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JIS News

Residents in some of the island’s poorer communities beset with social infrastructure needs, received much needed assistance through some 185 community-based organisation projects, which were undertaken by the Social Development Commission (SDC) in the 2004/05 financial year. Director of Governance at the SDC, Richard Billings tells JIS News that while the ability to deliver almost 200 projects in tandem with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) represents one of the Commission’s more significant achievements during the course of the past year, there were many different facets to the SDC’s work, of which the organisation is equally proud.
“In terms of our main area, which is facilitating stronger community organisations, we have also done fairly well in terms of building stronger community organisations and training of community leaders,” Mr. Billings says.
Of the 185 project submissions with which the SDC was involved in last year, Mr. Billings points out that the majority were specifically located in “pockets of poverty”, and in some cases, were in areas “smaller than an actual community so they were within a community”.
The mandate of the SDC, he says, focuses on three core output areas.
The first is working with community-based organisations. This involves the Commission’s different regional offices utilising their appropriate duties, which determine the pace of work to be carried out in communities as well as the training in terms of setting up meetings and getting residents informed and integrated into the project. “This is strongly linked to the reforming of local governance and reforming local government in terms of getting citizens involved, which is an important part of the government strategy for development in the country,” Mr. Billings asserts.
He explains to JIS News that when a community unites to have dialogue about issues affecting them and how best to resolve them, they will require solid information as to how these problems manifest themselves.
This constitutes the SDC’s second core output area, that of community based research. The research, he says, “gives us all kinds of information about communities – the definition, where the communities are, what is in these communities in terms of education, sports and economic infrastructure; what kind of activities happen there, and what are the social and economic profiles of these areas”.
Subsequently, spatial data, governance data, demographics, and social and economic environmental data are done by the SDC, and the information is made available at the parish council for local planning, and also at the national level for macro planning and programme targeting.
Mr. Billings says that the third core output area is, “having looked at the evidence, how we can start to use evidence to inform the communities’ prioritisation process.coming up with workable solutions. This is community development planning”.
He further notes that such planning entails groups of persons coming together to utilise the data to inform their own community development process as to the actions they are desirous of pursuing.
Turning to the SDC’s partnerships with the public and private sectors, he emphasises that these alliances are of critical importance to the Commission effectively delivering its programmes.
“We do not have the resources to finance the action plans that come out of community processes, so what would happen is that communities come together, look at the issues and formulate their plans.there is always going to be [instances of them wanting to do things] for themselves and it is something that they will need resources to do. We cannot provide those resources and that is where these partnerships come in,” Mr. Billings explains. The SDC has enjoyed successful partnerships with such entities as JSIF, with which it works on the National Community Development Programme; the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID); the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA); Jamaica Social Policy Evaluation (JASPEV); and the Institute of Sports (Insport), among others.
Regarding the SDC’s association with Insport, Mr. Billings informs that it has been a fruitful union, as they have worked together alongside community based organisations and the Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association (JAAA) to do regional track and field events, with teams advancing to the LASCO Club Championship, supported by the LASCO Group.
Also in the field of sport, over the course of the last year, the SDC hosted a number of under-20 football and netball competitions through several arrangements with private companies islandwide.
“We have also done community fun days and sport festivals, which attract hundreds of community teams and these events, in terms of sports, are excellent for bringing citizens together for fun and competition, and is a first point of entry for our work with communities,” he points out.
For the current financial year, Mr. Billings tells JIS News that the SDC is hoping to host a series of 12 “community connect events” across the island. The events are parish-level affairs where a range of government and private sector companies are brought together to advertise and inform of their services to the communities, and the residents participate in sporting activities.
“The community connect event really is showcasing sports, talent, food, music and then the range of services that are available from various partners within a given parish,” he explains. “So these partners will be there, whether it is an agency of government, or private companies, showing people the services they offer and how to access the services,” he adds.
Mr. Billings tells JIS News that the Commission organises the events, and seeks to sensitise the communities about them, by encouraging them to become involved. Highlighting a number of goals the Commission would like to achieve within the year, he says while the focus is largely on meeting the three core output areas, “we want to work with the local authorities to continue to build consensus around this whole local government reform issue and by that, we mean getting more partners involved”.
“Some partners who were at the table are no longer there, we want to get them back,” he stresses.
Mr. Billings says he would like to see the Parish Development Committees strengthened, to assist more in the local government reform process.
“These bodies are not as strong as they used to be, they do not meet as often, so we want to get back on track,” he says.
He indicates that the Commission also wants to complete its profiles on all communities in the island within two years.
Mr. Billings says that while there may be persons who are cynical of initiating development in their own areas, every Jamaican living in the country should realise it is their responsibility to become more involved in the affairs of their communities and play a part in making development happen.
“At the SDC, we certainly don’t have the resources to get into all communities simultaneously but we endeavour to be there if we are called. We are always ready and willing and the issue is for persons to get in touch with their nearest SDC office, find out who their community officer is, and get the process started or get involved if there is already a process underway,” he says.
The SDC functions under the umbrella of the Ministry of Local Government, Community Development and Sport. Its primary responsibility is to facilitate the empowerment of citizens in communities, enabling their participation in an integrated, equitable, and sustainable national development process.
It plans and executes projects across the 745 communities it services, assisted by other local and international organisations. The SDC has in excess of 100 Community Development Officers (CDOs), each of which is responsible for up to 10 communities.