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SEA Going Green

– Community Empowerment on Bonaire –  

In today’s blog, we have tourism consultancy firm SEA Going Green sharing about one of their projects on Bonaire in which community empowerment played a big role. Indy & Melissa wrote about how they involved the community and why it is so important that communities have ownership over their own future. 

A community can not fully shape its own future without feeling ownership and control over its destiny. Over the last decade, top down approaches, which include decisions being made at the top of the hierarchy, have proven in many international development initiatives to provide little to no opportunity for communities to actively become involved in the development and implementation of projects, resulting in the marginalization and disengagement of those communities. Grassroots engagement, on the contrary, whether it be in the form of grassroots movements, campaigns, business endeavors, have the potential, as a bottom up approach, which typically includes decisions being made at the bottom of the hierarchy, to empower communities and strengthen relationships while working towards a unified goal. 

From a sustainability perspective, the health of the natural environment, socio-economic landscape and viability of infrastructure are crucial to a community’s resilience and a tourism destination’s competitiveness. This could not be more true in the context of Bonaire, a small island developing state and popular tourism destination located in the Dutch Caribbean. 

In this blog, we will share an inspiring case study of how a group of community leaders on the island of Bonaire created an initiative, Trasame’, with a mission to: “increase civic engagement and empower youths to tackle the biggest sustainability issues facing Bonaire under the umbrella of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030”. Read along as we will dive into the journey of the Trasame’ grassroots movement on Bonaire and share some valuable lessons on the power of grassroots activation in a small island community. 

*To give context to this blog, it is important to mention that beyond our work at Sea Going Green with tourism operators and coastal businesses to measure, mitigate and offset clients’ environmental impacts, think CO2 and waste flows, our approach to sustainability is holistic. We, at Sea Going Green, are believers in supporting community development projects and empowering locals to build and run initiatives by and for their own communities.

Challenges on Bonaire

Small island developing states (SIDS) such as Bonaire, are characterized by their relatively small size, remoteness, non-diversified economy, rich biodiversity, cultural resources, strong tourism assets and a high pressure on resources. (UNWTO) Especially on SIDS, all sectors and community members are in a way interdependent, and inescapably responsible for protecting local resources.

The main environmental, socio-economic and growth challenges facing SIDS are:

  • plastic pollution
  • water and food insecurity
  • lack of employment opportunities
  • reliance on imports
  • the brain drain (mass emigration) 
  • strong storms, rising tides and threatened biodiversity (climate change)
  • education and skill gaps 
  • unsustainable tourism or mass tourism 

On Bonaire, these same challenges are considered the biggest barriers to growth and sustainable development. Targeting these barriers requires normative changes in society, ones which can be accelerated by community-led approaches and initiatives that speak directly to the community’s goals. The grassroots workshop series, which we provided in collaboration with WWF-NL and Bonairu Duradero, aimed to help facilitate this by providing incremental, manageable and actionable steps to community leaders laying the groundwork to create sustainability champions.

Starting a grassroots movement: Trasame’

Seven Bonairians including a local professional mentor identified youth education, brain drain, resource insecurity and climate change impacts as the key issues needed to be addressed for the sustainability issues on the island to be resolved. Frustrated by the lack of ownership, knowledge gaps and inequalities within the society, the group of influencers, researchers, activists and community leaders sought out building an initiative to take matters into their own hands. Participants dreamed of a Bonaire where their quality of life was improved, biodiversity was protected, sustainable tourism thrived, sustainable food sourcing was a reality and employment was plentiful. Holding onto this vision, the group found a collective spark to focus on creating future (sustainable) changes in society through youth education campaigns. Youth, because the future of the island will be determined by their actions and how they will manage future challenges. Here, Trasame was born, derived from the Papiamentu word for work (traha) and the Dutch word for together (samen).

The Trasame’ movement is based on three pillars, otherwise known among the group as the “Bonairified SDGs” based on the UN Sustainable Development Goals adapted to the context of the island. The movement’s holistic and unified approach to solving some of Bonaire’s most pressing challenges is clearly reflected by SDG 17, Partnerships For The Goals, which aims to stimulate cross sector collaboration and boost interconnectedness.

With the core principles of Trasame established, the group was given concrete examples and engaged in discussions on the power of grassroots activation in the 10 part series, where they learned about past mobilization efforts and how and why some movements succeed or fail. Like the mentorship and business-oriented sessions coined by many startup accelerator programs, we provided the group with the self-exploratory tools to find access to funding, develop ties with business mentors, identify community resources and build relationships with donors to get their initiative registered and launched, a common obstacle for community-led programs. With this barrier removed, funding provided and stakeholders active in campaigns, the path for Trasame’s development is clear.

Their projects to date

  • Sushi Dushi Campaign: Series of videos about single-use plastics. #SUSHIORDUSHI2020 on social media. Challenging young people to a 10-minute clean up, posting a before and after pic on Instagram highlighting how litter affects Bonarians and the island itself.
  • Goat Video: Highlighting the issues of free-roaming goats on the island including their impact on agriculture, the economy, environment and human consumption, but especially dive tourism, which is a large contributor of GDP on Bonaire.
  • Learning by Doing Educational Program: educational program aimed at the students of PRO. The lesson plan will revolve around 5 topics with the activities of: a cleanup competition, a runoff science experience on the impact of overgrazing, plastic recycling, planting trees and creating a habitat for the Lora (local tropical bird), fruit and vegetable planting for self-sufficiency.

These engaging projects and our involvement in the Trasame’ project re-affirmed just how much potential lies within vibrant island communities. Grassroots activation, be it supported by groups of hundreds or a collective even as small as 7 community members, has the potential to start a movement to transform the society so that locals can be back in the captain’s seat and in control of their own development. 

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“It was great to work at the grassroots level, especially in a destination that is impacted by top down policies, this way we can make sure that sustainable development and change is also happening from the bottom up”-Ally Dragozet (Founder and CEO, Sea Going Green and workshop leaders)

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How can you support your community, share skills or stimulate grassroots activation? 

Bonaire is not the only small island developing state facing the challenges that we discussed in this blog. Providing skill-sharing workshops, mentorship opportunities, access to funding, stakeholder mapping exercises and other growth opportunities for communities from Jamaica to the Maldives to Fiji and beyond can open the door for community groups and small sustainability-minded startups who otherwise might struggle to get off the ground. 

For those with development, tourism or expertise in community building, a business involved in CSR, or an individual that would like to begin an original project, the replicability of this project can generate the beginnings of community engagement with a small amount of starting resources, but the impact has the potential to be huge. Pay it forward and you’ll see an impact.

If you’d like to know more about these types of projects, support Trasame, collaborate with us or start an initiative of your own, then get in touch! We hope that we’ve inspired you to think about what you can do in your own community and for those that are hungry to learn how to create formative change. Find out what resources are available to you to get you started and if you need inspiration, contact us here or via ally@seagoinggreen.org.

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