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Reversing poverty - one community at a time

Published:Wednesday | March 10, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Dwight Bellanfante,
Gleaner Writer

The Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) is convinced that it is helping marginalised inner-city and rural communities to establish sustainable foundations for economic and social development through its focus on infrastructural and socio-economic projects in these communities.

At a Gleaner Editors' Forum on Monday, JSIF head, Scarlette Gillings, said the agency was fulfilling its poverty intervention agenda despite challenging conditions in Jamaica.

Projects, she said, focused on providing roads, water and light; the building of community centres; zinc fence removal; establishing waste collection systems; repairing water reservoirs and tanks. There was also a focus on helping residents to access financial services for micro-business projects and a programme of land tenure regularisation.

"We are achieving our mandate by focusing on working with these communities to get them to take ownership of these projects, with the realisation that they are the ultimate beneficiaries," Gillings noted.

She added that in the case of the US$32.8-million Inner-City Basic Services Project, which targets 12 hot spot communities in Kingston and St Andrew, St Catherine, Clarendon and St James, the agency was satisfied that its intervention was helping to improve the social and economic prospects of communities beset with the typical problems of high crime, unemployment and poor infrastructure.

"By providing these basic services, we are laying the basis for economic investment in these communities, through assisting capacity building and the promotion of economic investment in these communities, through assisting capacity building and the promotion of economic growth ... . We are taking small but important steps to promoting sustainable development," Gillings said.

She also explained that, by its focus on orientation and training of community members, and its linkages with other government agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), among other entities, JSIF was helping to empower individuals to be change agents within communities.

There were other benefits to the JSIF model as well, general manager responsible for technical services, Omar Sweeny, said, by encouraging communities to take ownership of the various projects and adopting a zero-tolerance approach to extortion, thus making inroads against the capture of these projects by dons.

"If there is any attempt at extortion, there will be a stalemate, as we don't tolerate it. None of our projects have been stalled because of extortion ... . We exercise the full gamut of community-based contracting, and where the requisite skills cannot be found within a given community to lead a project, we employ competent community liaison officers to do so," Sweeny said.

To date, JSIF has spent some US$29 million over four years of the six-year project.

Established in 1966 as a limited liability company under the Companies Act, JSIF is a component of the government's national poverty alleviation strategy and designed to channel resources to small-scale community-based projects in ways designed to ensure transparency, accountability and efficiency in project implementation. Initially established as a temporary organisation with a four-year project lifespan, JSIF has been operational over 10 years and currently has agreements in place to continue beyond 2013.