That Word: Sustainability

Everyone is worrying about money these days, it seems. Not only individuals, but organizations, too. In particular, our non-profit organizations are not only not making any profit; many of them are hardly making ends meet. Putting a brave face on it, they struggle along, trying to at least pay their administrative costs. Some just live from one grant/donation to another, “making do” with fund-raising and volunteer efforts in between. NGO workers are often so focused on the “here and now” and the delivery of their programs, at all costs, that they don’t have the time to think about their organization’s long-term future and goals – including its financial viability.

And let’s face it, things are not going to get any better, any time soon. So, that word “sustainability” is key.

Now, World Learning is a forward-thinking organization, which partners with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the President’s Emergency Fund for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Itself a non-profit, it works in more than sixty countries. In Jamaica and the Bahamas, World Learning supports NGOs with capacity-building and grant funding, to help scale up the level of response to HIV/AIDS, especially among marginalized populations. What is capacity-building? It is, basically, strengthening the organization, helping it to fulfill its mandate.

Bearing the current challenges in mind, World Learning launched products related to its Non-governmental Organization Group Marketing Initiative (NGMI) earlier this month. The aim of the project is to help NGOs that receive grants from them to find their feet economically – to become more independent financially. Grantees worked on the development of ideas, products and materials that would help them market themselves – and to think in a more businesslike way.

World Learning supports eleven NGOs in Jamaica. I was rather disappointed that only four grantees were able to come up with a marketable package and participate in the NGMI exercise. These four have now produced individual flyers and a combined  brochure highlighting the products and/or services that they offer (and very attractive it is, too). World Learning has also assisted them in setting up a database of approximately 2,000 corporate entities for use in electronic marketing. All four made interesting presentations that did not downplay the challenges faced – but did show a way forward.


Panos Caribbean’s Indi McLymont noted her organization’s focus on “communicating for development.” In Jamaica since 2005, and with its head office in Haiti, Panos has focused on marginalized groups vulnerable to HIV/AIDS in Jamaica. It recently launched a booklet of testimonies by men having sex with men (MSMs). Its other focus areas are children, youth and violence, public health, human rights, climate change, livelihood and gender, and media development. Due to the general economic downturn globally, its funding from the UK Government and Sweden was drastically cut in 2010. Panos needs secured funding for the next three to five years to survive. It has a lot to offer in terms of services, and has started charging reasonable fees for them – for example, journalism and youth journalism training in focus areas; embedded journalism; cultural communication using music and drama (like their Voices for Climate Change); and the dissemination of products in four Caribbean languages – English, French, Spanish and Kreyol. “We are not out of the woods yet,” said Indi. No room for complacency.

RISE Life Management was originally called Addiction Alert, but switched its focus in 2005 to providing support for at-risk youth in inner city Kingston. Described as “one of the country’s best-managed NGOs by far,” it now finds demand for its programs is even greater, while funds are getting shorter. It has curtailed its programs drastically – from eleven funded projects in 2011 to three this year. The 23-year-old NGO has always believed in succession planning, says its founder Sonita Morin Abrahams; it pays its workers a decent wage and staff turnover is low. To cut costs, Sonita plans to “green” the organization and has sought funding for this. RISE set up an endowment fund in 1994, where the principal cannot be touched; the monthly interest is used to cover administrative expenses. RISE believes in putting itself up for awards – such as the American Chamber of Commerce Award recently – to raise its profile and get itself taken seriously by government and by the private sector. Among the services it offers are summer and Christmas camps for youth, training model packages which are sold to other community organizations, renting space in its downtown building, and hiring out trainers who teach employability and life skills and health-related topics, among other things.


Life’s Work evolved from a project originally supported by U.S. Peace Corps volunteers, as a self-support project of Jamaica AIDS Support for Life, one of World Learning’s grantees. I have been buying their delicious scented candles for many years. Now, they are stylishly packaged, with nicely-designed labels. They have identified a niche market and they are building on it. They have a Business Development Officer, a Sales Representative and a Master Candle-Maker. The growth and success of Life’s Work over the past sixteen years has been a “powerful network of influencers” that has helped spread the word about their excellent quality products.


Life's Work's new fragrances.
= Life’s Work’s new fragrances.


The ASHE Company (ASHE) is a one-of-a-kind organization. And it really knows how to market itself. ASHE’s Conroy Wilson explained that its Health and Wellness Program and its Success Skills and Empowerment Training module has helped pay the bills. Situated in a clean, bright and welcoming compound in the heart of Kingston, ASHE also prepares students for CSEC exams in five subjects, including Theatre Arts. It conducts workshops for schools and communities aimed at behavior change, and sells the resulting products on DVDs on a range of key topics for youth: conflict resolution/violence prevention, children’s rights, the environment, reproductive and sexual health, drugs and the family, youth and governance, and HIV/AIDS. This incredibly talented team (if you haven’t seen them in performance, you have really missed something) also offer live entertainment, creative production services, event coordination, PA systems and audio support, and branding/marketing services. All of this “pays our bills,” says Conroy, adding: “Our projects are all aligned to our mission, and we always meet and exceed that mission. This attracts more partners to our program.”


Saffrey Brown of the JN Foundation made some interesting observations. NGOs need to evolve, and quickly, she noted, as it is a question of “sink or swim.” She and the Ministry of Health’s Sannia Sutherland stressed that there is no “enabling environment” for NGOs, with Ms. Sutherland conceding that there was too much emphasis on technical output in project proposals, and not enough on…yes, you’ve guessed it, sustainability. The Small Business Association of Jamaica’s Colette Campbell (the SBAJ is itself an NGO) is seeking to raise its profile and profitability by offering mentoring, technical services, small business development services – and by serving on committees.

So non-profits… You need to put  yourself out there! You have wonderful products, and amazing services. Value yourselves, and have others appreciate the value of what you offer. That way, you can make sure you will be around for many years, in the future.

Contact information for the NGOs mentioned in this article:

  • Panos Caribbean: Main Office: 71, Impasse St-Marc, Frères 23, Route de Frères, Pétion-Ville, Haiti   Tel: (509) 2942-0321   Email:    Jamaica Office: 22 Westminster Road, Kingston 10   Tel: (876) 920-0070/1  Email:   Website:  Blog:   Twitter: @PanosCaribbean   Also on Facebook
  • RISE Life Management Services: 57 East Street, Kingston  Tel: (876) 967-3777/8  Lifeline tel: 1888-991-4146  Email: Website:
  • Life’s Work: Tel: (876) 906-5645; 754-2340  Email:  Catalog:
  • The ASHE Company: 8 Cargill Avenue, Kingston 10  Tel: (876) 960-2985 Email: OR  Website: Twitter: @ashecompany

Many thanks to Project Director Ruth Jankee and World Learning for this much-needed initiative! You may contact World Learning – Jamaica and the Bahamas at (876) 978-9740. Website:





8 thoughts on “That Word: Sustainability

  1. Thanks for this important post, Emma. You’ve described us (BirdsCaribbean) exactly in your first paragraph! We have been so busy raising grant funds for our programs and capacity building of our partners that we have neglected our own sustainability. We will be working on this in the coming months – thanks for the tips and examples.


    1. You’re welcome, Lisa and thanks for your comments! I think it is true of non-profits the world over – you get so involved in your programs and I know BirdsCaribbean has been working hard at capacity-building of partners, too. Then, after all that we forget to think of our long-term future! I am glad you found the article helpful. Perhaps BirdsCaribbean might consider marketing one or two nice quality products, such as greetings cards, or CDs/DVDs of birds etc? I always try to buy items that are for a good cause…


      1. Thanks for the marketing suggestion Emma. We actually have a number of really nice items that we can sell to raise money and we plan on doing this . . . but this takes time and resources/ capacity to set up also! Alas, we will be working on it and believe that it will really help us, so stay tuned.


  2. Reblogged this on Spirit In Action and commented:
    I had not realized how many important organizations were working on a shoestring and struggling in the lowering economy. It is similar here even tho America is supposed to be wealthy it seems concentrated in the hands of corporations and the 1% while social orgs, food programs etc are faltering. If any if the so called prosperity programs or funds dispersals so widely touted on new age blogs ever manifest into real reality they already have plenty of “boits in the ground” projects ready for the funding!


    1. Thanks SO much for the reblog! I really appreciate it. Yes, these organizations are doing vital work. Since the social services in developing countries such as Jamaica are almost non-existent and government resources dwindling (many of us are under the IMF’s iron fist) NGOs pick up the slack in many areas. They often literally come to the rescue. And really they know how to make a dollar stretch – they don’t waste funds. They don’t waste half as much as the government does, ironically. And then when an NGO completes a successful program, a government minister pops up for a photo-op and takes the credit for the “partnership”… I do believe though that NGOs need to become much more aggressive – and smarter – in seeking support from the private sector AND public sector, while marketing themselves and their services. It’s not going to be easy.


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