Caribbean Civil Society: Development Role and Policy Implications

by Glenn A. Bowen

From the journal Nonprofit Policy Forum


Civil society organizations (CSOs) in Caribbean countries have performed social service delivery and program implementation roles for many years. Using survey, interview, and document review techniques, this cross-national study explored the potential role of nonprofit, nongovernmental, and community-based organizations in regional integration and development. The study has found that Caribbean CSOs perform functions primarily in four areas – social services, community building, local economic development, and sustainable development – while aspiring to carry out more substantial development functions. Their role in development could encompass development planning, public-policy formulation, economic development promotion, and program/project implementation and evaluation. In this article, issues affecting the effectiveness of CSOs are identified and a remedial approach is recommended. The policy implications of a development role for the region’s CSOs are discussed.

Keywords: CARICOM; community-based organizations; globalization; nongovernmental organizations; regional development

The recent resurgence of globalization poses a significant challenge to the small island economies of the Caribbean. For many years, Caribbean countries have grappled with serious social and economic difficulties attributed to resource shortages, reliance on external aid, and structural adjustment of their economies. Development issues faced by these countries are intertwined with the challenges of being developing states in an increasingly global economy, compounded by vulnerabilities and limitations related to their size and geographic location (Girvan 2010; Mohammed 2008). In particular, the region remains vulnerable to natural disasters and to economic shocks from external competitive forces.

In response to the imperatives of globalization, national governments have expressed a commitment to strengthening regional economic integration, primarily by establishing a single market and economy. Furthermore, as participants in the regional intergovernmental organization called CARICOM (Caribbean Community), the governments have collectively acknowledged that civil society can play an important role in the economic integration process by contributing to the formulation and implementation of policies and programs. However, it is not clear whether, or to what extent, civil society organizations (CSOs) are prepared to participate at the regional level. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to assess the current capacity of CSOs in the Caribbean with a view to determining the specific contributions that civil society may make to regional development and integration.

In this study, the Caribbean refers to the region encompassing 12 countries within the Caribbean Sea together with their three neighbors that share membership in CARICOM, an entity that functions through intergovernmental cooperation and agreement. Member states of CARICOM are Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, Saint Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago. All are island states, except Guyana and Suriname, which are situated on the mainland of South America, and Belize, on the Central American mainland.

The main components of CARICOM are the Conference of Heads of Government, the policy-setting/decision-making organ; the Community Council of Ministers; four councils with responsibility for specific policy areas; three committees; and the Secretariat (CARICOM Secretariat 2001). Much of CARICOM’s work is based on a system of consultations at the regional and national levels. This appears to be similar to the consultation processes in other regional entities such as the European Union (European Commission 2000).

The CARICOM single market and economy (CSME) involves complex economic, trade, environmental, social, and legal issues and processes aimed ultimately at providing for the free movement of goods, services, capital, and labor throughout the region. The CSME is expected to boost economic development and the competitiveness of the trade-dependent regional economy in the face of globalization (Girvan 2010). Deeper economic integration will help the region address some of the challenges of globalization by facilitating the movement of goods and services without tariffs and restrictions to the economic space in which the region’s producers and consumers operate. It will also support the harmonious implementation of monetary, fiscal, and economic policies across the region. Moreover, as Hosein and Thomas (2007) noted, integration can offer protection from global market forces that might erode country-level social security entitlements.

As CARICOM prepares to compete more vigorously in a global economy where the odds are heavily stacked against the region, a tripartite model for regional development that involves the state, market, and civil society, may be the answer. However, it is not known whether civil society is really equipped for an integral role at the regional level.

Read more at: