UK CEO tells government to fund social enterprises from dormant bank accounts

BY KARENA BENNETT Business reporter

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

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Peter Holbrook, Chief Executive Officer of Social Enterprise UK, reckons that the Jamaican government could use the funds of dormant bank accounts as a capital base for the country's existing and potential social enterprises.

Holbrook, who was speaking at the opening ceremony for Jamaica’s first Social Enterprise Summit at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston on Monday, recommended that the government benchmark a policy that has earned social enterprise in the United Kingdom more than £400 million ($70.4B), which could not have been financed otherwise.

"We had a law passed in the UK which allowed social enterprises to be financed through dormant bank accounts," Holbrook told the audience during his presentation entitled 'Lessons from the UK'. "Had it not been for that kind of financing, many of our social enterprises would not be in existence today."

In 2013, the Jamaica National Building Society Foundation partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to create the Social Enterprise Boost Initiative (SEBI) in Jamaica. The programme is aimed at developing business programmes for enterprises formed to assist the most vulnerable in society.

Through SEBI, social enterprises such as Mustard Seed Communities, Network of Women for Food Security, Multicare Foundation and Superior Crafts and More, have provided skills training for at-risk youths, delivered welfare services to the elderly and have also assisted the blind and visually impaired with employment. To date, SEBI has assisted 16 social enterprises across the island.

SEBI assists community social programmes which engage in economically viable and environmentally friendly activities. The initiative encourages the manufacturing and selling of products that can create profits for the entities which will be reinvested to sustain the business and social programmes.

Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton, in officially opening the summit, stated that the event should be considered a watershed in the history of the social enterprise sector and signals a new stage in the development of the sector, by introducing new approaches that, if adopted, can drive the social enterprise sector forward.

"The government recognises that partnering with social enterprises is necessary to achieving the delivery of solutions comprehensively and effectively," Hylton said. "Social entrepreneurs provide solutions which Government and the private sector are unable to deliver effectively.

"This model has found success in the USA, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Europe as a whole, and also in other parts of the world as a way of dealing with the challenges that our nonprofit sector is currently facing," he added.

A survey conducted for the social enterprise sector found that there were 15,000 registered social enterprises in the UK, employing more than 450,000 individuals such as former prison inmates, high school dropouts and financially challenged individuals, according to Holbrook. The most up to date estimates, however, suggest that there are approximately 68,000 social enterprises in the UK, contributing £24 billion to the UK economy.

"Having the minister here at the opening is very important," Holbrook stated. "Building relations is key because together you are stronger."

He advised the audience to create a manifesto highlighting to the government the needs of the social enterprises before any general election is called. He added that governments are in possession of the capital the social enterprises require; however, the key is not about how much they have but what it is being spent on.

"Jamaica can become a social enterprise island, but we must also buy social products. You could provide solutions to the world's greatest challenges just by buying social and focusing on the economics," he said.

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