The Cropper Foundation is celebrating 20 years of making a positive impact.
It’s known for educating communities and agriculturists on the importance of sustainable practices and how to use them for the benefit of the environment.
Its workshops have also launched the careers of aspiring regional writers.
CEO Omar Mohammed explained, “It is a family foundation, founded by John and Angela Cropper and sought to improve individuals and their communities while bringing people together.”
The couple met while studying at the University of the West Indies, then the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA). Angela Persad was one of 12 siblings from rural Trinidad. She studied economics under Lloyd Best – who would later become her mentor. John, an Englishman, had decided to leave the United Kingdom for an immersive experience, studying tropical economics in the Caribbean, a one-year programme which turned out to be the start of 36 years in the region.
They both went on to have successful careers. John was involved in setting up the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI). Angela did a law degree in the 1980s and went on to a stellar career as an international public servant.
She was director of functional co-operation at the Caricom Secretariat. She was an adviser in environment and education to the secretary general. She also represented the region at the International Planned Parenthood Federation/Western Hemisphere Region and was project manager for the Eastern Caribbean in Population and Development.
She served as the interim executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, head of governance at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and later assistant secretary-general and deputy director of the UN Environmental Programme.
Despite their busy lives, the Croppers believed in giving back, particularly to TT.
Mohammed said, “Angela and John would always say things that became guiding principles for the organisation.”
One was: “’Giving back is not a luxury, it is a responsibility.’
“They both lived that deeply. Setting up the non-profit was something they always wanted to do at the end of their formal careers.”
That came sooner than they expected. The Croppers set up the foundation after the death of their only child, Devanand, 20. While still at university he died from complications of a heart condition no one knew he had.
The heartbroken Croppers put all their energies into building the foundation, with the support of friends and colleagues including the late Jamaican secretary general of the Association of Caribbean States Norman Girvan.
“Because Dev was an avid reader and dreamed of writing,” Mohammed said, “one of the first initiatives was the writers’ workshop.”
The annual three-week workshop began in 2000 and has since contributed to professional journeys of over 180 Caribbean writers, including Ruel Johnson, Kei Miller, Barbara Jenkins and Shivanee Ramlochan.
“It has always been for people from the Caribbean or from the diaspora. For most of its life the workshop involved adult writers but has, for the past five years, included young adult writers. We are proud to recall the quality of writers who attended the workshop. Attending the workshop costs US$500 and all other costs are subsidised.”
Established as a non-profit organisation on August 24, 2000, the mission of the foundation was to highlight and address issues linked to sustainable development, equity and improving environmental and natural-resource management.
Within a year of its launch, tragedy struck again, in 2001.
Angela was out of the country when her husband, mother and sister were murdered at their home in Cascade by two men, one of them a relative.
Somehow, Angela found the strength to continue the work of the foundation, and later served as an independent senator for five years. She died of cancer in 2012, but her work endures.
The Cropper Foundation has aimed to be among the Caribbean organisations that create change and development tailored to the region, not merely a formula transplanted from the US or Europe.
“The workshop, for example, was one way through which the foundation sought to help people from the Caribbean tell our own stories in the best possible ways.”
Asked about other initiatives, Mohammed talked about its sustainable development projects.
“At the start of the new millennium, then secretary general of the UN Kofi Annan launched the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, which was a global effort to assess the state of major ecosystems for setting a baseline to track progress in environmental well-being.” As Angela had been the co-chair of the assessment panel, this gave rise to the Cropper Foundation leading two of the global assessments, of the Caribbean Sea and the Northern Range of TT.