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Saffrey Brown aiming to make Ja a place where her children will stay

Saffrey Brown, project director of Project STAR, has for over a decade been well-known across the island for working with numerous agencies in providing private sector-based solutions for troubled communities.

However, to Brown, none of the projects or organisations she has been a part of, whether it be the Private Sector Vaccine Initiative (PSVI), Jamaica National (JN) Foundation, Social Enterprise Boost Initiative (SEBI), Kingston Restoration Company (KRC) or Tools for Development, compare to Project STAR, which she was appointed to lead since its inception one year ago.

A Trinidadian by birth, Brown said that, on a personal level, her two Jamaican sons come to her mind whenever she thinks of ensuring the success of Project STAR.

“I have two Jamaican sons. They’re 10 and 12 [years of age]. My goal is to do everything I can to make Jamaica a place that they would want to stay, where they would want to work, build a career, build a family, and, on a personal level, my goal is that everybody has the opportunity to thrive,” Brown told The Gleaner on Tuesday during a tour of East Kingston communities where Project STAR ventured eight months ago.

“This is a very technical project. It requires a huge amount of ideation and thinking and refining and validating on an ongoing basis, because you really are trying something quite different. But, at the core of it is this idea that, if we all participate in this and we can all bring our minds and our technical expertise and our knowledge to this, then we can actually solve it,” she said.

Project STAR was launched on July 25, 2022. It is a five-year social and economic development initiative created by the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), in partnership with the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF), and driven by communities to bring about societal transformation through targeted interventions in under-resourced areas of Jamaica.

One of the major goals of Project STAR is to help reduce Jamaica’s ongoing crisis with crime and violence.

Since the start of the year, and up to July 15, there were 731 persons murdered in Jamaica, which represents a 10 per cent decrease in comparison to 2022. For serious crimes reported in Jamaica since the start of the year and up to July 15, there were 2,397 reported. Although it represents a decrease of 14.7 per cent in comparison to 2022, it is data such as this that has been used to form the foundation for the objectives of Project STAR since its inception, and data that Brown is concerned about changing to nil.

Eight months ago, Brown was part of the Project STAR group that first implemented the programme’s physical initiatives in the communities of Rose Gardens and Parade Gardens (jointly referred to as East downtown Kingston) while, four months ago, they started in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, and two months ago in May Pen, Clarendon.

These practical, social and economic initiatives, primarily driven by the residents, include:

• A breakfast programme for 200 pupils at four basic schools in the East Kingston area, through which food is donated by PSOJ members, which is aimed at improving school attendance and ultimately the educational outcomes in those communities

• Parenting support programmes, which are in keeping with Project STAR’s objective of strengthening families and social well-being

• Job-readiness training for 80 persons, of which 50 per cent have been placed in jobs in some of the island’s leading companies

• Visioning sessions with the fisherfolk from the fishing village in St Mary.

... Project STAR seen as gateway to offering rights to the underprivileged, at-risk

Community renewal and offering solutions to communities through projects is nothing new to Saffrey Brown.

At age 22 years, fresh out of The University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, she started working with Kingston Restoration Company (KRC). She also started running the Highholborn Street Educational Centre and worked on projects such as the Urban Renewal Trust Fund and the Tools for Development Project, which focused on entrepreneurship and microfinancing.

Brown then left Jamaica for England, but returned to the island and started working at the Jamaica National (JN) Foundation, leading on various initiatives such as the Social Enterprise Boost Initiative (SEBI).

For SEBI, she was the chief architect in raising awareness of the value and importance of social enterprise to the economy and positioning it as a valuable business model and sector of growth. The Tools for Development Project, which was led by the KRC in collaboration with the then Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS) and The Gleaner Company Limited, sought to put tools and equipment into the hands of inner-city entrepreneurs.

Of all these projects, she explained more to The Gleaner why Project STAR, after one year, is just unique to her.

“This one is really exciting because there are so many people involved. There are so many ideas and minds and knowledge and experiences involved that I think that we have the right recipe,” Brown told The Gleaner.

“Projects are designed to achieve certain things, and so, you know, if you have a project that’s designed to support entrepreneurs, then that’s what you do. It’s about entrepreneurs. If it’s about at-risk youth, then that’s what the project does. Now, this project is really looking at a whole ecosystem within a community. It is a community-wide project, and so it’s really looking at the whole and taking that whole and understanding in a very kind of multidisciplinary way, what are the requirements and needs of that community. What are the constraints? What are the issues?” she said.

Another reason why Project STAR is close to her is that she sees it as a gateway that will offer rights to underprivileged and at-risk youth who are often disadvantaged, along with community renewal, reduction in crimes and more opportunities for youth.

“I believe in human rights and I believe in the rights of every human being to live the best life that they can. And I believe in our responsibility as a society to do better than we’ve been doing,” Brown said in the interview.

“Some of the goals that we had for the first year were obviously to set up an overall programme that had the systems in place to be able to manage it. Those have to do with reporting, monitoring, evaluation and learning. We have a very strong results-based framework, a huge amount to do with stakeholder engagement, and so those kinds of structures ... and also to make sure we were in three communities,” she said.

Project STAR entered its second year at the end of June. The first six months of operations in 2022 were spent planning with structures in the system, a strong governance system and a reporting and accountability framework.

It started operations in the first community last November in East Kingston, and has since moved on to include Savanna-la-Mar in March and May Pen in May.

Brown said that, one year later, she is elated that Project STAR is already seeing fruits being reaped from its labour and that the community members are now taking the lead and driving change.

“This is a very technical project. It requires a huge amount of ideation and thinking and refining and validating on an ongoing basis, because you really are trying something quite different. But, at the core of it is this idea that, if we all participate in this and we can all bring our minds and our technical expertise and our knowledge to this, then we can actually solve it,” she told The Gleaner.

“From January to May, we did a lot of initial project design looking at really who is interested in being a part of this project. Who are the stakeholders? We did a lot of that early design work. We officially started our year on June 1,” she said.

She told The Gleaner that pushing through and entering May Pen, Clarendon near to the end of the first year of Project STAR; before June, is an objective she is elated was achieved.

“We really pushed hard to be able to do that, but the goal was to get into three communities and we were really able to start doing that,” she said.

Now, at the start of the second year and with its anniversary on July 25, she is again excited to continue rolling the ball.

“We’re really excited because, in communities like East downtown and Sav where we’ve been in for a little while, we should start to see the pace pick up. We should start to see a lot more sort of community-led activities happening and a lot more strengthening of work that’s happening around parenting and employment and these sorts of things,” Brown told The Gleaner.

She said the last year was start-up mode and now it is time for more action in the three areas of East Kingston, Savanna-la-Mar and May Pen.

“We were really just getting everything up and running. Now, we feel we can really start to build on that in our communities. I think the work that we do in communities, it really energises you, because what you’re seeing is community members who want to make that change and have great ideas. They have great resilience and fortitude and so they really drive us. They drive me and they give me energy,” Brown said before smiling.

“I think where it can become difficult is when you recognise, in terms of the overall ecosystem, that there is a lot of work that needs to happen in terms of how we provide access to communities, how we view and value our communities, and how we as a society make sure that we are providing that kind of duty of care for every citizen. And I think that’s where it can be somewhat overwhelming, but, within the communities, that’s where we get the energy. Every time we come into the community, that’s where you really get that sense of why you’re doing this and you get that push,” she said.