Interview – Susan Branker

‘I can’t imagine any other agency discussing sustainability three years before funding is due to be phased out.’

Launched in 2002 by the Bernard van Leer Foundation, the Caribbean Child Support Initiative (CCSI) was a multi-country programme to provide home visiting services to poor families with babies. How did this lead to the establishment of the Foundation for the Development of Caribbean Children (FDCC) in June 2011, the first indigenous private foundation dedicated to early childhood development in the Caribbean, Caroline Hartnell asked founder and director Susan Branker.

CCSI was scheduled to finish in 2011. In 2008-09, to help us think through how to sustain the existing programmes, we set up a private sector-led think-tank and a strategy group, both made up of early childhood development practitioners and researchers and corporate representatives, with some overlap in personnel between the two groups. The strategy group took us in a new direction: their view was that we should look at how we could sustain the initiative itself, not just its programmes. With the help of the think-tank we came up with the idea of a foundation and we launched officially in June 2011. There aren’t similar entities in the region, so we didn’t really have much of a precedent to follow.

How has the first year of independent existence gone?
A lot of our effort has gone into developing the notion of an indigenous private foundation, what we do and how we do it, and to ensuring that we have the legitimacy to be recognized as a regional entity. Social investment and philanthropy are still embryonic concepts in the Caribbean, so we need to engage stakeholders in the region about the importance of giving back, the importance of having a regional foundation like the FDCC that can coordinate and ensure good stewardship of resources.

What do you expect will be the main props of your sustainability?

We have developed a multi-pronged fundraising strategy. At a basic level, we are looking for a lot of small contributions from large numbers of people and we have used Blackbaud’s Raiser’s Edge ® platform to develop an online fundraising tool.

Another part of our strategy is to engage the regional corporate sector. The key to sustainability is building indigenous capacity, and for that we need to ensure that the ownership base for the foundation is here in the region. So we are engaged with a number of regional businesses about building long-term partnerships which will provide more predictable sources of funding. One initiative that is about to be launched with a Caribbean airline will collect donations on regional flights, similar to the ‘Change for Good’ and ‘Change for Children’ programmes on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

We have also been lobbying heads of governments to buy into the foundation. We recognize that takes a lot of time, but we have been able to use the CCSI’s ten years of experience and relationships to demonstrate our capacity.

Do you have commitments from any governments?

We are working with some governments in the region to institutionalize CCSI’s roving caregivers programme and FDCC itself will be providing some finance for that. That’s happening, for example, in Dominica and St Lucia. We have approached a number of governments, but haven’t yet received any formal commitments to FDCC itself. We recognize that in the current economic climate, we’re unlikely to get commitments until the next budget cycle in 2013. But we’ve also requested small subventions and we would expect those to increase annually, until we get to a point that governments are more comfortable with, and can stake a claim in, the foundation.

You mentioned the airline programme. Have you got other commitments from regional corporations?
Yes, we are very close to signing a memorandum with a regional hotel chain, Sandals Resorts, so we can use their chain to do some fundraising. We’ve already had one fundraising event with Sandals in St Lucia. We’d like to launch a Give-A-Dollar campaign, where guests staying at their hotel can add a little to their bill which would go to FDCC.

Also the duty-free market is very big in the Caribbean, and we are developing products for sale with Duty-Free Caribbean Holdings Ltd, a percentage of which would go to FDCC. They have already made a monetary contribution and they have branches through most of the English-speaking Caribbean which they will be using for some fundraising.

Rien van Gendt[1] talks about how ‘we [BvLF] always aim at making ourselves dispensable and plan for an exit’. How is this translated into practice, in your experience?

We have benefited tremendously from the inputs of one of their senior programme officers, Huub Schreurs. He provided some very sound technical input and he also sat on the strategy group. He has been part of the process from the start and would have helped sell the idea within BvLF for support in the transition phase. They saw how important the transition year was, and their flexibility in redirecting resources from grants to operating costs for the foundation has helped us tremendously.

Also Rien himself and Jacqueline [Tammenoms; another BvLF board member] came to the Caribbean and lent their weight to the process with key stakeholders like governments, the Caribbean Development Bank and UNICEF, which has been a great benefit. Beyond that, they have made a commitment to do some fundraising internationally for FDCC and to do joint presentations where they have experience and good connections.

Is this different from your experience of other funders?
BvLF was pretty much the sole funding agency for the whole initiative (CCSI), but I know that their approach is quite different from that of other funders in the region. I can’t imagine any other agency discussing sustainability three years before funding is due to be phased out.

If governments have mainstreamed CCSI programmes, what is the role for an independent foundation committed to early childhood development?

The sector is still considered peripheral in the region so I think one of our most important roles is advocacy. I also think there will be a major niche for FDCC in bringing public and private sector support together and coordinating resources. Beyond that, we need to extend the programmes that are being mainstreamed to other countries. Given that we started piloting only in four, then another five, there are still a number of countries that don’t have adequate access or quality provision for young children. In terms of institutionalization, there will be some hand-holding required in the early stages as pilot projects are integrated into existing systems and services and that will be a vital role for us. Finally, there are some major gaps in terms of information about what’s happening on the ground: we aim to identify and fill these knowledge gaps.

Talking in St Lucia on 21 February 2012.

For more information
Contact Susan Branker at

Comment: Huub Schreurs

The Foundation for the Development of Caribbean Children grew out of a fairly complex endeavour, the Caribbean Child Support Initiative. It is rooted in a programmatic concept leading to a multi-layered set of operational activities and based on a comprehensive evaluation of achievements affecting an entire region. FDCC is keen to sustain those and further build on them.

So what was the most important factor in FDCC becoming an independent entity? There wouldn’t seem to be one single most important factor. Essentially, FDCC can be perceived as the end result of a long visionary programme development process dominated by three interrelating variables: time to bring innovative service delivery models to maturity, engage in policy formation and implement effective communication strategies; initial capital investment from an external risk-taking donor;  and private initiative representing regional corporate interests prepared to help institutionalize and continue to capitalize on programmatic achievements region-wide.

The new entity can be seen as the achievement of an independent group of programme developers including foundation representatives, programme staff and influential people from the region with no vested institutional interests (community leaders, academics, corporate sector and others). FDCC is a new independent player with the credibility and capacity to become an important factor in orchestrating new public-private funding initiatives to the benefit of the care and education of the young Caribbean child.

Huub Schreurs is a former senior programme specialist at the Bernard van Leer Foundation.

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