Cheryl Burrell and Dionne Rowe have been operating a small grocery shop in Arnett Gardens for more than a year.
The two women admit that things have not been easy, but say that through the profits of their business they have been able to survive.
“It is because of this little shop here that I am able to buy food, pay my bills and send my children to school,” Miss Burrell tells JIS News.
The two women further confess that if it were not for the assistance of a little-known loan scheme operated by the Agency for Inner-city Renewal (AIR) they might not have been able to kick start their venture.
Called the ‘Livity’ Economic Advancement Programme, the initiative is in collaboration with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) and City of Kingston Co-operative Credit Union (COK).
Miss Rowe expresses her gratitude to the organisation that has provided her and her business partner with a small business loan to finance their business for the last two years.
Dr. Henley Morgan, who is at the forefront of the non-profit faith-based organisation, says AIR came into the war torn area of South St. Andrew with a mandate to transform the community.
‘Livity’, he says, is geared towards assisting aspiring entrepreneurs in getting a head start to realising their dreams.
“Funds are sourced through JSIF and banked through the COK and administered by AIR, so it’s a tripartite,” he informs.
He adds: “We use what is called a business incubator concept where we try to spawn micro enterprises through a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with UTech’s (University of Technology) Technology Innovation Centre (TIC).
“And, what it primarily tries to encourage people to do is to get into their own enterprises and to provide some of the essential inputs without which their survivability would be at risk,” he notes further.
Dr. Morgan tells JIS News that the aim is to eventually replicate the programme and expand it nationally. In this vein, AIR is currently in talks with the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) for additional funding to take the programme on a larger scale.
Dr. Henley Morgan is encouraging Jamaicans living in the inner city to make use of the opportunities provided to them through the ‘Livity’ Economic Advancement Programme. He describes the project as inclusive.
He points out that there is indeed a great need for similar initiatives, as many Jamaicans are bursting with bright, innovative ideas, but lack the financial backing.
“Jamaica has among the highest percentage of nascent entrepreneurs in the world; survey has shown that,” he claims. “We don’t know if its socialisation, but the average Jamaican has a million dollar idea in her head and given enough support will do it. People just know how to hustle. They raise children on almost nothing and will turn out to be successful most of the times,” he points out.
Dr. Morgan adds: “So our thing is to recognise and acknowledge that, because nobody is coming here (inner-city) to establish anything, so if you want jobs people have to create them themselves.”
He notes that there were a number of features that set the Livity programme a part from similar initiatives. One such aspect, he says, is that “typically, micro-finance loans would run at one per cent per week, 52 per cent per year. This one is considerably lower at about 35 per cent.”
He also says the loan comes with some amount of technical assistance and requires no collateral.
“People are facilitated in filling out the forms and we’ll actually go and look at their business, assess it and give them post-loan advice,” he notes.
He says just about anyone can qualify for a loan as long as they are 18 years and older and have a business idea.
Maximum loan amount for first loan is $70,000, for second loan it is $100,000 and for third loan the maximum is $150,000.
“We don’t like to say people will be turned back from getting a loan. We like to say we point people to alternatives. It’s very inclusive and everybody is worth something and can do something,” he says.
Dr. Morgan tells JIS News that the organisation also has a job placement arrangement where the team tries to find suitable jobs for unemployed persons in the community.
“We have placed over 300 people in jobs over the last few years,” he informs. “So a lot of people, who may not have the wherewithal to go into business, can be directed.”
Dr. Morgan says the programme has been extremely successful and persons have really come forward in need. Individuals have also been quite faithful in terms of repayment, he says.
“The delinquency level has been under one per cent, which is far better than any commercial bank,” he notes.
He says some 300 individuals have benefitted from the scheme so far and they have distributed as much as $5 million over the last five years.
“We have up to $30 million at our disposal,” he says.