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Innovation in Eleuthera

NPO One Eleuthera has put in place a comprehensive three-year plan for the Family Island's renaissance. 

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TheBahamasInvestor.com
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
Tuesday, January 8, 2013

One EleutheraOne of The Bahamas’ most beautiful and popular islands, Eleuthera, is also proving to be one of its most innovative–leading the way in small island development through non-profit organization (NPO) One Eleuthera.

One Eleuthera is tasked with ensuring any development on the island is sustainable, “in scale with nature” and of benefit to the local community. The foundation is looking to invest in projects that meet these standards and is focusing its efforts in five areas—education, heritage and culture, economic development, environmental sustainability and health and wellness.

Officially launched in April 2012, One Eleuthera has already approved a range of projects, from the establishment of a new arts and cultural centre to the creation of a heritage trail that winds down the length of the island.


Foundation’s origins
One Eleuthera got its start in 2010, when chief executive officer Shaun Ingraham first began exploring ways of drawing together Eleuthera’s various NPOs, with the aim of creating a single group that would funnel funds to where they were needed.

Previously based in Nassau, Ingraham had returned to his native Eleuthera in 2006 after working on various social development programmes throughout the Caribbean. He wanted to put everything he had learnt into practice in his own community. “There was already a movement, but it was very fragmented,” he says. “We needed a more systematic approach. We realized the conversation needed to be very broad, with non-profits, investors, foreign and local businesses and second-home owners.”

There are around 300 second homes on Eleuthera and Ingraham says about a third of these part-time residents donate generously to the community. “Second-home owners are our economy right now; we need to engage them. A lot of the owners have foundations. We discovered we have about $1-billion worth of foundations in Eleuthera and we thought that would be a good place to start.”

Ingraham wanted to draw together all the charitable benefactors and streamline their funds through One Eleuthera. He encouraged donors to give in a more structured way so their money would be efficiently dispensed. “Collective impact was really what we are looking for,” he says. “We are trying to encourage people to give over a few years and in a more measurable plan.”

Ingraham says the response has been overwhelming, with people flying in from New York, Texas and England for the foundation’s official launch.

Shared vision
The NPO currently has six board members, but aims to increase this to 15 in the future. Present members include: former CEO of the Bahamas Financial Services Board, Wendy Warren; founder of the Leon Levy Native Plant Reserve, Shelby White; and daughter of former US president Lyndon Johnson, Luci Baines Johnson, who owns a second home on the island. Local businessman Craig Symonette serves as chairman.

Working from a report drawn up by a committee opposing a development at Lighthouse Point and a previous government strategy for the island, the board has now written an extensive three-year master plan. “We had two very good reports to refer to, but we needed a vehicle that could implement the shared vision.”

One Eleuthera has become that vehicle. Working under its three core principles of strengthening, connecting and planning, the foundation has approved scores of projects and has many more in its sights. To bring these to fruition, the group is partnering with entities such as The Bahamas National Trust, the Eleuthera Land Conservancy, the Leon Levy Native Plant Reserve and the Ministry of Tourism.

The foundation has made investments ranging from $5,000 for a wellness conference in August 2012, more than $5,000 for dance workshops and $70,000 to improve the boardwalks at Ocean Hole, a blue hole in Rock Sound.

In 2012, the group approved a $50,000 investment in constructing an amphitheatre in Tarpum Bay. The theatre will be cut into the side of a natural incline behind the old Tarpum Bay school house and will host plays, dance performances and other concerts. It is expected to open in spring 2013 and will seat 120.

To help establish the Heritage and Conservation Trail, One Eleuthera is seeking $1.7 million from the Ministry of Tourism. “We need that seed money to get the trail going,” says Ingraham. “Heritage tourism is a growing, niche market and that is the one we are really pushing.”

Ingraham had also discussed with the late Jackson Burnside, one of The Bahamas’ most famous painters, the possibility of establishing an artists’ colony in Eleuthera. “It’s what we call the creative economy. People come to see artists and they need to rent rooms and so forth. Wherever there are arts, people go. One day Tarpum Bay will have something really nice; something you can bring your family to.”

Foreign investment
With around 10,000 inhabitants, Eleuthera is The Bahamas’ fourth most populated island and one of the most attractive to developers, thanks to its pink sand beaches, beautiful climate and relaxed lifestyle. Over the years the island has seen a number of large-scale developments, but according to Ingraham, most have foundered because the companies behind them failed to take into account local needs and challenges.
“I would like to turn this around,” he says.

For Ingraham this means engaging with Eleutherans. The One Eleuthera Foundation has met with several major investors and Ingraham welcomes this kind of open dialogue as a way to develop long-term projects that benefit everyone, foreign investors and Eleuthera natives alike.

Ultimately, Ingraham would like to see Eleuthera thrive through foreign investment, informed by local input. “We want to make Eleuthera an ideal place to live, work and play.”

Setting an example
Ingraham believes this type of initiative on Eleuthera can serve as an example to other islands in the Bahamian archipelago. “The beauty of an island like Eleuthera is [that] it is small enough to consider this a pilot strategy. It is going to be a model for small island development.”

As the foundation becomes more well-known and interest builds, Ingraham would like to see larger projects coming to the fore. He is particularly interested in sustainability and investing in initiatives that draw on Eleuthera’s farming past as the “bread basket of The Bahamas.”

Ingraham says he wants to reflect the farming heritage, through art projects such as murals, while simultaneously developing a modern thriving agricultural sector based on sustainability.

In fact, sustainability and environmental issues are core to a lot of the foundation’s planning. One Eleuthera is hoping to acquire Marine Protected Area status for the southern tip of the island, which is rich in marine wildlife, and has already succeeded in making the Lighthouse beach wetlands in South Eleuthera a protected research area. “There are other areas we would like to look at,” says Ingraham. “We do have concerns about our reefs; we have to do a lot more.”

Whatever initiatives transform Eleuthera in the next decade, says Ingraham, they will be shaped by those who can best identify the island’s needs and that is the local community.

cmorris@dupuch.com

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