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Entrepreneurship and development

Published: Sunday | February 1, 2009

Martin Henry

This is a good, although grim time, to talk about entrepreneurship. Even Food for the Poor is
shedding jobs, joining a wide range of sectors and organisations, including media, in this time of
economic difficulty.

The last time there was a systematic separation from jobs in the public service, there was a
flowering of entrepreneurial activity. This was in the 1980s when the Seaga government trimmed
the civil service. After the tears and hand-wringing attendant upon job separation, a large number
of former employees used their redundancy money as start-up business capital. Many had
reason to thank their former employers for having kicked them out of 'secure' employment into the
world of entrepreneurship.

Last year, the Bank of Nova Scotia in Jamaica put up some $30 million to finance the Scotiabank
Chair in Entrepreneurship and Development at the University of Technology (UTech). The Chair is
occupied by Professor Rosalea Hamilton who negotiated it and who delivered her inaugural
professorial lecture on 'Fostering entrepreneurship to enhance economic development' last
Wednesday.

UTech seems a particularly good place for a Chair of this sort, with its professional and technical
programmes, which not only provide work-ready employees, but strong foundations for
entrepreneurial activity. The Chair is embedded in the University's Technology Innovation Centre.

To his credit, Prime Minister Bruce Golding, in his stimulus package broadcast last month,
emphasised the role of small businesses and new businesses in the growth and development of
Jamaica and earned the accolade of the Small Business Association. The Scotiabank Chair in
Entrepreneurship and development is focusing particularly on micro-, small- and medium-size
enterprises (MSMEs). The sponsoring financial institution, under Bill Clarke's leadership, has
developed a strong interest in backing MSMEs.

The purpose of the UTech chair is to engage in research and case studies on entrepreneurship
and development; initiate and implement specific projects and programmes to facilitate the growth
of entrepreneurship; organise training programmes on sound entrepreneurial practice; and,
engage in public education on entrepreneurship.

fascinating and productive period

If Professor Hamilton's more esoteric academic definitions of entrepreneurship are bank-vaulted


for a while, the most fascinating and productive period of Jamaican entrepreneurship has to be
that immediate post-Emancipation period when ex-slaves rapidly created a free peasantry
through sheer entrepreneurial drive.

Esteemed chronicler, the late Sir Philip Sherlock, wrote in West Indian Nations: A New History,
"[By 1840] fifty-eight free villages had been established in various parts of Jamaica containing
5,000 houses. By 1844, as many as 16,000 families had established themselves on their own
land in 116 communities, generally with the help of nonconformist missionaries." Any new wave of
entrepreneurship on this scale will need similar assistance.

wasted capital

Today, untitled parcels of land and the houses on them which cannot be mobilised for business
represent the greatest pool of wasted capital in the country. What redundancy money did for the
entrepreneurship wave of the 1980s, land titling and secure home ownership could do in this first
decade of the 21st century and beyond.

Professor Hamilton reminded us that industry, investment and Commerce minister, Karl Samuda
had told us last year in the Sectoral Budget Debate that "creation of employment and growth in
our country lies in the hands of small businesses. One of our immediate priorities is to empower
and facilitate the sector through business development, funding, and other strategies. This is the
cornerstone of the strategy. Through development of the small-business sector, we can grow the
economy, create sustainable employment and distribute income down the economic ladder".
Nearly one year has passed and it is useful to pause and check to see what Minister Samuda has
been up to. Perhaps he should tell us. That is stewardship.

Professor Hamilton's inaugural lecture offered some interesting entrepreneurial data. There was
hardly any surprise in the fact that women make better micro-entrepreneurs. This has been the
premise of the Grameen Bank. What came as a shock was that in 2006, 87 per cent of own-
account workers and employers in micro and small enterprises had never passed an
examination! We don't want to conclude that education is bad for entrepreneurship. But there is a
lively debate that the professor of entrepreneurship and development cannot avoid about whether
entrepreneurship can be taught or only facilitated.
micro and small enterprises

It is estimated that up to 85 per cent of all business activity in the Caribbean is at the level of
micro and small enterprises. And it is well-established that more jobs are created at this level than
among large enterprises. Listen up, promisers of jobs and more jobs!

Differentiating between real entrepreneurs and mere owner/managers [a differentiation which


drew fire from elements of the audience], the professor set out an extensive prescription of
policies and programmes and a legal framework to facilitate the growth of what she describes as
"entrepreneurial MSMEs" to power up economic development in Jamaica. Hamilton's
entrepreneurs, in essence, use innovation to convert capital into profit and in doing so, employ
others.

Today being the first day of Black History Month, let me wrap up with an entrepreneurial quote
from Marcus Garvey, himself an entrepreneur, from a speech delivered shortly after he launched
the election manifesto of his People's Political Party in 1929: "Jamaica is naturally wealthy, so
ought to be prosperous if the masses were trained, educated and helped ... to develop the natural
resources of the country for the good of all. God or nature has blessed this little island. It has an
abundance of natural resources to make Jamaica truly prosperous for all, and a pleasurable
place to live on God's earth." In the manifesto, Garvey had advocated the establishment of a
Jamaica university and polytechnic and a government loan for development.

Martin Henry is a communications consultant. Feedback may be sent to medhen@gmail. com or


columns@gleanerjm.com.