The evolution of civil society

The evolution of civil society


Wednesday, March 27, 2019

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THE civil society ecosystem in Jamaica is an evolving one. The actors in the field are numerous and diverse. The work of these individuals and organisations fit within the third sector which seeks to address social issues through institutional structures.

The most vocal and visible actors are civil society organisations which see their mandate as holding the Government to account for and raise awareness on issues of national importance. A coalition and movement, so to speak, of these organisations evolved after the 2010 security forces' operations into Tivoli Gardens. The movement created a unique moment in Jamaica that has resulted in a number of positive outcomes in terms of improved governance structures and a greater inclusion of civil society in government policy and the decision-making process.

The awakening of civil society in this way represented a new chapter in the national discourse and opened a network of support in terms of funding and advocacy. While several civil society organisations have maintained visibility, the coalition approach has lost some of its prominence on the national stage. Despite this observation, the impact of the initiatives which evolved out of the coalition should not go unnoticed.

In respect of the social changes being engineered across the country it is civil society organisations that have been leading this change. While the results of these efforts have not come to full fruition, the seeds for sustained social impact are being planted as civil society organisations work on the ground in their particular areas of interest and expertise.

Civil society organisations are playing a vital role in the achievement of Jamaica's long-term national development plan as it pertains to the national goal which seeks to ensure that all Jamaicans are empowered to achieve their fullest potential.

Through innovative projects and community-based actions, civil society organisations have evolved. The ability of these organisations to do impactful work which touches lives and creates change in the society has been through the consistent support of international development partners such as the European Union and the United Nations Development Programme. The increased awareness regarding funding opportunities and support systems for civil society organisations was a direct result of the coalition which provided a springboard for many developments we now see occurring in the third sector.

One of the major challenges that civil society continues to face, however, is that the organisations are numerous and fragmented. This has, in some respects, limited the effectiveness and efficiency of the work they do as many actors compete for a limited pool of donor funding. Another challenge is the operational financing of these organisation. Given that donor funding is almost always programmatic funding, which is targeted for specific expenditure, civil society organisations often find themselves underfunded and under-resourced in respect of their day-to-day operations. These challenges provide an opportunity for partnerships and alliances to be forged so that the energy and vitalism of the post-Tivoli movement can be revived and sustained.

The most fruitful outcome of that movement has been the practical hands-on community work in which many civil society organisations now engage. These efforts involve and reach people in personal and impactful ways. Whether it be through educational programmes, environmental and health initiatives, advocacy and community engagement, these on-the-ground projects are building up a slow but steady wave of change across the country.

This should give us hope to continue the struggle to strengthen the social fabric of the society. In the same way we are beginning to witness a positive change in the economic affairs of the country, we are also seeing an improvement in its social affairs as civil society organisations continue to do the silent work of building communities and touching lives.

Carla Gullotta is executive director of Stand Up for Jamaica. Send comments to the Observer or

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