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Equality Rights Group firmly believes in the importance of civil and human rights to the development of Gibraltar. We operate on an invitation basis and, therefore, without a subscriptions structure. We operate as a Charity, avoiding partisanship, but engaging fully in social politics with no regard to Party allegiances. We praise as readily as we criticise politics of all colours. Parties and their politicians, in our view, owe their allegiance to the people they serve. Civil Society decides with their vote who deserves to be trusted to govern Gibraltar for a given period of time. It is that relationship that interests ERG.
We believe the most effective movement for change happens when there is participation and involvement in furthering these rights at community level. We are a human rights voice – a project which commenced to advance the rights of the gay and lesbian community, but one which as a result of public demand, widened out to cover the whole field of human rights. Human Rights are, after all, indivisible – you cannot carve out a corner for yourself whilst ignoring the rights of others.
And there are other human rights voices in our community, though not necessarily going by that name. This understanding is the corner stone to our work as an organisation; because human rights, amongst others, are also environmental rights, or the rights of women, or indeed the rights of those of different faiths. Respecting this diversity is a necessity, though often difficult to put into practice – for example, when two competing rights are in question (e.g. religious rights v women’s right to choose). ERG always looks for solutions which aim for balance within respect.
Together, then, we can all participate in making it OK to stand up – each in our own way – for a more open, tolerant, and caring society. Gibraltar needs a human rights presence. As a Group, we are determined and committed to leaving a better legacy for the next generation. Over the almost two decades of work, we have tested out the most effective models for our work. For half of our existence, we used the Executive Committee model (*see bottom of page), which is often expected of organisations. It’s the ‘industry standard’. A group of people sit around a table and talk and put into practice what the organisation calls for. Those people, in a voluntary setting, come and go. There’s nothing to oblige them to attend, to deliver on their commitments. There’s no salary, no promotion. And ERG is committed to remain as low-cost as possible; time and again we have rejected the idea of requesting large annual grants from Government in order to fund greater scope for ERG. The taxpayer deserves greater consideration, in our view. Not only that, the necessity to find a way out of difficult corners is often a spur to creative, new ideas. Nonetheless, voluntary community groups wrestle with many problems; because, as public organisations, they make commitments and statements; and they must be consistent in delivering. And that can be a difficult task when the sands are constantly shifting under your feet. It is these realities, grasped over many years of experience, that led us in ERG to explore possible structural alternatives.
The way we work
We draw lessons from the way we work, year after year. And in 2011 we started looking for new patterns, as our work and the community around us evolved. We came to the realisation that our grounding is, precisely, on-the-ground. With the community. We questioned the Executive Committee model. We started to look at different ways of organising.
Out of that exploration came a new approach.
The executive structure for our organisation, we believe, should act as a mere management nucleus; one that might consider the routes to be taken, but then put them to the test among the people for whom those routes may have meaning. Or not. And so we come to the framework of how ERG works today. This comes down to a minimum of hierarchy, a small number of Principal Officers responsible for tracing the overall philosophy and directions of the organisation, with additional responsibility for day-to-day administrative tasks. ERG these days, then, works by putting proposals for projects to stakeholders in the community (see our work with the Action on Poverty, Independent Writers and Artists, or Connected Health projects). We offer our experience and skills, our resources, our backing; and we put a project case to them. That case then becomes the subject of discussions and modification with the stakeholders on an as-required basis. Should they find the project of interest, ERG then does everything it can to support the project, with the aim of exiting at the point the stakeholders themselves feel able to own the campaign or issue. ‘Empowerment’ is almost a cheap word these days, it’s been that much over-used. But it’s valid nonetheless. If at any stage the stakeholders wish to opt out or fully own the campaign without any further involvement of ERG, we respect their decisions. Indeed it is the very aim of our philosophy that this should occur. We will retreat at their request as easily as we will step forward in support. Our job is done when Civil Society asserts its independence.
Principal Officers and finances
To guarantee consistency and stability, ERG is managed and administered by its Principal Officers. Between them, they must manage and budget the direction of initiatives to be addressed by the organisation, as well as the administration of a small annual Government grant of £7,000 since 2012; a sum originally determined to pay the Chair and Secretary for their work. Nonetheless, the decision of both recipients was to deposit their emoluments to ERG’s account in order to build the organisation’s stability and widen its work. This has enabled the group to finance a number of initiatives from 2012. Government also provides a small office space at minimal annual cost (with ERG responsible for expenditure on utilities thereto). Small as the space may be, it serves well our requirements for storage and the occasional meeting. There is no need for ERG to require any more at the public purse’s expense. As a community-focused organisation, we prefer to work at ground and street level, and it is where we often meet or do our casework.
Additional to the management-focused role of the Principal Officers, is a key annual responsibility to ensure the proper accountancy reports required by the Charities Commission are duly submitted in compliance with the law.
There is no further hierarchy. Why? Because it is the Project Committees, drawn up on a project-by-project basis by community organisations themselves (and which are made up of interested and knowledgeable stakeholders for that particular work) who make the executive decisions for that project. With this approach, ERG ensures 1) its considered initiatives respond to real issues affecting real people on the ground, 2) the full motivation that only passionate stakeholders fighting their corner can bring, 3) an agile, lean minimal hierarchy ready to respond to the community, and 4) a democratic framework at ground level which is, oftentimes, elusive through more traditional, static executive structures.
Nonetheless, the Principal Officers convene groups of voluntary members on an as-needed basis whenever issues requiring further consideration, advice or analysis come to the fore. They may serve for shorter or longer periods of time, depending on need. The consultative benefits this provides has extended to protracted internal debate, initially, on the transition between the earlier fixed Executive Committee structures, to questions of a budgetary planning nature, for instance.
Presently, the Principal Officers are:
Chairman Felix Alvarez OBE
Secretary Charles Trico
*ERG (previously GGR) has been in existence for many years now in our community (see the Library section for an archive of photos). A substantial number of individuals, many with important public profiles, and others less so, have formed part of our active membership. We are proud of each and every one of them. Many have wished to be anonymous for a variety of reasons, and we have respected that. Others have been publicly involved in the group’s work. Committee membership has always been treated with utmost discretion, dealing as ERG does, with oftentimes controversial or delicate questions in our community. To this end, it is only for the Principal Officers that public profiles are required.