Unless community organizations are willing to change the way they do business, they will lose their relevance and the ability to attract young members, says former Barbados consul general Kay McConney.
McConney was the keynote speaker at the National Council of Barbadian Associations in Canada’s (NCBAC) 29th annual convention in Toronto last weekend. This year’s theme was “Volunteerism: The foundation of a Strong Community”.
Comparing volunteerism to gardening, the former diplomat said giving back to the community is about commitment and constant renewal.
“The perennials may be the foundation of the garden, but they alone do not make it what it is,” said McConney, who is the founding chief executive of a Canadian-based executive training, coaching and consulting firm. “There must be a weed out of what we do not want, a refreshing of what we need to keep and a planting of new seeds. The weeds to be rooted out in our community are the mainly organizational habits, the slavish adherence to things that have worked in the past but are no longer working, yet we keep doing them because that’s what we know and what we are familiar and comfortable with.”
A former deputy permanent representative to the United Nations and World Trade Organization senior negotiator, McConney emphasised that doing the same things harder will not achieve a different result.
“The weeds to be rooted out may be mindset,” she said. “It could be an organizational mindset with a mindset of individual members that limit the organization and this is not done intentionally. The weeds might be a controlling mindset of leaders or one that keeps the organization wedded to a mission whose time has passed and that then keeps the organization pursuing a future that’s already behind it. The weeds may be self-serving people with no malicious intentions but just a fear of becoming invisible and forgotten in a community for which it has done so much.”
McConney said organizations can gauge what’s working for them and where they are heading by looking at a few indicators.
“If when we take that snapshot, membership is dwindling, funds and support are not flowing and the gardeners who have tended our community are tired and weary, that’s the time for a new spring and a renewal,” she said. “When we think of renewal, let’s not get stuck lamenting what’s ending. Let’s think instead of what opportunities are open and under-explored that are there for us. Let’s focus on the benefits we provide and to whom other than our community we might extend those benefits to broaden our reach to communities outside ours, to broaden our membership and to extend our mission for good.”
With young people embracing new information technologies, McConney said their community engagement will differ from their predecessors.
“Young people will get involved in community, but for different reasons than their parents,” she said. “They will engage on a different level, not necessarily through our traditional organizations. They will leverage technology to communicate and they prefer social media than traditional meetings. They will define their mission as community builders on their terms and not on ours.”
McConney, who also served as dean of the CARICOM consular corps in Toronto during her seven years as her country’s top diplomat in Toronto, acknowledged the many long-serving NCBAC members who have kept the national organization alive for nearly three decades.
“You don’t do it because you get paid or because you have a lot more time in the world than anyone else,” she said. “You do it because you have a heart and I have benefitted from your heart’s work as a representative of Barbados during my tour of duty and now as a citizen of Canada.”
Barbados’ High Commissioner to Canada, Evelyn Greaves, also paid tribute to the organization’s volunteers across the country.
“Volunteerism empowers us and gives hope to those in need thereby strengthening the community,” he said. “Indeed, volunteerism is the act of standing in the gap for our community and we all can play our part in philanthropic efforts that enhance the lives of Barbadians.”
Greaves singled out Montreal resident, Gus Hollingsworth, who has used his financial resources to purchase beds and ship them to geriatric institutions in Barbados.
“He saw a need and stepped in to help by volunteering his time and resources to provide assistance,” said Greaves. “His efforts should be fully lauded.”
The NCBAC executive comprises Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer Malcolm Flatts (president), Greg Gaskin (vice-president), Sandra Asgill (secretary), Nigel Clarke (treasurer), Antonia Sealy (women’s representative) and Tyler Layne-Linton (youth representative).
The regional representatives are Eleanor Ashby (west), Sylvan Williams (east) and Charles Cooke (central).