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Enabling Local Leaders: an exploration of community-based climate action in St. Vincent and the Grenadines

This interactive, web-based case study explores strategies for building community capacity to adapt to the impacts of climate change in small island developing states in the Caribbean.
Jamie Taylor


Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. As a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) the impacts of rising sea levels, increased storm intensity, prolonged drought, and the spread of new diseases have compounding effects on the economic, social, and environmental systems of this multi-island state. However, communities across the islands are stepping up to find solutions to these challenges by building their capacity to deal with the uncertainties of a changing climate.

This case study* explores how three communities across the country are finding the inspiration to build their resilience in the face of a changing climate. It describes how these communities have dealt with extreme floods and prolonged drought through implementing back-up water systems, desalination and community empowerment.

This case study provides practical insights for policymakers, practitioners and local communities on the challenges and opportunities for building community capacity in the face of a changing climate. Further, it explores the value of building capacity across multiple scales, including the role of enabling national government policy, an active non-profit sector, and local-individual knowledge building and empowerment.

*download the document version of this case study from the right-hand column, or visit the interactive online version through the links provided under further resources.

In the report

Chapter 1 introduces St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and describes their geographic and economic context.

Chapter 2 looks at the impact of extreme weather events and floods in mainland St. Vincent, and describes the local action undertaken to increase resilience through adopting backup water systems.

Chapter 3 details the impacts of living with drought in Bequia, and how communities are increasing local water security through desalination.

Chapter 4 is an account of how Union Island has lead by example through empowering communities to act on environmental issues, such as the long droughts that have been experienced in recent years.

Chapter 5 summarises the lessons learned from dealing with the challenges of implementation of these interventions.

All of the chapters are supported with “Multimedia Assets” – short videos and audio clips that allow community members describe their experiences in their own words (to access these see the links provided in the featured document and under further resources).

Qualitative methods

OPOE is able to share these community experiences and efforts thanks to the generosity of staff working in the Ministry of Transport, Works, Urban Development and Local Government, the Ministry of Health, Wellness and the Environment, and the Directorate of Grenadines Affairs, as well as community leaders with Radio Grenadines, the Environmental Attackers, and Sustainable Grenadines on Union Island.

Key Messages

PATH DEPENDENCY: On the mainland, installation of the central water distribution system caused shifts in social and behavioral practices; households started to move away from rainwater harvesting, becoming exclusively dependent on a single “path” or system for fresh water. However, this distribution system is vulnerable to disruptions from extreme storm events, increasing the community’s vulnerability to water scarcity.

The development of new systems and technologies always comes with the risk of establishing new path dependencies. This is not a reason to forego development or the exploration of new technologies, however within the climate adaptation context, it is important to understand the impact that development has on induced demand and resource availability.

MANAGING SYSTEM CHANGES: As efforts are made to transition away from fossil fuels, the social dynamics of behavior change and governance are equally important to a smooth transition as are the technical aspects. And a significant challenge to this transition occurs when the rate of supply for new technologies is not in pace with demand. In the case of Bequia, the demand for solar energy rapidly increased after the photovoltaic system for the desal plant was installed. Unfortunately, the local grid and electric company could not adapt the system fast enough to meet the level of demand, demonstrating the financial and technical challenge of pacing physical and social transitions.

ACCESS TO LOW-COST TECHNOLOGIES AND MATERIALS: While the cost of alternative energy, especially solar, has decreased over the last decade, there are still significant barriers to accessing low-cost technologies, especially for SIDS. Even beyond new technologies, just the process of getting basic building materials and equipment onto a small island, or to a remote community, complicates climate adaptation and mitigation projects.

FINDING THE RESOURCES AND FUNDS TO SUPPORT SYSTEM CHANGES:Adapting physical infrastructure to the impacts of climate change is a key component to reducing vulnerability for people living on small islands. While there are uncertainties around the timing and scale of impacts, consensus around the types of impacts SIDS will experience provides useful direction for adaptation and mitigation planning. However, one of the biggest challenges in St. Vincent and the Grenadines isn’t planning for these impacts, but rather finding implementation resources, necessitating strong cross-sectoral and international partnerships.

Finding resources for physical adaptation efforts isn’t the only challenge to reducing vulnerability; increasing adaptive capacity by investing in people so as to strengthen their own ability to adapt and respond to the impacts of climate change is an issue the government of St. Vincent and the Grenadines is working to address. Given the critical role that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) play in implementing local climate actions, building community capacity is equally important to institutional capacity. While climate change is a global issue, the impacts are always local. However, without intentional investment in people, local organizations will not be equipped to respond to climate impacts. While this is a challenge in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, there are international, national and local efforts to strengthen NGOs across the country.

CREATING AN ENABLING ENVIRONMENT: Creating an enabling environment for climate adaptation and mitigation can take many shapes depending on the local context and partners. In St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the government has a clear role in providing an enabling environment, including modifying and creating legislation that supports rather than inhibits adaptation and mitigation efforts and providing relevant and timely information through public education and training programs and warning systems. However, identifying these key roles for government is much easier than implementing them.

DATA COLLECTION AND MANAGEMENT: As with anything else, sound decisions require sound information. However, creating, managing and maintaining useful, accurate and timely data is expensive and time consuming. Storage is especially important in an environment that is so vulnerable to extreme events, which increases the risk of losing entire information systems in one storm event. However, creating a centralized system for data collection and management is an important focus area in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This includes ensuring that local and traditional knowledge is equally valued with scientific data.

PUBLIC PERCEPTION:Public perceptions of climate change rely on a complex system of value-based social norms that affects people’s understanding of risks and vulnerabilities, as well as potential solutions. Building public awareness of climate change takes considerable time, requiring culturally relevant and technically accurate information that balances risk and opportunity. And, overcoming misperceptions about solution alternatives can be just as big a challenge as overcoming misconceptions about risk, sometimes resulting in a reactive adoption or uptake of solutions, once all other options are no longer available.


The idea of creating case studies on community-based climate action evolved out of the OPOE initiative to better understand what inspires and fuels communities to take action on climate change. Tired from the persistent narrative of fear and inaction that surrounds climate change, we tell the stories of communities working to leave a legacy of resilience. To inspire action we sought out a novel approach to telling the human stories of climate change. Based on sound and rigorous research, and storytelling that is grounded in lived experience, each case study includes a suite of multi-media assets that provide a direct link to the people and perspectives that are driving these community-based climate actions. Our experience shows us that climate action is ultimately a trans-disciplinary challenge, one that requires inspiration across sectors and between locations. The OPOE case studies provide practical examples of community-based climate action and complement the personal and inspiring stories that are shared in our documentary films.

Multimedia approach

The OPOE Case Studies are one part of a larger initiative that combines documentary film, research, and low-cost film workshops.​ ​

You can dive deeper into the personal stories behind the St. Vincent and the Grenadines case study – among other locations – through our documentary films.

This case study has been produced as part of the Our Place On Earth Project (OPOE). Through storytelling and research, OPOE shares community-based efforts to respond to the greatest challenge of our time, climate change.

Our Place on Earth (OPOE) is a project of PrettyGoodProductions (PGP), a US-based independent film production company. PrettyGoodProductions launched OPOE in 2014 with the goal of sharing inspiring stories of communities responding to the impacts of climate change. Through research and outreach OPOE approached local communities in the Caribbean, Nicaragua and Finland for inclusion in the multi-media and research-based initiative. After successfully completing a crowdfunding campaign (via, OPOE worked with community partners in each location to build mutually-beneficial partnerships that would facilitate great storytelling, while also supporting local capacity-building trainings. To this end, while in the field, OPOE staff provided training workshops on low-cost filmmaking for local nonprofits and community organizations. In addition to developing online, multi-media case studies, OPOE will soon release the final component of this three-part initiative with a series of documentary pieces that further explore the human stories behind climate change.

More about OPOE can be found at

More about PrettyGoodProductions can be found at

This case study was developed in partnership with the UK Climate Impacts Programme.

Suggested Citation

Key, N. and Von Burg, A. (2016). Community capacity: enabling local leaders (an interactive OPOE Case Study). PrettyGoodProductions: Portland, U.S.A. Retrieved [DATE], from

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