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A Higher Calling

Last year’s Inter-American Award for Excellence in Social Entrepreneurship went to Sister Ruth Montrichard and Father Gerard Pantin for their long-standing commitment to improving the lives of low-income people in Trinidad and Tobago by combining sound business practices and social commitment to promote microenterprise and community development. 

In 1970, Father Pantin founded SERVOL (Services Volunteered for All), a non-governmental organiza-tion to help people in his nation’s poorest communi-ties. Decrying cultural arrogance, SERVOL describes itself in its mission statement as a group of “weak, frail, ordinary, imperfect yet hope-filled and committed people, seeking to help weak, frail, ordinary, imperfect, hope-drained people” become agents of social change and human development.

Under the leadership of Father Pantin and Sister Montrichard, SERVOL concentrates its services on young people at crucial stages: early childhood and late adolescence. Today, thousands of Trinidadian infants and youths benefit from these services. For the youngest, SERVOL provides day care through a network of 145 crèches and parenting skills and training for their mothers and fathers. For the teenagers, SERVOL runs education, job training and computer literacy programs. A SERVOL affiliate grants microloans to alumni of its job internship program to help them open small shops and businesses. It also offers training in basic management skills and advice on production and marketing techniques.

Father Pantin and Sister Montrichard’s social convictions do not blind them to the economic realities of their work. What is remarkable about the leaders of SERVOL, besides their commitment to helping disadvantaged people, is their ability to attract active support from the business community. Since 1981, the organization has built an endowment fund of more than US$2.5 million through private contributions.

The dedication and efforts of Sister Montrichard and Father Pantin account for the success of SERVOL as one of the outstanding NGOs in the Caribbean. In 1994, SERVOL was awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize in Stockholm for its efforts over more than 30 years in favor of the disadvantaged. In 1995, Father Pantin received the Trinity Cross, the highest national award of Trinidad and Tobago.