“The World Bank defines NGOs as ‘private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development’. In wider usage, the term NGO can be applied to any non-profit organization which is independent from government. NGOs are typically value-based organizations which depend, in whole or in part, on charitable donations and voluntary service. Although the NGO sector has become increasingly professionalised over the last two decades, principles of altruism and voluntarism remain key defining characteristics” – www.lib.duke.edu

At a family party on Old Year’s night, after a while there was, for the most part, the inevitable segregation by gender. In the men’s corner the discussion quickly focused on a review of the economy over the past year and the prospects for 2005.

We looked at the main productive sectors – agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and financial services. We concluded that there were opportunities for growth in these sectors but also recognized that there were constraints related primarily to vision, management expertise and appropriate sources of financial capital. The question then arose as to what innovative approaches could be developed which would have a positive impact on the current trend of development in our economy.

Having been stimulated by a recent discussion in St. Lucia just before Christmas, my contribution at that point was that a focus on the Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) sector could provide the appropriate stimulus that we are looking for to give some impetus to the rate of growth. The term NGO is very broad and encompasses many different types of organization. In the field of development and humanitarian assistance, NGOs range from large entities such as Rotary International, Soroptimist International, CARE, OXFAM, Red Cross Society, World Vision and Counterpart International to locally based self help groups such as Barbados Cancer Society, the Heart Foundation of Barbados, Barbados Association of Retired persons (BARP), BARNOD and BAMCI. NGOs also include research institutes, churches, professional associations and lobby groups.

NGOs may be classified as operational, where the primary purpose is the design and implementation of development related projects or advocacy where the primary purpose is to defend or promote a specific cause and to influence the policies and practices in a country. NGOs may therefore be seen as supportive to the primary social partners i.e. the private sector, the public sector and the trade unions. In the Barbadian context, the social partnership is restricted to these primary partners and needs to be expanded to include the NGO sector.

Another innovative thrust for the New Year could be the review of the role of the mass Media. In my opinion, they too, should be included in the social partnership. The role of the mass Media is to inform and educate the wider community not only from cursory presentations of news, but from deep investigative and well informed analysis of a wide range of issues. If the Media were included in the social partnership, and there were mutual respect among the social partners for their respective roles in terms of national development, then we may very well find that this model may redound to the benefit of a more well informed populace which will pave the path to sustainable development.

The practice of a formal social partnership beyond the shores of Barbados is very rare. The practice of a formal social partnership at the regional level is non-existent. Each social partner has its own contribution to make in the context of regional development but yet history and current practice pander primarily to the public sector as being dominant in all developmental pursuits.

There will of course be the defence that there have been attempts to involve other social partners through selected regional bodies. The question that arises is ‘are these selected bodies truly representative of the social partners in the region?’

One of the major sources of funding for developing countries comes from International Donor Agencies. The Donor Agencies have concluded that, whereas the public sector may be optimal as a channel of funds for major infrastructural projects, for economic growth projects, this is not necessarily the case. On the other hand, there has been a resistance, by the tax payers in the donor countries, to the Donor agencies channeling funds directly to the private sector. It is seen as a direct contribution to the bottom line, whereas for the emerging private sector, it may well be needed to ensure that there is a sustainable bottom line in the future. This, of course, is a necessary condition of sustainable development. It has therefore been proposed that NGOs, through their operational and advocacy agendas, could indeed provide an appropriate compromise for the channeling of these funds.

In the New Year it would be heartening to see a more proactive approach to expand the social partnership to formally include NGOs and the Media, at the national and regional levels, and for NGOs to proactively present themselves as significant attractive complements to the private and public sectors.