Secondary school students from the Chaguanas Borough of Trinidad and Tobago have received certificates to mark their participation in the pilot of a project funded by the Commonwealth Foundation, Fostering a democratic culture in schools and local communities in the Caribbean.
Democratic processes rely on the engagement and participation of an interested electorate if they are to succeed. In the Commonwealth Caribbean countries, there is generally an apathy towards the community engagement process – particularly at the local government level – largely due to a lack of knowledge and cynicism about civic participation and local governance.
The Caribbean Association of Local Government Authorities (CALGA) is working with young people to help them constructively engage with local government. This project will work to develop student councils in secondary schools, which will send representatives to specially created Junior Councils that will provide a structured interface between young people and local government institutions.
The young people on these Junior Councils will be trained in the local government system, participatory governance and advocacy and lobbying techniques, giving them the capabilities and confidence needed to effectively engage with authorities.
The project will also work with government representatives to integrate the young people’s voices into local government processes. The project aims to eventually embed the Junior Councils into local governance processes, allowing it to continue beyond the duration of the grant.
The work has attracted a mix of trainers and project coordinators in the four countries, from the education and local government sectors. Councillor Examin Philbert from St Lucia – a Project Coordinator and school principal – explained: “The project is timely and will afford students the opportunity to actively participate in democratic processes. It will enable Student Councils to develop leadership skills, forge partnerships with the school administration, as well as, lobby and advocate on behalf of the student body. The Junior Councils will catapult our youngsters into meaningful participation in community and Local Government engagement.”
The Caribbean Association of Local Government Authorities is a not for profit organization established to facilitate the further development of Local Government within the Caribbean region.
Their mission is to promote good governance and local democracy through capacity-building, networking, advocacy, and effective representation of the interests and views of Local Government authorities.
In 2014 there was no structured mechanism for civil society engagement with the Caribbean regional policy making body, CARICOM (The Caribbean Community). Civic voice engagement was largely adhoc and there was expressed dissatisfaction by both governments and civil society on the quality and nature of the engagement. With the aim to enhance cooperation with civil society in the Caribbean region to dialogue with CARICOM Heads of Government and advocate on behalf of the sector and Caribbean society, the Commonwealth Foundation supported the work of the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC) between 2014 – 2017, to establish a Caribbean Consultative Working Group (CCWG).
The CCWG is a multi-sectoral thematic grouping of civil society representatives from six Caribbean countries.
The CCWG was conceived as a means for Caribbean civil society actors to learn from each other and share good practices on policy advocacy in the region. In addition to attending capacity building workshops facilitated by the Caribbean Policy Development Centre (CPDC) with support from the Commonwealth Foundation, the group pooled their collective experience to build a strategy to advocate on one policy issue ‘Sustainable Energy for All’ in the Caribbean.
As Elijah James, who represented the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN), explained: Despite the different organisations involved in the CCWG, Sustainable Energy was a theme that affected everybody in the CARICOM region, “because of how important energy is to the Caribbean region itself, and more importantly how high the cost of energy is here in the region, which is obviously affecting not only consumers but our economic activity as well. It affects everybody – businesses, consumers, everybody.”
As part of the project, CCWG conducted a number of national consultations in six CCWG member-countries: Antigua and Barbuda; Grenada; Guyana; Jamaica; Trinidad and Tobago; St. Vincent and the Grenadines in 2016 and 2017. The consultations engaged national policy makers and civil society on the enabling conditions to support implementation of sustainable energy initiatives; built awareness of sustainable energy policy and commitments; and, supported consolidating partnerships between civil society and energy officials.