Absentee politicians showing up at your doorsteps during election season is not a new phenomenon. In fact this happens quite frequently across the world. An election is one of the most important events in democratic countries and politicians are eager to get your vote.

An elected official gains two things with your vote: authority and access. Both are to be used on your behalf. But does it sometimes seem as if you are being done a favor when candidates offer themselves to represent your community?

How can you change this and actively engage politicians in your community development projects?

1) Have a Clear Plan

There is no one way of getting elected representatives engaged, and electing a candidate does not guarantee vigorous representation on behalf of your community. Your role in holding the representative accountable is crucial. A responsible elected representative is always willing to help you to refine and achieve your goals.

The key to getting anything done is being proactive and forming your own plan of action before approaching your elected representative about your community needs.

Three simple steps towards devising a simple and efficient plan are:

(i) be a part of, or form a group (ii) identify, discuss and research solutions to the problem(s) with community members and your elected representative (iii) create a plan (see example of a proposal)

Once that’s done then putting your plan into action is  the next step.

2) Put Your Plan Into Action

Let’s say for example, that unemployment is your community’s biggest problem and you have ideas and viable plans on how to tackle this problem. Your elected representative can help you to access several resources that are available through governmental and other agencies. These entities may be helpful in exploring several options, including:

(a) training

(b) overseas employment

(c) starting your own business.

Farmer in St. Catherine Jamaica

Jamaicans are creative and industrious and the Human Employment and Resource Training (HEART) center  provides skills training at reduced costs. Overseas job possibilities, such as the Hotel and Farm programs in Canada and the United States, are channeled through the Ministry of Labor, while  the Jamaica Business Development Corporation and the Business Development Agency can review and advise you regarding your business ideas. All entities are integrally connected to the government (with the exception of the Business Development Agency) and accessible to every Jamaican.

Various government agencies, such as the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), non-governmental-organizations (NGOs) and private sector organizations, may provide funding for these initiatives depending on how viable your plan is. Some of these agencies also offer assistance with putting a proposal or plan together .

Although this example is related to employment and job creation, elected representatives  are extremely well placed to bring resources back to your community for this, and any other worthwhile initiative aimed at improving the livelihood of the people living in the area.

3) Establish Benchmarks

Benchmarks are a list of steps that ultimately lead to your goal. Have clearly outlined benchmarks accompany your plan. It allows you to monitor each stage of your plan and account for each step that is delivered by your elected representatives.

If you haven’t done so already, every community should, along with their elected representatives, have a calendar of scheduled pre-arranged dates set aside to meet and discuss community needs and advances over the course of each year.

4) Election and Re-election

During Local Government Elections, you elect  Councilors and Mayors. Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected during National Elections. The first set represents your needs in your immediate community, while the second represents a larger area comprised of several districts.  Here is where you have the authority. And based on the responses, efforts and commitment of your representative, you can determine whether or not to support them, or if necessary a new candidate, when the next election comes around.

Since access and authority play such an important role in your community, shouldn’t you be mindful whom you elect?

Sample Proposal

http://www.toolsforcommunitybuilding.ca/propwrit/s-prop1.pdf

Photo Credit Ashley Campbell Photography and Jaeanne Willie