As one of the earliest leaders in social enterprise development in Jamaica, Saffrey Brown is a pioneer with over 20 years of experience in regional and international development. Saffrey co-founded and is the current Head of Innovation at the Leap Co.; a company that bridges investment activities with impact businesses that operate on triple bottom line principles. A 2019 Eisenhower Fellow and Director of Council for Volunteer Social Services (CVSS) Saffrey has always been passionate about community development. For Global Entrepreneurship Week, Esther-Gail Fraser, CorpCare team member, sat down with Ms. Saffrey Brown to learn about her journey into social entrepreneurship and its development within the country.
Saffrey first started her journey in social entrepreneurship and development by working with Kingston Restoration Company (KRC) in Downtown Kingston after graduating from the University of the West Indies (UWI). She created and executed programmes such as Tools for Development, which put tools in the hands of tradesmen from the inner-city,The Urban Renewal Trust Fund, a small grant scheme for community organizations in inner-city Kingston, and an Education Center that helped children who needed remedial education, and high school students who needed extra-lessons.
After working there for a few years, she went to London to hone her skills and explore opportunities overseas. It was there that she learned about social enterprises after working in Housing and Regeneration and Community Development for five years. Though she did find it fulfilling to work in London and implement these projects, her heart was set on returning to Jamaica and solving major challenges at home.
Once back in Jamaica, she reconnected with Earl Jarrett, then director of JN Foundation and CEO of JN Bank, and asked if there were any projects JN would like to work on. It was that partnership that allowed Ms. Brown to introduce the concept of social enterprise to the JN family and execute on several projects with the Foundation.The Source, which originally started in August Town, was an “innovative twist on a community center which offered a combination of business and social services that are designed to transform the space that it calls home.” Subsequent to its success, four others were opened across the island, the largest located in Savanna-la-Mar, Westmoreland.
Recognizing the need to educate Jamaicans and companies on what social entrepreneurship is, Ms. Brown applied for a USAID grant to develop what is now known as SEBI, Social Enterprise Boost Initiative. This quickly ballooned into a much bigger project as USAID decided to extend funding for the project after its initial 3-year success. Since then, SEBI has partnered with several social enterprises such as Deaf Can! Coffee, Bresheh Enterprises, 360 Recycle and others, to give support and business opportunities to the growing social enterprise community.
When asked what her favourite projects were, she cited The Source August Town and Savanna-la-Mar (the first and last respectively)and SEBI especially because of how many businesses which were focused on benefitting the disabled community were on board.
Saffrey sees several opportunities for Jamaicans within the social entrepreneurship space, in fact, she believes in the next couple of years (hopefully) social entrepreneurship will be the norm as the world faces increasing social issues.
“Social Entrepreneurs are important because they fill the gap and solve problems.They are important because they come up with solutions to problems in an economic and sustainable way”.
She also believes that there are several opportunities, especially in the areas of technology, energy, and climate action. She encourages people interested in social entrepreneurship to build ‘unicorns’ - billion dollar business ideas, and not to just focus on small scale ideas, even though these remain essential for local and community transformation
When asked why she would encourage people to consider entrepreneurship she said, “it’s really about innovation and thinking outside of the box." There are many problems that need solving and we need entrepreneurs to represent and bring a business mindset to solve the different problems that we face.
As a self-identified community development practitioner, her focus has always been on developing communities so that they achieve/ reach their full potential. She believes her role is not to tell people how to live their lives, but instead to give them the tools to access the resources they need in order to live a fulfilled life.
To Ms.Saffrey Brown, we salute you and thank-you for your hand in pioneering the social enterprise and development space in Jamaica.
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