Sunday, April 10, 2011

From the garden

The end of another week and time is going much too quickly. This week has been focused on the 5th Caribbean Conference on Dispute Resolution. In addition some time with UNICEF as they gather input to inform their next 5 year country plan and facilitating the ongoing work for the Building Organisational Capacity at DRF.

The 5th Caribbean Conference has continued as a source of increasing concern as the planning and promoting continues to have a level of disorganisation that is somewhat debilitating. Slowly but surely the number of registered participants is increasing and the media promotion is also planned for much activity in the upcoming week. For a stretched and struggling NGO to add to its responsibilities the planning, funding and hosting of a 3 day international conference was very ambitious. However, there is no question that it is this level of ambition and drive that has led to the success of DRF over the 16 years of its development. The passion and commitment for promoting and practising alternative dispute resolution in a country in which "resolution" of disputes has typically assumed one of two methods - escalation to violence within moments with dire consequences, or court action which takes years to achieve settlement - is truly commendable and the influence DRF has had is remarkable.

Over the last 16 years mediation and arbitration services have expanded enormously; legislation has been passed that requires all civil matters that go to the Supreme Court be diverted to mediation before being addressed in court; restorative processes and practices are being implemented in communities across the nation with the support of the Ministry of Justice; schools and communities have adopted conflict resolution education and mediation for youth; and much of this movement can be attributed to the tireless activity of the DRF and its founding Board and CEO as they have engaged partners, trained practitioners and never shied away from ambitious plans!

This year is the transition year for many international development funding agencies. The many and various branches of UN development activity, UNICEF, UN Women, UNDP and others, operate on five year funding cycles. The objectives and goals of the upcoming five years for each, country and region are developed in partnership with the governments and NGOs of the country being funded. It is an extensive planning process that is challenging when funding is diminishing and needs increasing. Narrowing the focus to one or two key areas of focus, and then developing objectives and measurable indicators takes time and a great deal of effective facilitating. It is not easy to determine what will be the key areas that may drive the most effective change processes but it is interesting and stimulating to be included in the discussions. This process will continue for another month or so and then the next round of refinement will start.

My other area of activity this week has been the DRF/CUSO-VSO five year partnership project in which all the volunteers at DRF are involved. It is time for me to pass over leadership of the process to another volunteer and in doing so help develop the next steps. The Advisory Group had a very productive discussion this week, and through reviewing activities to date recognised that there have been some significant accomplishments achieved which have laid a solid foundation for the next set of actions. There are some clear directions and areas for the next steps and some enthusiasm from both staff and volunteers to take on the changes. The process remains a source of interest for CUSO-VSO as it demonstrates a new approach to capacity building. Instead of sending an individual volunteer into an organisation focused on a single area this project has engaged a group of volunteers in one organisation and approached capacity building by developing an integrated plan working on multiple areas at one time. Over the five years the expertise of the volunteers will reflect the changing needs of the organisation. There are risks and challenges as positioning 5 or 6 volunteers within a workforce of 35 is a significant number, the transitional nature of the volunteers requires they move in and out with an intentional and effective turnover process, the volunteers involved all need to come with a level of understanding of organisational change and a willingness to work with a collective approach. The meeting this week suggested the future looks bright for the project and the commitment of the volunteer who will assume leadership is going to be very helpful.

The week has ended with me assuming house-sitting responsibilities again. I am sitting in the garden which is in full bloom. The noises, instead of cars, buses and motorcycles, are those of the birds, the tree frogs and the palm fronds clacking in the very gentle breeze. I am distracted by the humming birds and lizards whose fleeting movements keep catching my eye. The sky is a perfect azure blue without a cloud in sight and at 8 in the morning it is already hot and very bright. I wonder at the subtlety of the change of seasons here, the colour of the greens, the change of humidity in the air, the change of the breezes, the blossoms and fruits as they come and go. One of the biggest differences for me is the lack of urgency in the seasons. Where there are great changes there always feels to be some urgency to make the most of each (or for me some urgency about wishing away the season for which I have no appreciation - winter!) Where there is more constancy that urgency is not present. It is more than likely the sun will shine tomorrow, the air will be warm and whatever I have planned will be possible, not withstanding the occasional hurricane or tropical storm that may emerge between July and October! Among the many things I will miss, I will miss this tropical climate.

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