The Barbados Government will not be able to afford all social services to its residents in the not-so-distant future.  Dwindling reserves, an aging population, and many sick people with diabetes and other serious ailments make this an almost certain reality.

I found this out recently, during my first project on the island – building a better Third Sector in Barbados.  The Third Sector is pretty much every organization but the government and for-profit sector.  There is a rich culture of giving on the island and many organizations are dedicated to the public good.  It is part of what makes Barbados a destination that people cannot get enough of.

The Third Sector in Barbados is also underfunded and disorganized – much like the island.

How I became involved in this project is also very Bajan.  Earlier this year I facilitated a Board retreat for an organization called ASPIRE.  Their program takes a handful of third sector organizations each year and gives them guidance and training to strengthen their business practices.  By lifting a few, it is hoped that this will set the standard for others.  One of the founders of this organization is Peter Boos, who happens to be the father of my surf instructor (Boosy).  He is also someone that Jamie and I met when we got lost on a hike on the East coast and ended up at EcoLodge where we gave up and had brunch instead.

Peter’s vision is for a collaborative to discuss how the Third Sector can thrive in Barbados and be a contributor to solving the socio-economic problems that the government will be unable to tackle.  He is amazing at convincing people that they want to be involved, and I am good at getting people talking.

If the Government will be unable to take care of their people in the future, how can the people stand up and fill that space?

In one of my meetings, a Bajan woman said that she was in the grocery store, and someone exclaimed, “I can’t believe they are selling limes!”  The other woman agreed, “I know…and mangoes and breadfruit.”  They told me how when they were younger, your neighbour had one of these trees and they shared it with the community.  Going to the grocery store to purchase them seemed preposterous.  They feel that Barbados has gotten so far from its giving roots.  My response:  this the first thing that struck me about Barbados, people’s kind and helpful manner.  If this is my impression of Barbados, what does that tell us about how far Canada has strayed from its community roots?

In another interview, it was explained to me that the reasons that the Third Sector does not thrive are more systemic.  The sector is about social justice and equity, yet social and economic injustice are still at the root of its struggles.  Not everyone has equal access to funding and there has not been a proper acknowledgement of the power imbalance between the funders and those funded. I was told that there is a lot of hurt.  This both makes me sad for Barbados and wanting desperately to be part of the solution.

Many years ago, I had been exploring my desire to make my world travels more meaningful.  I was visiting a boarding house in Chaing Mai, Thailand and then the small communities in the mountains that sent their children there in the city for a better education.  I realized that I had become too soft for third world development work.  I also finally understood that the most impactful change is done internally, within the community, not from the outside for the community.

It is my hope that I can play a part in building the Third Sector in Barbados.  I am painfully aware that I will not be seen as representative.  Yet, I am a good facilitator and can create the right environment; one where the conflict is reduced to the point where people feel heard, leaving just enough tension that they feel compelled to use their voice.  Good things come from collaboration, and this is where we will start!

Riding tiny waves on the South Coast

This is Nick's son James with a shark - on the East coast at night...where and when I do not surf!