Foresee Foundation updates Parliament on NGOs’ needs | THE DAILY HERALD

Alston Lourens and Jose Verschueren-Sommers.

PHILIPSBURG–Representatives of the Foresee Foundation and NPower St. Maarten Alston Lourens and Jose Verschueren-Sommers were in attendance for the Central Committee meeting on Thursday to give Members of Parliament a presentation on their report of the COVID-19 NPO Stakeholders Survey.

The NPower project was initially started after the passing of Hurricane Irma. The two main goals of this project was to connect the non-government organisations (NGOs) by setting up a community network and to strengthen the capacity of the NGOs.

After receiving funding of US $40,000 from the Dutch disaster fund, the foundation used the funds to organise workshops, conferences and well as the NPower website.

Within the Npower network the various NGOs consists of schools, school boards, sports clubs, nature/culture organizations, day care centres, youth organisations, afternoon school programs and community councils via service clubs. All organisations have been given the opportunity to register themselves on the NPower website. This website has in turn created one platform for all NGOs to connect with one another.

Earlier this year, Npower created a survey and distributed this survey to NGOs in April. In the process of setting up the survey the foundation requested assistance from various stakeholders such as; St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry (COCI), the St. Maarten Development Fund amongst others. A total of 96 NGOs on St. Maarten completed that survey.

According to the results of the survey, of the 69 NGOs who responded it was noted that 80 per cent are organisations that have registered by the chamber of commerce, 81 per cent are small organisations and have little to no employees, 61 per cent had daily contact with their clients, during lockdown this decreased to 16 per cent.

During the pandemic only 5 per cent out of the 96 NGOs were busier during the lock down. These were mainly front liners involved in the care sector. 58 per cent were less active and 37 per cent could not execute any sort of activities at all during the lock down. 71 per cent of the NGOs projected a loss in income.

Also from the results of the survey, 32 per cent of the NGOs shared that they rely on donations, 38 per cent depend on membership and tuition fees and 48 per cent of them depend on fundraising.

Lourens added that when the stimulus plan was first brought forth by government, it was noted that many of these NGOs did not qualify for the support.

The foundation representatives noted that many of NGOs proper lack proper funding. With upwards of 48 per cent of the NGOs who depend on fundraising as a source of income the ongoing pandemic has made it quite difficult for NGOs to continue to do so.

Sommers brought to attention one of the harder hit NGOs, the day care centres. At the time of the survey in April, there were 27 day care centres. She said that day cares centre depends solely on the school fee payments from parents. Since the pandemic, with most parents experiencing a lost or reduction of income, not as many children are attending the day cares.

Both representatives of Foresee made it clear that the common issues among NGOs is the lack of funding. Further adding to this, they noted that the current tax compliance imposed by government puts an added strain on the NGOs. “We shoot ourselves in the foot as a country when the NGOs do so much to bring money from outside the country, from granters…that would love to give money to the things that are going on in St. Maarten, but in that money that they’re giving we have to pay taxes, or we are expected to pay turnover tax,” said Lourens.

NGOs are forced to give up five per cent of their grants received from abroad to government through taxes. This practice the representatives considers to be unethical as the funds received are to carry out projects meant help and assist persons in the community.

The foundation further recommended digital inclusion, especially for the school age children. They encouraged volunteering in NGOs, and the strong need for persons who are an expertise in their field to join NGOs.

The foundation said that more collaboration is needed between the NGOs, the public, private sector and the civil society. Lourens said that the government, parliament and the NGOs needs to meet more often in a formal setting.

Several MPs expressed their appreciation for the foundation sharing their results with them however, many had questions for the foundation.

MP Christophe Emmanuel of the National Alliance (NA) said in listening to the representatives of Foresee he was hearing a cry for help. He asked the foundation what was the biggest obstacle it was facing in trying to get what they needed working in a better manner to facilitate St. Maarten.

According to the foundation, it would be funding, taxes and the policies around receiving funding. “That would be the number one issue all NGOs on St. Maarten have communicated is that biggest obstacle in their operation,” said Lourens.

Sommers added that there is a lack of capacity in smaller foundations. “What we see is that we have a limited group on St. Maarten who is part often of several foundations. We need in general more board members who can spend more time and with their specific skills. We need to try to tap into a larger group on the island and that will definitely help to strengthen the capacity of the NGOs themselves,” she added.

MP Claudius Buncamper of the United St. Maarten Party (US Party) requested clarity on statement made by the foundation. “Is that the NGOs that are competing against each other or is it that government is competing against the NGOs,” he asked.

Lourens clarified the statement on competition noting that that have been many areas in the past where government and NGOs have been working on similar projects. He explained that had government worked together on the projects with the NGOs in the past, it could have broaden to reach and success of the projects.

MP Melissa Gumbs of the Party for Progress (PFP) said the lack of recognition for non-profits as what they are goes beyond St. Maarten’s legislation. “It’s a cultural issue, where these entities are embraced and supported by government, you’ll see that every other institution kind of falls in line.”

MP Angelique Romou of the NA said, “On your website you site four foundations locally that NGOs can seek funding from namely; Be theCchange Foundation, the Samenwerkende Fondsen Cariben, St. Maarten Development Fund and the Prince Bernhard Cultural Fund Caribbean,” said Romou.  “Are you also affiliated with any funding agencies abroad…do you provide the local NGOs with these contacts as well,” she asked the foundation.

Lourens shared that the foundation do encourage and help the NGOs to apply for funding. He said just recently, the foundation organised a grant writing workshop where the foundation walked the NGOs through, with the help of experts, on how to write grants.

Source: The Daily Herald