is also important is that we have been able to take community participation to a new level. We have put it on a landscape, whether through JSIF procedures or whether it is replicated by other agencies, the fact is that it is recognised now that in best practice, community participation in any type of project deliverable is the way to go,” he stated.
He added that JSIF has also introduced to the project implementation landscape, the issue of community contribution and having communities take ownership of projects, which has added to the security and sustainability of projects.
“That speaks to a level of capacity building and empowerment of communities which was not there before JSIF,” he said.
He explained that JSIF has been moving away from using the phrase “poverty eradication” to using the term “poverty alleviation” and, more recently, going with the term “wealth creation”.
He also made mention of the parish of Trelawny, which has seen heavy investments in projects from JSIF over the years, pointing out that the parish is no longer ranked as one of the poorest in the country.
Principal of the Barracks Road Primary School, in Montego Bay, St. James, Mr. Alanzo Jones, whose school is one of the 17 in the parish that have benefited from these projects, admitted that JSIF has contributed significantly to social development in Jamaica.
He told JIS News that JSIF’s assistance to the school has greatly enhanced the Teaching/Learning environment and also the security of the institution. “We have had a very good working relationship. They are very professional, methodical, systematic and very thorough, in terms of how they operate,” he emphasised.
Residents of Catadupa, a rural district in South St. James, also spoke highly of JSIF, which assisted that community with a water distribution system valued at approximately $23 million. JSIF’ contribution to the project was $16 million.
At the recent commissioning of the system, the residents were all appreciative of its implementation, expressing the view that it will greatly improve their social well-being. Mr. Sweeney says that JSIF is now going into what can be aptly described as its third phase, adding that it has to keep reinventing itself to avoid getting stale and irrelevant.
“In the first phase, we focused more on providing the basic needs for persons. In the second phase, we tried to boost community participation, ownership and community driven development. In the third phase now, we are looking at economic initiatives and economic empowerment of not just communities but of individuals, as well,” he emphasised.
He said that a more in-depth look is now being taken at existing business structures in communities, and how to get them and the wider community to participate in projects being implemented by JSIF.