Yaneek Page | Needed: Social entrepreneurship push for food security
ADVISORY COLUMN: SMALL BUSINESS
Dear readers, I have a few questions I’d like you to consider thoughtfully, especially in these unprecedented COVID19 times.
If you fell on hard times because of the pandemic and could not find your next meal, to whom would you turn?
Where would you go?
How would you feed your children?
What would you do?
How much and for how long do you think you would be able to find support to meet your basic food needs?
Are there social safety nets to save you from the bowels of destitution?
These have been top of mind for me, recently, as the social and economic fall-out and job-losses from the current pandemic deepen. If the questions I posed made you deeply uncomfortable, gnawing at your gut at the mere thought of such desperation, then you are among the more privileged in our society today.
Sadly, there are many people for which these are not merely questions to ponder, but the dreadful reality of the ‘new normal’ they’ve been plunged into by a year that has given rise to conditions the International Monetary Fund has described as “a crisis like no other”.
In recent weeks I have been inundated with desperate requests for help from fellow Jamaicans who have lost their livelihoods and all but their sanity, to the pandemic. Many of them have already exhausted their savings and are now fully reliant on relatives living overseas for basic support – from professional women asking for basic food, toiletries and sanitary napkins, to single mothers in need of formula and medicine for their children.
I have been giving and donating from a dwindling basket, even as I continue to pivot to recover from deepening losses. But even more grave is the plight of Jamaicans who had no savings at the start of the pandemic, were earning just above the minimum wage, and who either have no family or friend to turn to, or whose family overseas are also struggling and unable to help.
Keeping it real
Some may ask why entrepreneurs should care about and focus on the social challenges facing Jamaica at this time, when the role of business is strictly to provide the goods or services that people need with the ultimate aim of maximising shareholder value.
However, this is a narrow and myopic view of the role of enterprise, as history has shown that the majority of businesses rely on the buoyancy of the country within which it operates to achieve substantial and sustained success.
In other words, most businesses will only strive if the social and economic fabric of a country is healthy and strong.
And if we are keeping it real, given the inherent risks of entrepreneurship, particularly in a market as challenging as Jamaica, one day the person desperately in need of help could be us. It’s not an uncommon fate for risk-taking business operators.
Jamaica urgently needs strong social enterprise push toward food security and social safety nets and entrepreneurs may be able to drive this effort. This means going well beyond the surface of ad hoc distribution of care packages.
Food security exists, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the FOA, “when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”; while the World Bank defines social safety nets as programmes that protect families from the impact of economic shocks, natural disasters and other crises.
Here are seven practical initiatives for which action is needed today:
1. Collate, digitise and publish online, information on current needs, changing needs in real times, and existing public and non-governmental organisations that support poor relief efforts and social safety nets;
2. Create apps that make it easy to offer donations of food, clothing, electronics, household items and money to charities – similar to apps like Share the Meal;
3. Create diaspora linkages to share knowledge and garner support for food security and social safety nets to help Jamaicans recover from the crisis;
4. Drive support to and amplify the work of Food for the Poor, Salvation Army, GK Campus Connect Food Bank;
5. Open food banks;
6. Launch meal kitchens;
A few years ago after attending the last Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Silicon Valley hosted by President Barack Obama before he demitted office in 2016, I posed a question to readers that was asked of us at the event: What do violent extremism, health and food security, climate change, and anaemic and inequitable economic growth have in common?.
According to then US Secretary of State those are “among the most detrimental and formidable challenges facing the world today”. His words and charge to over 700 entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs in attendance from across the globe are more relevant now than they were four years ago.
The time for action was yesterday. The time for urgent action is now. We need high impact entrepreneurs to play a leading role in helping our country, the region and the world recover from this crisis, and to continue to unlock and implement real solutions to fundamental challenges that threaten not only our quality of life, but our very existence.
Yaneek Page is the programme lead for Market Entry USA, a certified trainer in entrepreneurship, and creator and executive producer of The Innovators and Let’s Make Peace TV series.