United Nations Development Programme
Trinidad and Tobago
“You make a living by what you get, but you make a life by what you give”
The United Nations Volunteers Program (UNV) and National Development in Trinidad and Tobago
Even though the UNV Program is administered by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), UNV operations in the field are being logistically prepared, administratively overseen, partly financed and operationally supported by the organization’s headquarters located in Germany’s former capital Bonn. Upon request of partner agencies and organizations in host countries, UNV human resource specialists identify expert professionals on the organization’s database that will provide the specialized skill sets required to add value to capacity-building efforts in low and middle income countries around the world.
Unlike the work of consultants, diplomats and professional aid workers, the UN Volunteers’ engagement in the realm of international development is characterized by the sacrificial element of being compensated for their services with an only modest living allowance instead of enjoying the material benefits of a financially attractive staff salary. The acceptance of a significantly lower remuneration and the preparedness to serve often under less than ideal living conditions fully justifies the description of UN Volunteers as true ambassadors for the idea of international solidarity. The capacity-building value derived by host countries from UNV involvement is not only due to the latter’s remarkable skills and experience but results also from their extraordinary personal commitment to the cause of volunteerism which, driven by free will and a desire to exemplify good international citizenship makes these development professionals routinely ‘walk the extra mile’ to ensure the highest quality of their service delivery.
Being a long-standing partner of UNDP in pursuit of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the country’s own national development agenda Vision 2020, the Government of Trinidad & Tobago (GORTT) has utilized the UNV modality in numerous policy reform projects and public sector modernization initiatives dating back as far as 1988. But it was only in the aftermath of the International Year of Volunteers (IYV) in 2001 that this partnership took on the character of a more coordinated and strategic intervention in support of the process of national development. In 2003, UNDP T&T’s senior management in co-operation with the Ministry of Health (MoH) sought to address the ever more pressing shortage of medical professionals in the twin-island state by supplying health care facilities and health service delivery institutions with qualified specialists. The success of the MoH project had the UNV presence in the country grow to an almost 100-strong staff contingent making Trinidad and Tobago one of the worldwide largest UNV country operations. Other line ministries such as the Ministries of Local Government and Education followed with UNVs joining T&T’s public administration as educational specialists, IT experts, tax and accountancy professionals and health planners. In Tobago, the engagement of UNV engineers under the leadership of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) has led to major improvements in public infrastructure and coastal management. At present, still more than 20 UN Volunteers from 10 countries work on a diverse range of technical assignments across duty stations on both islands.
What does the future hold for the idea of UN-managed Volunteerism for Development in Trinidad and Tobago? Over the next few years, the obvious entry point for UNV assistance in the Land of Calypso (as much as in the wider Caribbean region) lies in providing high-quality advisory services and technical assistance in the areas of policy development, monitoring and evaluation (M&E), communication and research. UN Volunteerism could play a pivotal role in supporting the GORTT’s ‘big ticket’ policy initiatives and reform projects such as the devolution campaign in local government, regional development and issues of national security, crime and youth. Rather than responding to skills shortages through ‘gap filling’, the future focus for UNDP and UNV as partners of the government is likely to be on the challenge of structural transformation in the public sector and support for improving strategies for service delivery and implementation. The necessary sustainability of projects and programs involving UNVs will be ensured through a strengthened process of knowledge transfer, training and mentoring. By supporting the GORTT’s existing reform agenda, the UNV Program (within the operational framework provided by UNDP) can continue to offer its services as an experienced and honest broker in the global knowledge trade, familiar with global Best Practices, equipped with high-caliber professionals available at short notice and able to draw from an information network across geographical boundaries.
As state governments in both developed and developing countries seek to improve the delivery of public services through reducing red tape and bureaucratic procedures, by improving customer satisfaction and bringing public institutions closer to the citizenry, the UN system with its UNV modality can become even more important as a partner for modernizing the ‘public square’. In addition to maintaining its fruitful partnership with the GORTT, UNDP and UNV have begun to explore opportunities of teaming up with private sector organizations such as the Trinidad Chamber of Commerce and the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturer’s Associations (TTMA). The rationale behind the effort of bringing the business world more strongly into the fold is to mobilize small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as well as multinational companies operating in the energy industry to spearhead entrepreneurial projects with a broader societal appeal – Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) being a case in point – in order to see the corporate sector accept an important role in national development. In this context, the idea of corporate volunteerism appears to be a promising field for future conceptual investment and UNV involvement.
In times of ever rising materialism, the preparedness of national and international volunteers to help improve the socio-economic and living conditions as well as the security situation of societies around the world in the true spirit of global solidarity needs to be even stronger recognized by governments, business sector and Civil Society. In this context, the UNV Program continues to offer affordable, available and experienced human resources in support of national development agendas in Trinidad and Tobago and beyond.
Noah's Ark was built by volunteers; the Titanic was built by professionals.