Community Businesses and Social Enterprise

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“No first-time entrepreneur has the business network of contacts needed to succeed. An incubator should be well integrated into the local business community and have a steady source of contacts and introductions”. Jay Samit

Greets again my fellow readers… At some point in time, you’ve likely seen a statistic or statement by a politician or economist stating the importance of small business to local communities.

However, they quote these things as hollow statistics, but you and I, who have the luxury of living in real communities, not the static structured gated community but real ones, you might call it scheme or garrison, or lane or whatever, but you know the space to which I refer. The homes and environs and ends that are alive with colourful characters, rich with the textures of life that define and typify Jamaica and our lifestyle. The businesses that come along with our living and inhabiting a space are a valuable asset to the local community. It should come as no surprise then that there are many ways that small businesses make a profound local impact.

COMMUNITY IDENTITY

Take a strut down the main street where you are based and you’ll likely notice that your community has its own unique character and charm. From the cook shop, the tuck shop and dog grooming business, to a Chinese emporium, haberdashery, bar, games’ room, and beyond, small businesses contribute to a community’s identity. Many municipalities and tourism boards across the world have prioritized preserving the unique character a vibrant small business community creates– transforming that character into an advantage. It is time the St. James Municipal Corporatio puts more interest and finances into the preservation of community businesses, as these businesses are more crucial than any political policy to the breaking of intergenerational poverty and creating wealth pools in communities.

COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

Small business owners are an integral part of the communities in which they live and work. Thus, they tend to be cognizant of how their decisions may impact their neighbours. In addition, local small business entrepreneurs tend to be involved in the community. For instance, they may sponsor local six-a-side teams, donate to the city’s homeless shelter, join the residents’ associations and community based organizations, participate in community charity events like back-to-school treats, help kids attend school and crucially provide employment. It’s also not unheard of for successful business owners to guest lecture at the local community college, technical institute, or small business centre. Venise Samuels, the Paradise Youth Club Manager, a hairdresser and entrepreneur does it all the time. Paradise, where I am based, is characterized by its long standing businesses. Businesses like Lee’s Gas, Chino’s SweetSop Tree Shop, Miss Elaine’s (Paradise Grocery), Touch of Klass (Lauraine’s Bar) and Tash’s Enterprise. In some way, these businesses are intimately and intricately connected to the life blood of the community.

COMMUNITY HEALTH

In addition to contributing to the local community’s unique identity and being involved locally, small business owners help to build a sense of community. Their businesses tend to be people businesses. Small business owners are more likely to build personal relationships with their customers, knowing many of them by name. When was the last time you walked into a large chain store and were greeted by name? But I bet from time to time the shop keeper has the item you came for in hand as he sees you coming to the shop.

What I wish is that our small business owners band together, forming casual or formal relationships, such as a merchant’s associations or one-on-one counseling and mentoring relationships. These relationships leverage the expertise of the participants to contribute to the business community’s long-term success. They are also often a key tool for generating goodwill between business owners, so that as foot traffic to one business increases, other nearby businesses benefit through increased exposure and word-of-mouth referrals.

INCREASING THE TAX BASE

When local residents shop at small businesses within their communities, their tax dollars stay within the local economy, helping to improve their community as a result. Likewise, local small businesses tend to buy locally as well, pumping more of their profits back into the community than their chain store counterparts, helping with economic development. And if there is one thing I know politicians respond where they see the money is. So if we wish to commandeer the attention of politicians and get them to respond to the needs, wishes and desires of the community, we need to be communities of wealth generators, and small business is how we start.

LOCAL JOBS

Small businesses are job creators, and most of those jobs are local jobs. In an age where employment is an issue for government, I think this is a massive point that the municipal corporations in every parish ought to investigate. Rather than having to commute to another town, community or parish, employees work closer to home. Supporting local businesses also helps your fellow community members who work at them. When a community has a vibrant commercial centre, it also creates ample opportunities for these workers to shop at other local small businesses. They grab lunch or dinner from local restaurants, run errands on their break, and grab drinks from local bars. This keeps money local and further creates a tight-knit community vibe. This has to be GOOD!

ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Small businesses are the product of the business owner’s entrepreneurial spirit. By starting a small business, the business owner is taking charge of his or her future. Entrepreneurship fuels Jamaica’s economic innovation and prosperity and serves as a key means for families to move out of low-wage jobs and into the middle class. Believe me, I am the son of an entrepreneur, and my grandmother, Dorothy Thompson, was an entrepreneur, running a Tuck Shop at the Cornwall Regional Hospital for all my life as long as she was alive and I know how that small business helped to preserve and even elevate a family, not a business chain or an empire – one shop, which sent children and grandchildren to schools and universities. So… never ever underestimate the power of the entrepreneurial spirit, and when one is doing business in your community support them, and definitely don’t devalue or undervalue their work, and don’t let them crumble under unjustified badmind.

About the author: Yannick Nesta Pessoa B.A. is Jamaica’s first blogger, a Community Activist, an Artist and Entrepreneur. Follow Yannick on Twitter at @yahnyk | yannickpessoa@yahoo.com

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