A Chinese proverb relates that if you give a man a fish, you will feed him for a day, but if you teach a man to fish, you will feed him for a lifetime.
This seems to be one of the guiding principles behind Sure Financial Services, a micro-financing company in Morant Bay, St Thomas. The company has quickly become an integral part of the support system for many micro-entrepreneurs in the parish mostly because of the unique approach it takes to financing. Unlike many other financial entities of its type, Sure Financial Services also offers business advice, training, and market-creation opportunities.
"We support ingenuity," said Managing Director Royan Campbell. "People go through university learning how to seek a job. They are rarely taught how to create one. We want to help people to create their own sustainable employment."
The company offers several types of personal loans, but the focus is always on micro-clients - persons who borrow between $10,000 and $500,000, with special loans provided for produce and wares vendors, small-scale manufacturers, farmers, hairdressers and barbers, as well as taxi operators.
In addition to financing, Sure Financial Services also offers free training to micro-entrepreneurs who want to move into the arena of successful, legitimate businesses.
The loan officers visit business owners on a regular basis, setting reachable financial targets and offering information on business management and regularisation, fostering education, providing motivation, and enabling many persons in the parish to establish a source of income that will adequately provide for themselves and their families. In addition to this, the company also tries to establish market linkages to build commerce and increase economic strength.
"If we have one person who is opening a wholesale and we know another who makes juices, we will bring those two people together to see if we can establish a business relationship, and so we can create a steady supply, enabling both companies to benefit," Campbell explained.
He firmly believes that this is the means through which the Jamaican economy will be strengthened.
"The Government cannot continue to ignore the micro-entrepreneurs in this country. They are the ones who spend their money at others, larger businesses. If they have no money to spend, then the larger companies will have no consumers, and they will lose revenue and eventually collapse. We have to strengthen the economy from the bottom up," he said.
DETERMINATION TO WORK
Campbell also pointed out that traditional banks and financial institutions usually viewed micro-entrepreneurs as too high a risk to make an investment in, and so while they are urged to create jobs and build industry, they have no means through which to do so.
The micro-sector is often mired in taxes and neglected by the Government. Often, these persons have no collateral, and no credit history, but they do have the determination to work and establish themselves as wage earners and creators.
Campbell expressed his pride in helping to move a person from a food cart on the street to an established restaurant that has a waiting list for catering jobs.
The company's novel strategy of free training and support has come to the attention of the Caribbean Micro-Finance Alliance, of which it is a part, and the alliance is currently in the process of establishing a training regimen throughout all its entities across the Caribbean.
"It's not just about giving a loan and collecting on the interest. It's about building relationships and helping businesses to grow," he said.
The company and its workers are also committed to helping their community in whatever way they can. In the past year, Sure Financial Services has provided financial assistance and labour to rebuild a home in Albion, St Thomas, that had burned down in January, leaving nine persons homeless. The company also sponsored food and other items to the Spanish Town Infirmary and continues to look for ways to make meaningful contributions to Jamaica.
Currently, Sure Financial Services employs five persons on a full-time basis, and three on a part-time basis. They also have an office in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland, but plans are already in place to expand to two other parishes within the next year. Campbell predicts that in the next three to five years, there will be a Sure Financial Services office in every parish.
"This is the way we will build the economy, by creating employment, and helping others create employment as well," he said.
- J. B.