UMSU sifts through participatory budgeting suggestions

Inaugural year saw funding directed to financial, mental health supports

UMSU vice-president finance and operations Mbuli Matshe is spearheading an ongoing initiative to incorporate participatory budgeting into the students’ union’s finances, holding three days of tabling in UMSU University Centre to ask students “What would you do with $20,000?”

The first participatory budgeting exercise was held in the 2018-19 academic year. This year’s tabling was held from Nov. 5 to 7, 2019.

“Participatory budgeting is a democratic mechanism where the population in a community gets to decide how money is spent, or a portion of money or fees they contribute to that society is spent,” Matshe said.

“We had over 1,000 suggestions — over 1,000 students submitted different suggestions,” he said, noting that does not include online submissions.

Through the initial round of tabling, students submit suggestions regarding where a portion of UMSU funding should be directed.

The suggestions are prioritized by UMSU’s participatory budget committee and sent back to students for a final vote online.

In the year of its inception, a majority of the funding was set aside for financial supports, with $15,000 going to scholarships and bursaries, $3,000 being directed to mental health resources and $1,000 being earmarked for “places and spaces.”

“The scholarships were immediately implemented,” Matshe said, “the money that was allocated to mental health is being utilized this particular semester, and the money for places and spaces is going to charging ports in the UMSU businesses.”

The idea sprouted from an initiative undertaken by Matshe and UMSU president Jakob Sanderson when they were executives on the Arts Student Body council (ASBC). They have since implemented it on a larger scale with the entire student body on two campuses through UMSU.

“The idea behind participatory budgeting was to allow the students in our faculty to have a voice and a say as to how their money would be spent, or how a portion of their money would be spent,” said Matshe

“After running the first trial in ASBC and the arts faculty and it had gone super successfully, when we [himself and Sanderson] ran for UMSU in our first year we decided ‘Why can’t we do this on a bigger scale with all the students and sort of allow them to have a say in how their money is spent?’”

In the first year, the exercise was limited to the Fort Garry campus. In 2019, an additional $10,000 was earmarked to bring the program to the Bannatyne campus.

A date has not yet been set for the electronic vote.