Written by Ali Matalon
This is the first letter of its kind and I hope it will be an annual one; shared every Entrepreneurship Week and shortly after the CorpCare Anniversary. I hope you will find these letters to be meaningful in your own entrepreneurial pursuits or as insight into social entrepreneurship and its many facets.
Let me start by sharing that it feels hard to write a letter of this nature, at a time like this and as an entrepreneur. But, something feeling hard should never be the singular reason to avoid it. Often, hardness is rooted in the challenge of starting. I have found this to be true for several entrepreneurs, some of the greatest hurdles being the first: sharing the idea, completing the paperwork, deciding on a name, founding the organization, asking for help.
Interestingly, my hard has shown up a year into this venture. The first days of CorpCare’s life seemed filled with ease - an overwhelmingly positive response to the idea behind its creation, a name that connected corporates to a more human desire of caring, a group of companies willing to beta test our approach, a certification course available exactly aligned with the skills demanded by my idea (to ensure it would be feasible) and most importantly, a team of young, excited and talented professionals willing to jump onboard.
CorpCare’s mission is to bolster the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) landscape of the Jamaican private sector and our vision is of a Corporate Jamaica that serves all Jamaicans.
What that means in real terms, is that we work with businesses to do more for their communities - internally (through employee wellness programs, ensuring buildings are accessible, providing sanitary products in women’s bathrooms and more) and externally (through community outreach, partnerships with nonprofit organizations and more). We do this through STRATEGY design and implementation, as well as, MONITORING and EVALUATION.
We think this model is particularly useful because it encourages businesses to adhere to CSR best practices not necessarily to spend more, but create greater social impact for every dollar spent.
After our beta testing was complete, our clients were satisfied and we had a roadmap to engagement, we began plotting business development through client acquisition and thought leadership. CorpCare had a few small clients and one large client in the pipeline when the coronavirus pandemic landed in Jamaica on March 10th 2020.
I remember the day vividly. One of my partners, Jomarie and I were attending the Minister of Finance’s budget presentation during Parliament. One man coughed in the audience and everyone jokingly leaned away from him. Jomarie and I greeted each other by tapping our feet together, also jokingly. We knew that covid-19 posed a threat to us as individuals but we had not yet come to grips with the closeness of that threat and the notion that our nation would not be spared the adverse effects felt around the world.
I guess we suffered then from some amount of Jamaican exceptionalism. As every major hurricane of the last decade or so has done, we predicted the pandemic would graze our shores but never wreak havoc across our island.
We were wrong and our government acted swiftly to let us know this would not be a game of luck. It would be a game of strategy, and one played in the dark. The information was limited, no studies had been done on the best methods of control and total lockdowns were reserved for the few developed countries with the means to care for an entire population, at home. We soon grew accustomed to a work hard but do not play hard approach to managing the pandemic, work from home where possible and only leave home for work or other essential activities.
As the curfews shortened our days “outside”, meetings with clients kept being pushed back. I found myself encouraging clients to retain staff members instead of hiring consultants. Our biggest prospective client, one of the most enthusiastic we had approached in our short startup life, was losing its own business.
As our confidence that our business would survive (at least in the present moment) waned with each passing day, one of my team members, Leah and I joined forces with a number of young people starting Citizens Response Jamaica to do our part in responding to the pandemic. CorpCare didn’t fit neatly into that equation but the ethos of our team and the organisation we wanted to become, demanded we as individuals fit ourselves into the fight against this pandemic. The ethos of CorpCare demands that we not be bystanders when faced with a global pandemic, living in a developing country at-risk of economic downturn amid any global crisis and a potentially catastrophic devastation of our national healthcare system. The ethos of CorpCare demands that we look out for each other, that we work for community over self.
I believe this to be the reason CorpCare is celebrating entrepreneurship week, I believe it to be the reason we have a team of about equal size to the one we started with and why we have all chosen to continue pursuing the mission and vision of our organization without the rewards of financial gain or satisfied clients.
Amidst the vastly shifting landscape around us,the business case for our organisation was proven.
In a country like Jamaica, private sector and civil society organizations have to play a role in filling the gap between what citizens need and what we can reasonably expect our governments to provide.
The private sector, non profit organizations, civil society and individuals took this crisis as a call to action. They proved that what we believed to be true, was true in fact. We could not go development or progress alone. No single sector, public or private, no single team and as the old adage goes, no one person.
Multi-million dollar projects to 3D print face shields, import N95 masks, buy ventilators, make gowns and feed our healthcare professionals were rolled out within days. Days, weeks and months later, we see them continue to unfold, morphing into tablet and computer programs for young kids who have been thrown into online schooling without adequate resources.
The pandemic unearthed the deep cracks in our systems. It also uncovered the beauty of our humanity.
CorpCare exists at this intersection - with a desire to underscore the importance of addressing social inequities and spurring to action the humanity of our existence, the inherent desire to “live good” with our communities.
Not too long ago, our team was awarded a JMD 1 million grant from Chevening to create a CSR Diagnostic Tool that assigned a score to organizations’ commitment to and efficacy of corporate social responsibility and its associated activities. Having been turned down by several other donors to augment Chevening’s fund, we nearly scaled the project down to a research paper on how private sector companies contributed to the fight against covid-19. It would have been a good research paper but it wouldn’t have been enough.
We needed more financing, more investment to get it done. Shortly after thinking we needed to scale back our ideas, a few organisations stepped in to help us fill the gap. We’re grateful but we’re also gratified, feeling as though our ideas were meaningful to a wider cross section of people who believed the impact could be far reaching.
This project is still maybe a bit too ambitious and a tiny bit underfunded but every week, the team shows up ready to get the job done.
I wanted to focus this letter on a lot of different things but I couldn’t escape writing about the effects the pandemic has had on a small company like ours, and the observable effects it has had on the communities we are trying to serve.
But if there is nothing else you take from this letter, I hope you walk away with the belief that “doing good” is not a singular action but is the result of stubbornness in the face of adversity, resiliency in the face of disappointment and can only be done through a deep-rooted desire to fulfill the potential of our humanity. Much like entrepreneurship itself.
To my co-directors and team, thank you for holding true to that stubbornness even when I have lost hope. Thank you for helping me lead this team and believing in the power of people. Thank you for giving of your time and yourselves to our shared goals.
I am less convinced today than I was in September of 2019 that there is a market for services like those which CorpCare provides. But, I am more convinced than ever that the case for a business like ours, continues to exist.
Moreover, the belief that every human is born of equal potential continues to be the driving force behind every action we take and our outrage at the inequity in the distribution of resources grounds us in our advocacy.
CorpCare may not exist tomorrow or even next year in time for this letter to be written but the ethos of our existence always will.