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Answering the call to innovate

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Addressing any social problem is a tremendous undertaking for one organisation, let alone an NGO where there are limited financial resources at one’s disposal. 


The start of an NGO’s operations may come long before the establishment of a name, Board of Directors, staff or the money to support the work. And for many, it takes a long time before that money and support finally come. “Where there is a will there is a way” comes after knocking on every door, whispering in the ear of anyone who would listen or writing countless letters, many of which go unanswered. Not everyone is up to that task.


As the pool of donors continues to contract and annual budgets constantly change NGOs are being challenged to innovate. Innovation in a sector which already employs creative methods to harness human resources and address chronic social problems now means inventiveness to find the money to support the necessary work. At the recently concluded T&T Professionals NGO Conference, the words “sustainability” and “value” were heard as often as the calls for greater transparency and accountability. Social transformation now goes hand in hand with “social entrepreneurship”. 


As the organisation highlighted this year for its best practices in non-profit management Alta has been able to harness volunteer potential, promote civic mindedness and engender greater social responsibility for its donor organisations by offering a structured, certified, volunteer programme. Each year Alta undertakes 1) recruitment and training of volunteer tutors; 2) setting up and managing classes at different locations; and 3) providing administrative support and teaching resources for volunteers. But the reality in dollars and cents is that it takes, on average, about $1,500,000 annually to recruit and train tutors, conduct classes and provide administrative support at 50 locations across Trinidad. 


At the beginning, support in kind, such as permission to use a church or school to conduct its community classes helped those invested in the vision to teach adults to read and write for free but as locations and student numbers grew so did the cost to manage a network of volunteers. No NGO is able to make the kind of long term, meaningful impact in a community as they would like on their own strength. Without a committed, long term partner there is a constant need to find creative ways to fund projects. While United Way helped popularise the concept, individuals and companies without a Corporate Social Responsibility programme have been able to invest in their communities through Alta’s Sponsor-a-Class and Sponsor-a-Student initiatives. Many continue to do so today.


While funding to research, write and print student workbooks continues to be a challenge, Alta has been taking steps to innovate. As a result, an online version of the Alta literacy programme for Level 1 students, ideal for people in rural areas and other hard to reach communities, is expected to be launched in 2015. 


This new incarnation of Alta will allow us to reach many more persons seeking instruction and override the fears and stigma for those with low literacy. 


While we express the hope for continued partnerships and support from those with the capacity to give, answering the call to innovate begins when one person chooses to act instead of doing nothing. This is how Alta was born.



Become a part of Alta. Volunteer, Donate, Sponsor a student. Alta volunteers are unpaid. Call 624-ALTA (2582) or e-mail [email protected] or find us on Facebook: Alta Trinidad.


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