The Secretary General of the OAS, José Miguel Insulza, noted that the initiative comes even as “the cities of the Americas are experiencing dramatic and accelerating changes.” In particular, he noted, the region is “the most urbanized hemisphere with cities housing seventy percent of the population.” Faced with this challenge, said Secretary General Insulza, “our objective is to foster resilient, more sustainable cities – reducing, for example, consumption of water and energy – while simultaneously improving the quality of life and the participation of the community.”
The OAS leader cited as examples of best practices that have already been implemented the use of incentives to promote community and government involvement in joint planning of urban infrastructure projects in Bolivia, Honduras and Nicaragua; sustainable transport programs in Brazil, Mexico, the United States, Colombia and Guatemala; and efforts to reduce carbon footprints in Barbados, Belize and Trinidad and Tobago.
“The challenge for this century is to reduce the urban ecological footprint, while at the same time improving the quality of life for all inhabitants,” added Secretary General Insulza. “This project – promoting small grants that finance case studies that are replicable – forms the building blocks for substantive, sustainable urban development,” he concluded.
The Permanent Representative of the United States to the OAS, Carmen Lomellin, opened the ceremony, calling the project “a novel initiative that the U.S. Mission is proud to support in partnership with the OAS.” The U.S. diplomat explained that “each of the 14 NGOs selected will receive up to fifty thousand dollars to implement innovative, community level sustainable development projects.” “We are hopeful that these projects will serve as the foundation for greater cooperation among OAS countries as we work together to achieve economic growth and poverty reduction goals while at the same time protecting the valuable natural resources that ensure future growth and prosperity,” added Ambassador Lomellin.
She added that “these are the kinds of projects that will have an immediate impact on the communities that we are here to serve.” For that reason, she said, “we have to explore opportunities and have more dialogue on how we can create more of these partnerships and more of these types of programs that will provide the seed money to help grow economically in our communities.”
The U.S. Deputy Permanent Representative to the OAS, Lawrence Gumbiner, recalled his work as Coordinator for the U.S. State Department at the Rio +20 Conference on Sustainable Development, where he said an unmistakable conclusion emerged: the sheer scale of the challenges we face together as inhabitants of the same planet – climate change, rising energy demand, resource scarcity, among others – can only be addressed by collective action.”
The Executive Secretary of the OAS Secretariat for Integral Development, Sherry Tross noted that the Department of Sustainable Development “has extensive experience in the implementation of small grants,” having awarded more than 140 small grants since 2008 to “effect social change at the community level.” She noted that the Department received more than sixty proposals from fourteen Member States. A Technical Review Panel chose the grant award recipients, to support community development in the areas of clean energy and energy efficiency, resilience to natural hazards, sustainable transport solutions, and waste management, recycling (including electronic waste) and improved water resource management.
Speaking on behalf of the recipients, the Permanent Representative of Belize to the OAS, Nestor Mendez, congratulated the grant winners, noting that “much hope is riding on your projects.” He pointed out that the grant recipients all share two common characteristics: “they are creative, sometimes bold, new initiatives with the markings of social entrepreneurship” and “they are all anchored in the conviction of the need for sustainable long term economic viability.”
Present at the ceremony were the Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, Ambassador Albert Ramdin; the Chair of the Permanent Council and Permanent Representative of Mexico, Ambassador Joel Hernandez; the Director of the OAS Department of Sustainable Development, Cletus Springer; and numerous Representatives of Member States.
The “Sustainable Communities in Central America and the Caribbean Project,” is funded by the U.S. Permanent Mission to the OAS, and implemented by the Department of Sustainable Development of the organization. The list of the fourteen projects awarded grants is available here.
The audio of the event is available here.
For more information, please visit the OAS Website at www.oas.org.