Sat | Dec 5, 2020

Social enterprises can boost the economy

Published:Friday | December 16, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Visitors explore a cave once used by Cudjoe of the Maroons in Bunkers Hill, Trelawny, which generates profits for its owners, while supporting the local community.
Saffrey Brown, general manager, JN Foundation
Dr K’adamawe K’nife speaks during a rap session for businesses in the Social Enterprise Boost Initiative recently.

"We need a factory," a resident from a south Clarendon community recently voiced as he was interviewed by a local television station about the needs in his community, a few days before the November 28 local government elections.

For many people living in rural communities, a factory has become the only panacea they can conjure up for the employment woes their communities face.

"What we really need are more social enterprises that address some of the development issues in our communities," says development specialist Saffrey Brown, who is the general manager of the JN Foundation. "We need to carefully examine the strengths of our communities and package that force as business opportunities."

Social enterprises are a growing model of business in Jamaica, which assist in generating significant gains for the economy, while catalysing social transformation at the community and parish levels. In short, they are businesses which respond to social needs and provide goods and services.

Many social enterprises have been started by charities, or non-governmental organisations (NGOs), that, in addition to catering to the welfare of their stakeholders, sustain operations to generate profits, which are, in turn, invested in the welfare services they provide.

"Many of our charities and NGOs depend on grants from corporate entities to survive and provide services; and these grants are not always consistent in amount or availability to fund the services," Maxine Harris, business development officer for the Social Enterprise Boost Initiative, a project funded by the United States Agency for International Development and administered by the JN Foundation to support social enterprises in Jamaica, explained.




"Therefore, social enterprises that also operate as NGOs need to find ways to generate income to sustain themselves and their charities," she expounded. "Emotionally running a business and a charity or NGO require two different spheres of thinking, therefore, you need to isolate the business from the charity," she advised.

However, not all social enterprises are started and run by NGOs or charities, advises director of the Office of Social Entrepreneurship at the Mona School of Business at The University of the West Indies, Mona, Dr K'adamawe K'nife. In fact, many exist as innovative small and medium enterprises, which provide social value, while at the same time churning profits.

"Your social enterprise is a mission driven organisation, which has established some independent income source," he advised. "A majority of them are traders and service providers," he explained, noting that "the majority of those in service are very profitable, with some 70 per cent producing a profit or breaking even.

"And when they get certain kinds of injections, their profitability is amplified significantly," he explained. That is in addition to the social value they create, which has positive multiplier effects on the economy.

"When you take several at-risk youth, who could have become victims of crime or become engaged in criminal behaviour, and place them in a programme, there is a cost associated with that. Therefore, by getting them into a programme, right away there is savings for the country," he stated.

Bunkers Hill Cultural Xperience, located in the biodiverse Cockpit Country, is perhaps an outstanding example of innovation and social value.

Owned and operated by Clover Gordon, and her husband O'Brian, returning residents, the business provides an exhilarating alternative to the all-inclusive experience on the north coast, capitalising on the cultural and terrestrial heritage of the Bunkers Hill community, situated at the mouth of the Cockpit Country.




The one-acre property, which is a 40-minute drive from the Falmouth cruise ship pier, offers visitors a river tour and a hike, taking visitors past Dromilly, where Maroons ambushed British troops in 1795, and culminates in a visit to a cave that was used by Maroon leader Cudjoe in an earlier battle.

Clover Gordon notes that the business uses only resources from the community. Its current 10 employees are from Bunkers Hill, and its food supply, which is a major part of the authentic Jamaican experience the attraction provides, is also sourced from the community.

"Ninety per cent of what we are doing is community-based, and you can't get anything better than that," said Gordon. "We are in it to earn money, but we could not do it without the residents in the community, who benefit from it."

Brown acknowledges that "social enterprises make a difference. They create value not only by what they produce, but their resources, such as the skill sets of the communities in which they are based, while providing training and employment.

"With the right kind of policy support, there is potential to grow the Jamaican economy through properly conceived social enterprises. The prospects are rich," the JN Foundation general manager declared.