The organizations, many of which are usually short-staffed and under resourced, are finding it increasingly difficult to get funds to stay afloat.
“Many NGOs are struggling to keep their doors open,” said Diana McCaulay, head of one of Jamaica’s foremost environmental NGOs, the Jamaica Environment Trust.
“Many of them operate from the backroom of people’s houses and exist from project to project, worried about what they will do to manage in between project funding,” she explained.
The NGOs, which are usually headed by charismatic individuals, are a key part of Jamaica’s and the region’s response to climate change and other crucial environmental issues. They implement most of the projects addressing these concerns with funding from mainly international donors. However, the organizations have always been plagued with the problem of accessing funding to finance recurring operational costs.
Macaulay raised the issue recently at a meeting between civil environment stakeholders in Jamaica and representatives of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, IUCN, a global environmental network. The team, headed by IUCN’s Deputy Director, Dr William Jackson, discussed the Union’s Caribbean Initiative, a programme which aims to foster greater cohesiveness and effectiveness in tackling the region’s environmental challenges with representatives of government and Jamaican civil society during a recent two-day visit to the island.
The initiative, which will be part of a new global programme of the IUCN, will be finalized and adopted at the World Conservation Congress to be held in Barcelona, Spain, in October 2008.
IUCN’s visit was aimed at getting reactions to the three–year work plan which will be in effect from 2009-2012, and during consultations, identify areas of concern that should be tackled as priority.
MaCaulay stressed the point that a large percentage of Jamaica’s environmental NGOs are in severe financial difficulties because of this. Her viewpoint was supported by the Susan Otuokon, head of another prominent Jamaican environmental NGO, The Jamaica Conservation Development Trust.
“Funders want NGOs to prove that they can be sustainable as a profit making business,” Otuokon said. “However, what they don’t take into consideration is the associated costs of making environmental concerns money making enterprises.”
She said these associated costs include printing brochures and other marketing activities to promote the business which involves spending money with no guarantee that such investments would bring returns.
Head of Jamaica’s Forestry Department and chairman of the Forest Conservation Fund, Marilyn Headley, says the fund, which gives grants to environmental NGOs that meet certain requirements, is aware of the problem, however, no immediate solution presents itself.
“When we access grant applications from these organizations, we realize that the money they are getting can only fund them during project periods. We realize that in the first two to three years that the NGOs are setting up, it would be ideal if they could get funding that is not attached to any project, but would serve to help get them established. So the question is being asked, but there are no immediate answers,” she stated candidly.
The Forest Conservation Fund was established with the proceeds from a debt swap arrangement between the Government of Jamaica and the United States signed in 2004. The funds total US$16 million and will be disbursed to qualified grantees until 2019.
Otuokon, whose NGO manages The Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park along with the Government of Jamaica, NEPA and the Forestry Department, said that while environment entities such as the Holywell Park Mountain Retreat (located in the National Park), are operated as businesses, entrance to the park is free and the property has only three log cabins for rental and these, plus other factors contribute to Holywell’s inability to make a profit.
Otuokon facilitated a tour of sections of the National Park including Hollywell, by representatives of IUCN during their two-day visit.
Headley said that another challenge faced by environmental NGOs in Jamaica is that they are usually built around one charismatic personality and many times there is no preparation for succession. This affects the sustainability of programmes carried out by the organization as well as the organizations’ continued effectiveness.
“There is always a continuity issue, as when popular leaders of such organizations leave, activities of the organizations sometimes lull,” she noted.
Some of the other priority areas identified at the meeting include,
the need for a more systematic approach to information gathering and sharing on the environment in Jamaica and the region,
placing a dollar figure on the effects of environment degradation on the economy,
developing effective ways to engage with stakeholders and form working partnerships,
and the need to establish IUCN as a physical presence in the region.
IUCN also held similar consultations in The Dominican Republic.