Advantages of the Social Network of Latin America and the Caribbean

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					The Social Network of Latin America and the Caribbean: Actual and Potential Benefits for the Caribbean Region
Presented by Scarlette Gillings Managing Director, Jamaica Social Investment Fund The 1st Meeting of the Inter-American Commission for Social Development Santiago, Chile, April 4-6, 2004

Introduction The Jamaica Social Investment Fund has been a member of the Social Network of Latin America and the Caribbean since 1996. We consider this association be a very valuable one, and therefore are actively involved, especially with regard to coordinating the participation of the Caribbean block. The regional organizations involved in poverty reduction in the Caribbean include Social Investment Funds and Poverty Funds, and government ministries with portfolios such as Social Development or Finance and Planning. In order to optimize the efficiency of these national institutions, it is essential that they learn from those operating under similar conditions for the attainment of similar objectives. Since its inception, the Social Network of Latin America and the Caribbean has provided such agencies, and our Latin American counterparts, with opportunities for knowledge exchange. The general objective of the Social Network of Latin America and the Caribbean is to promote and develop cooperation among Social Investment Funds and other poverty alleviation institutions in the region, in order to facilitate the implementation of programs and projects which improve the efficiency and equity of social interventions. Some of the specific objectives are:        To exchange specialized knowledge and skills through training activities, seminars, consultancies, workshops, visits to projects and publications. To obtain technical assistance (national, bilateral, multilateral) for the development of training activities among member countries. To organize an information system to process offers and requests by member countries for collaboration and assistance, in order to facilitate the meeting of expressed needs. To create a human resource database of poverty alleviation experts and professionals in the Region. To channel the specific requests from member institutions to financial agencies that are able to support horizontal cooperation. To develop an information system, which disseminates documentation of innovative poverty alleviation programs developed in LAC countries, and facilitates communication among members. To create and utilize training opportunities in the area of social development and poverty.1

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Source: www.redsocial.org

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What has been Achieved There can be no doubt that the Social Network has succeeded in promoting and developing cooperation among the poverty alleviation institutions in the region. There are over thirty countries represented, of which more than one-third are Caribbean countries. The Network holds one annual conference and at least one workshop per year. The Network has been especially successful at exchanging specialized knowledge through seminars, workshops, and study visits, and at creating and utilizing training opportunities in the area of social development and poverty alleviation. This has had the effect of strengthening human capital in the member institutions. By the experience of the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, and through observation, it is possible to assert that member institutions have derived the following specific benefits through the Social Network:  We have been made aware of seminars and other training opportunities concerning themes in poverty eradication, offered by organizations such as the CEPAL and the IDB, which we would otherwise not have learnt of. As a result, members of staff from our organizations, and professionals from relevant local government agencies, have had the opportunity to participate in seminars and workshops held regionally on themes such as Participatory Methodology and Social Programmes and Social Capital. The Social Network has facilitated a successful “Intra-regional Internships Programme”, wherein member organizations have hosted study visits from, and sent study visits to, their regional counterparts for the purposes of knowledge exchange. Though this Programme was most active among the Spanish-speaking member countries, there has been strong participation from the Caribbean countries. For example, the Jamaica Social Investment Fund has hosted professionals from the Poverty Reduction Fund of St. Lucia and the Fund for Social and Economic Assistance of Haiti, who were interested in learning methods of improving Community Participation in the Project Cycle. Officials from the Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation of Suriname, and the Ministry of Human Resources, Women’s Affairs, and Youth Development of Belize also visited to learn from our best practices in database management and development. The Internship Programme has helped to increase the knowledge stock of JSIF and other Jamaican government agencies, as a result of the study visits made by members of staff to learn about, for example, Trinidad and Tobago’s private sector “Adopt a Community “ programme, Belize’s “Community and Parenting Empowerment Project”, the decentralization of Parish Councils in Mexico, and Argentina’s Social Security Programme. The lessons they learnt have been documented and shared with professionals within our organization and in our local partner organizations. We are currently planning to send representatives on study visits to Honduras and El Salvador to learn from their experience with road and water projects, which are areas in which we lack technical expertise.  Member countries have had the opportunity to host the regional conferences and seminars of the Social Network, and therefore have been able to expose a wider crosssection of their local poverty alleviation professionals to regional best practices, and new

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ideas from researchers and professionals from international agencies, and regional academic and research institutions.  Through our various interactions, member organizations have been exposed to innovative programmes and policies from all over the region, which have applications to our work. Examples of programmes that stirred interest among the delegates during the seminar hosted by the Jamaica in February 2003, were the Bridge Programme of FOSIS, Chile, Brazil’s Zero Hunger Programme, Community-based Contracting in the St. Lucia Poverty Reduction Fund, and the United through Solidarity Programme of FISDL (Fund for Social Investment on Local Development) in El Salvador.

Why Does the Social Network Work?  Even though the Latin American and Caribbean countries differ in their levels of development and the incidence of poverty, there are enough similarities to make the adoption of common goals and strategies possible. Differences in population sizes and organizational sizes and types have proved surmountable in the face of common objectives. Social Investment Funds, Ministries, and Welfare / Emergency programmes from all the sub-regions are able to learn from each other. The exchange of experiences and the maintenance of permanent contact among the Social Funds and other poverty alleviation programmes in the Region, makes possible the avoidance of pitfalls experienced by regional counterparts, and the adoption of best practices so that feasible, successful programmes can be developed more speedily. The strategy of horizontal or “South-South" cooperation utilized by the Social Network: o Gives the countries that are most affected by poverty the opportunity of setting the agenda of priorities to be addressed. o Recognizes the fund of expertise that exists in “developing countries” and utilizes it. o Is a relatively low cost method for the member countries to improve poverty alleviation strategies o Multiples the effect of the resources that various regional and international agencies invest in the Region. o Gives organizations the opportunity to learn from counterparts that have similar priorities, face similar challenges, and have surmounted these challenges. o Eliminates the paternalistic element that might be present in “North-South” / vertical partnerships o Provides a common regional front in the international arena, to support the initiatives and priorities of Latin American and Caribbean countries concerning poverty alleviation, and to negotiate with, and lobby, international organizations so that they might support these initiatives and priorities.

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What is Yet to be Achieved Some of the more ambitious plans of the Social Network, such as plans to organize an information system to process offers and requests concerning technical assistance, have not been fully realized. There is also the need for more evaluation of the impact of the Network’s activities. And perhaps most importantly, the documentation and publication of best practices, lessons learnt and innovations, and the staging of internships, study visits and workshops are neither as frequent nor as consistent as would be desirable. The members have repeatedly emphasized the need for more frequent internships, workshops and study visits to address specific themes that will enhance their capacity to implement successful programmes, and provide training for more technical professionals from all levels of their organizations. A survey conducted by the JSIF in 2003 among the Caribbean members of the Network showed that the highest demand for capacity-building and technical assistance were in the following areas:           Monitoring and Evaluation Programmes targeting vulnerable groups Programmes for children/youth Organization and management of SIFs/Poverty Programmes through information systems (MIS) Organizational Strengthening Projects Micro-Credit Projects Economic Infrastructure/ Production Facilities Programmes for the elderly, urban poor, and communities in extreme poverty Community Contribution and Resource Mobilization Strategies for Strengthening Community Participation

The Way Forward There are two major obstacles that will potentially prevent the Network from fully realizing our objectives. These are: 1. Lack of Finances 2. The Language Barrier between English and Spanish-speaking countries Funding. Despite the innovative decision taken at the 1999 Annual Conference held in Mexico, that members would make a set annual contribution in cash or kind, and despite the fact that most members have complied, the Network continues to be plagued by a shortfall in funding. This problem needs to be addressed in order to realize important goals, such as the increased staging of workshops and internships, since greater funding is necessary to cover costly air travel, accommodation, and other expenses. Language. The Social Network has managed to surmount differences such as country population sizes, culture, and agency type, however, the language barrier remains a significant one. This barrier has had a detrimental effect on the effectiveness of the Network, since as a result:  Best practices are not disseminated as widely as would be desirable, if the relevant documents are not translated,  Information concerning upcoming training opportunities and events are not accessible to all interested persons, and

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English speakers are not able to benefit from training activities geared primarily towards Spanish-speakers, and vice versa.

There is an obvious connection between the lack of funds and the existing problems with language. If available, greater funding could be utilized for interpretation during our various gatherings, translation of documents, and language lessons.

To conclude, the Social Network of Latin America and the Caribbean has provided its member organizations with various opportunities and experiences that have proved beneficial. In order to maximize its impact, there is a need for greater financial and organizational support from regional and international bodies concerned with social development and poverty eradication.

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