Of the United Nations 17 social, environmental and economic Sustainable Development Goals to 2030, income inequality has been identified as one of the most critical to the Barbadian context.
Despite a relatively low poverty rate of 15% (UNDP, 2016) Barbados has one of the highest rates of income inequality in the Caribbean. We are faced with a rapidly shrinking middle class coupled with fewer opportunities for social mobility and disproportionate growth among the top income earners.
According to Development Economist, Collin Constantine, the average income of Barbados’ top ten per cent of income earners is about 3.7 times larger than the average income of the entire population (2017)— to provide some global perspective, Barbados has a higher degree of inequality (Gini Coefficient of 0.47) than countries such as Rwanda, Honduras, South Sudan and Nicaragua (UNDP, 2016).
If we are to revisit the context of the United Nations Sustainable Development goals, the growing field of community philanthropy has much to contribute towards a paradigm shift in the conventions and distortions of mainstream perspectives of income inequality and economic development.
Community philanthropy combines local asset development and capacity building, experience engaging individuals at the grassroots and a willingness to take risks and leverage local resources while enhancing trust among stakeholders. These are all critical components of sustainable development.
According to non-profit think-tank, The Aspen Institute, community philanthropy must be a critical player in the diminishment of income inequality.
Local charities, foundations and organizations have already made some headway towards this objective. According to a study conducted in October 2014 by Amanda D. Haynes, there are more than 1,000 registered charities in Barbados. Of these, a few have organized some noteworthy initiatives that have made profound positive impacts in the areas of community development and sustainable growth.
One of the most notable examples in recent years was in the case of the Weekend Water Warriors, a registered charity spearheaded by David Davis, CEO of Renaissance Designs, in response to the water shortage experienced in several rural districts during 2015 and 2016. Davis used social media to mobilize a following and solicited weekly donations of water from corporate Barbados as well as engagement from schools, families and community groups. This was a highly successful and empowering initiative in which local citizens collaborated with the private sector and took some degree of ownership of the country’s issues.
A local charity that is using its platform to generate positive and sustainable growth is The Substance Abuse Foundation Inc., which provides residential addiction treatment services at Verdun and Marina House in St. John. Clients are trained to live sustainable lives upon re-entry to society via the development and management of micro-businesses such as animal and vegetable farming and a bakery that uses locally sourced produce.
In 2017, Tammie and Guy Beasley of the Tides Restaurant hosted a fund raising dinner and auction event to raise funds for Verdun and Marina house in order to facilitate the expansion of the facilities’ micro-businesses. This was a successful collaboration between the private and philanthropic sectors and a true illustration of how community philanthropy should look.
Both the private and the public sector need to work closely with the philanthropic or third sector in order to successfully achieve national development goals. As Helen Clark of the UNDP has put it, “Governments alone cannot address the critical challenges of sustainable development, nor can we expect philanthropy to achieve its maximum potential operating in isolation.”
On a national level, the private sector has not been as aggressive as it could be in making direct contributions towards the reduction of income inequality. A 2015 private sector survey revealed that almost 70% of local companies surveyed had no formal Corporate Social Responsibility programme. This is in spite of local evidence that consumers exhibit a preference for businesses that “give back”.
Barbadian citizens, local institutions and the private and public sector must pool together to contribute money, goods, time and skills towards the betterment of the communities in which they live and work.
Participatory philanthropy that engages the entire community is the most effective channel for authentic and sustainable development.