Fifteen Strong, and a Woman’s Supportive Voice

November 25th, 2019

I shared in a happy event last week, at the headquarters of Digicel, downtown. Their lobby unfortunately has a huge echo effect, so the voices of employees chatting as they waited for the elevator did a ricochet around my head. It is however a bright and lofty space.

Regardless of the voices, we joined the Awards Ceremony for competitive grants to community-based organizations, in celebration of the Digicel Foundation’s fifteenth anniversary. Hence the phrase “Fifteen Strong.” The total amount awarded was J$30 million to fifteen organizations – one for each parish and one “brawta,” which went to St. Thomas.

There was the usual air of anticipation as the representatives of thirty organizations sat in their appointed rows, labeled by parish. Some had got up at 3:00 a.m. to be there on time. The CEO of the Foundation, Karlene Dawson and its Chair Jean Lowrie-Chin welcomed the group.

Two warm-hearted "Ladies in Red": (l) Digicel Foundation Chair Jean Lowrie-Chin and CEO Karlene Dawson. (My photo)

Two warm-hearted “Ladies in Red”: (l) Digicel Foundation Chair Jean Lowrie-Chin and CEO Karlene Dawson. (My photo)

Guest Speaker, Member of Parliament for East Rural St. Andrew Juliet Holness, literally ran to the event from Gordon House, where a Children’s Parliament was under way (the young ones were making impassioned presentations on the topic of violence). Everyone realized that she had to drag herself away, but very much appreciated her commitment to speak at the event. She then sat down to enjoy a tuneful Agent Sasco performance (sounding like one of the “old time” deejays), nodding her head and relaxing for a few minutes, before running out again.

I recall some years ago when MP Holness made one of her very first speeches to an international women’s group, on a verandah in the hills above Kingston. I wonder if she recalls that day. She confessed to being nervous about public speaking, but she had a supportive audience. Women should always build each other up in the way they did on that humid afternoon. I think Mrs. Holness appreciated the friendly, relaxed atmosphere and I hope that her audience (myself included) helped to give her a confidence boost to launch her into her now familiar world of public appearances.

Now, Juliet Holness is a direct, natural speaker who knows how to reach her audience. She mentioned Digicel Foundation’s support for community projects, including “women who are trying economic enablement, trying to help themselves.” She described the thirty organizations as representing “the indelible spirit of the Jamaican people…Each of you have had some type of individual problem facing your particular community.” Her recognition that every community is different is important. Grant-making to recipients in diverse areas, urban or rural, is not a “one size fits all” affair – or it shouldn’t be.

Community development is really a process of “collective action,” said Mrs. Holness, stressing the importance of partnerships among Jamaicans from different backgrounds, age groups. “Partnership” may seem an overworked word in speeches these days – but, in these complicated and often difficult times, what could be more important than working together to achieve a common goal? The young people can provide the energy, the elders their wisdom and experience.

(l-r) Programme Officer for Community Development at Digicel Foundation Miguel "Steppa" Williams at the microphone; Guest Speaker Juliet Holness, MP; Digicel Foundation CEO Karlene Dawson; Chair Jean Lowrie-Chin; Digicel CEO Allison Philbert; and Dr. K'adamawe K'nife, the quiet inspiration behind many successful social enterprise programs. (My photo)

(l-r) Programme Officer for Community Development at Digicel Foundation Miguel “Steppa” Williams at the microphone; Guest Speaker Juliet Holness, MP; Digicel Foundation CEO Karlene Dawson; Chair Jean Lowrie-Chin; Digicel CEO Allison Philbert; and Dr. K’adamawe K’nife, the quiet inspiration behind many successful social enterprise programs. (My photo)

Mrs. Holness, too, described the empowerment of communities through these partnerships. Community members start to feel that they can do things for themselves, she noted. If there’s an event, they can help organize. That confidence, again. Everyone pulls together and contributes a little here and there. She pointed to an example in her community – a juice-making enterprise called Irie Fusion – supported by Digicel Foundation. A group of women decided they did not want to “sit down and wait” on the MP or anyone else to take care of them. They are now looking for more markets, including local schools. “Very impressive!” declared Mrs. Holness. Plus, there is the job creation factor.

Social enterprise – making profits for social good – is “inspiring change and creating opportunities,” enthused MP Holness. She ended by asking those gathered from all corners of the island to go back home and inspire their neighbours to help build a better future, together. Leadership is critical – and so is community transformation.

“Keep pushing on! It is your resilience that will make the difference,” concluded Mrs. Holness.

Juliet Holness speaking at the Fifteen Strong event. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

Juliet Holness speaking at the Fifteen Strong event. (Photo: Loop Jamaica)

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The opinions on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner.
The Gleaner reserves the right not to publish comments that may be deemed libelous, derogatory or indecent.
To respond to The Gleaner please use the feedback form.

Leave a Reply