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Global Jamaica Diaspora Council Northeast Representative, Dr. Karren Dunkley.
Photo: Contributed

At least 30 small Jamaican-owned businesses in the United States of America (USA) have been surviving the onslaught of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic with a lifeline of well-needed funds facilitated through technical support from the Jamaica Diaspora Northeast USA.

The group’s Economic Development and Empowerment Sector team, headed by Dr. Karren Dunkley, was able to help the entities secure US$3.6 million in support through the Federal Government and Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI).

These include day care and home healthcare facilities, restaurants, not-for-profit and faith-based organisations, technology and communications entities, and construction companies.

Dr. Dunkley, who is the Global Jamaica Diaspora Council Northeast Representative, tells JIS News that the team decided to step in to assist the business owners after hearing their plight at a forum held through the Northeast Diaspora Think Tank.

“This is where we realised the gravity of the situation. Our small businesses were at risk of going under because of COVID-19,” she notes.

She says that the team executed a series of small business fora to educate the entrepreneurs about the funding opportunities available to them through the Federal Government in the form of grants and loans.

“It was known as the Emergency Injury Disaster Loans or the Paycheck Protection Programme (PPP). The loans could be written off if the funds were spent according to particular requirements, thus making it into a grant. There were a number of other agencies providing small grants to help keep small businesses afloat but our small businesses had no access for a host of reasons and issues,” explains Dr. Dunkley.

In addition to the information fora, the diaspora team created a technical assistance group whose sole purpose was to assist business owners to complete the relevant paper work needed to apply for these loans and grants in a timely manner.

The technical assistance group also helped companies to improve their quality assurance practices and prepared them to be able to receive assistance of any kind.

“All beneficiaries have been positively overwhelmed after receiving the grant funds. Being able to retain and pay their staff as well as remaining fiscally solvent in a fluctuating economy is major,” says Dr. Dunkley.

She tells JIS News that ensuring the continuity of small businesses is critical to the sustainability of the local economies in which they operate.

“Small businesses provide job creation, wealth creation and they innovate. They are the sustained fabric of the community, and where small businesses thrive, the community thrives. The contribution to the local economy in terms of growth is immeasurable. Small businesses knit the community together and we value that. It is, therefore, important that we do everything in our power to ensure they stay afloat, pandemic or no pandemic,” she notes.

Among the beneficiaries of the support is Wayne Thompson, who owns staffing and recruiting company AV Staffing Solutions.

Mr. Thompson, who is also a member of the Economic Development and Empowerment Sector team, tells JIS News that his business has “advanced tremendously” through the funds provided, noting that he has been able to retain his staff and assist clients and stakeholders.

“Our primary objective before the pandemic was to recruit unique talents for technology companies, but once COVID-19 hit, most of the jobs we recruited for pretty much ceased, to be no more. We applied for the PPP and were forced to adjust our approach,” says Mr. Thompson.

“Initially, we focused on companies and what types of candidates they needed, but we flipped it to focus on candidates and their needs. We began to train individuals on how to prepare their résumés, how to navigate the job market and how to prepare for and do better in interviews. We became more people-oriented. This change was heavily impacted by the pandemic as many had lost their jobs and would be in search of new opportunities. We wanted to assist in that process,” Mr. Thompson continues.

The Jamaica Diaspora Northeast continues to host sensitisation fora and think tank sessions to help Jamaican-owned businesses while maintaining connection with the island.

Dr. Dunkley says that the group places Jamaicans at the centre of its activities. “Our vision is to create a model of excellence for Diaspora engagement that contributes towards nation-building and provides sustainable support for Jamaicans living at home and in the Northeast United States,” she tells JIS News.

“We have aligned our strategic initiatives with the sectors and we focus on the principle of partnership and sustainable development while being guided by the Vision 2030 goals and outcomes,” she adds.

The other members of the Economic Development and Empowerment Sector team are: Co-chairs Tracy Tomlinson and Donahue Bailey; Bishop Shawn Bartley; Tracey Andrews; Tracy Ann Brammer and Vanessa Butler.

The USA Northeast region includes New York, New Jersey, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania.

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