A social enterprise is a venture borne of enthusiasm. Collective in nature, it comprises a group of enterprising like-minded individuals who are honestly passionate about creating, organizing and managing a profit-making business venture to make social change for the long-term.
What are the critical factors to the success of social enterprise in Jamaica?
There are three key interdependent factors that are critical to the success of social enterprises.
Some will say that social enterprise ventures are born to die, and like many start-up businesses they face several challenges. Research suggests that over 50 percent are doomed to fail in the first few years. This is often due to under-financing, poor business skills and marketing.
This is where a strong business model is critical, to include such things as the all-important viable business plan, proper accounting, marketing, branding, capacity-building and training. Scaling of potential, is crucial to be able to meet production quotas, and quality-assurance to maintain standards. The business also needs an incubation stage to include phased periods to develop and grow.
There has to be a new agenda. Social enterprise needs to be fully supported by government to create an enabling environment. Currently there is no legal or policy framework, no guidelines, no point of reference, and no benchmark. There is a need to remove some of the bottlenecks, for example by introducing tax concessions – the tourist industry qualifies, why not the social enterprise industry?
Public procurement policies and governing a body to watch over it are also needed. So too an investment or grant finance fund. Even obsolete government buildings could be made available for use by social enterprises.
We are, however, beginning to see a shift. Government is sitting up and taking notice, social enterprise was endorsed in Parliament last year, and it has been moved up a significant notch by being transferred from the portfolio of youth and community development, to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce. The Charities Act is also being drafted to be less restrictive and will now include social enterprises.
Understanding that it is a combined effort, and that no one agency can do it alone, it is important that there are partnerships among government, private agencies and the Diaspora to effectively channel resources. It is necessary to tap into the expertise of government agencies such as the Social Development Commission, Rural Agricultural Development Agency, Bureau of Standards, Jamaica Social Investment Fund, or Jamaica Trade and Invest (JAMPRO). Many of these organizations are already very enthusiastic about social enterprise and are providing technical support.
It will be necessary to develop linkages within the private sector, such as the Private Sector Organization to improve trading capacity through better business support. Dialogue with the banks is crucial in order to come up with creative financing and a range of funding options to enable access to seed capital for start-ups.
There has to be a campaign on a national scale to change the mindset and enable the public to have a better understanding of what a social enterprise is, and what it can achieve. There is skepticism that they can be inefficient, ineffective and unsuccessful. There has to be full transparency, to reaffirm that there is no ‘ginnalship’ involved and that they are credible, profit-making businesses that are not dependent on handouts.
Initiatives like the Social Enterprise Boost Initiative (SEBI), seek to introduce a stamp of authentication for social enterprise products, to encourage consumers to buy into the concept as well as the very goods and services that they trade. By doing so they are ‘doing good’ by supporting a social cause. It will demonstrate that the product has fair trading origins.
Education in schools is an important component, already we see it included in the curriculum of entrepreneurial studies in high schools. Globally, academia is already following the curve, with over 150 schools in 24 countries offering undergraduate and postgraduate studies in social enterprise. In Jamaica social enterprise is part of the school curriculum, and there are several tertiary institutions offering degree studies in the field. SEBI is developing important linkages with these institutions, several of whom have already begun assisting with training workshops and much-needed research.
SEBI is the first model of its kind in Jamaica and the Caribbean. Through the mentorship and incubation of an initial ten social enterprises SEBI’s aim is to lay the foundation for the development of a vibrant social enterprise sector in Jamaica. SEBI will provide examples of successful social enterprises at work, which demonstrate that they have the potential to expand on their own merit and that they do bring real benefits. By making the public more aware, SEBI aims to spark interest and inspire others who, in seeing the potential and opportunities, will join the movement and lend their support.
Social enterprise is very relevant and vital to Jamaica, offering a promise for a better tomorrow for all Jamaicans.