‘We feel so proud to have believed in them’
Success of small businesses stuns JSIF
Mona Sue Ho, senior manager at the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF), says the agency’s faith in small business people across various sectors from four parishes has been justified many times over, and the entrepreneurs’ success needs to be applauded and highlighted.
Sue Ho, was addressing attendees at the Government of Jamaica’s Integrated Community Development Project (ICDP) Enterprise Grant award ceremony at AC Hotel by Marriot in St Andrew on Thursday, April 6.
She explained that her agency responded to the growing need for financial assistance from communities in Denham Town, August Town and Greenwich Town in the Corporate Area, as well as Treadlight in Clarendon, and Mount Salem, Anchovy, Salt Spring and Norwood in St James, at a critical time.
“We were at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and it was a difficult time for the entire country. All these persons in the communities were in need and certainly suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and so we designed the Enterprise Development Project, a $20-million [initiative] in the height of COVID for communities in four parishes.
“In the beginning, our objective was to look at two main goals; build the capacity of the microenterprises in eight communities to create sustainable employment and income generation, and also to support the Government of Jamaica’s policy to provide support to microenterprises to provide support to economic growth. At the time, we had in Jamaica over 400,000 persons who were applying to the Government for financial support, and over half of our population was impacted in terms of their income and livelihood,” she explained.
The project manager said that from July 2020 to March 2021 the agency disbursed grants totalling $20 million to 126 entrepreneurs. Encouraged by the success of cycle one, JSIF implemented cycle two on an even bigger scale, investing in 242 entrepreneurs at a cost of $51 million between August 2021 and June 2022.
The concept, she said, was very simple. Provide these small business operators with the necessary equipment, tools and materials to advance their operations and provide training in business development assistance and business administration. For cycle two, JSIF added another requirement for the business people, Sue Ho explained.
“We encouraged our entrepreneurs to give back to their community by way of community service and by way of recognising that they too, despite their limited income, can also share their success with community members and those in need.”
TRIUMPH OVER TRAGEDY
The COVID-19 restrictions on public travel in 2020 and 2021 in an effort to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, made monitoring of the projects difficult for JSIF staff. However, with a combined 368 beneficiaries and $71 million invested in the communities, JSIF finally hit the road to see what was happening.
Long before that, however, naysayers had begun to plant seeds of doubts, Sue Ho admitted.
“Many were saying to us, ‘Why are you giving them a grant? They are going to sell the equipment.’ Persons even said to us that the equipment [is] going [to]turn scrap metal and be sold, because people want money to buy food. ‘Are you even sure the business will still be in operation?’, some asked,” she shared with the audience.
“We went into the communities, and what we saw blew us away. The assets were maintained; and not only did they have the assets that they originally received, but they had bought new equipment. Any kind of maintenance that was needed, they did it themselves and stood the costs of the maintenance.
One such example was Othniel Morris from Salt Spring, St James, who had been given one refrigerator, but who expanded on this to five deep freezers and standing fridges for his business - Steve Fresh Meat Shop. Another business which had grown beyond expectations by the time of the visit of the JSIF monitoring team was Lorna River Island Enterprise and Cash Boutique and Wholesale, operated by Lorna Green in Denham Town, St Andrew.
“We drove past Lorna‘s shop because we were looking for a structure made of wood and zinc. Lorna’s shop was now concrete,” Sue Ho disclosed.
In summarising what had transpired throughout all the communities, Sue Ho pointed out that profits were reinvested, and there was an increase in business registration, as well as a diversification in operations. It was not all smooth sailing though, as some persons suffered significant personal losses, including the death and injury of family members, but overall, the success of the project represents a significant triumph over tragedy, Sue Ho says.
“What we saw was significant growth in many of the businesses. And the whole principle of the project is that it is not a handout, but rather, a ‘hands up’; and by their efforts they have proven the naysayers wrong, and we are so proud of them.
“It has justified our faith in them. We feel so proud to have served. We feel so proud to have believed in them. We feel so proud that they appreciated it. They had a strong sense that it must work. And the thing that is uppermost in my mind is that they proved to us, in no uncertain way, that not only am I here just surviving, but that I am thriving, and (this) fills our heart with tremendous joy,” she told The Gleaner.