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Grace Food chief urges Diaspora to become entrepreneurs

CHALLENGE: (From left) Douglas Orane with High Commission attaché Kerry Dixon, Acting High Commissioner Joan Edwards, and Ryan Mack, head of Grace Foods UK

TOO MANY people are dooming their children to dissatisfactory lives because they stress getting a job rather then entrepreneurship, said the chairman of Grace Kennedy Ltd, as he addressed a gathering at the Jamaican High Commission in London last week.

Delivering the first in a series of lectures at the Commission, which signalled the start of Jamaica 50 celebrations in the UK, Senator Douglas Orane urged Jamaicans in the Diaspora to ditch the ‘get a job’ mentality and let their natural business skills flourish.

In his address entitled Unleashing the Entrepreneurial Spirit: The Jamaican Experience, on May 16, Orane said Jamaica had several examples of successful entrepreneurship, with nearly half of the labour force in Jamaica being self-employed.


Citing a long list of Jamaicans who have set up manufacturing, food, financial institutions and other businesses in the island, the US, Canada and the UK, Orane said: “As Jamaicans, many of you are born entrepreneurs. That is our history. However, we have been socialised to believe that being academics and government servants is the be all and end all of our being.

“Think about it. Is that your dream? My challenge to you is check out those men and women who have become masters of their own destiny. What is stopping each and every one of you from being captain of your own ship? My reading of the business scene is that the open seas are there for you to set sail in your own ship.”

The audience, which consisted of a wide cross section of the Jamaican UK community, were reminded of the strength of Grace Kennedy subsidiary Grace Foods UK, which is behind popular food and sauce brands such as Grace, Encona, health drink Nurishment and Dunn’s River products.

Mr Orane said his study of the three main areas of Jamaican migration – the US, Canada and the UK – showed that while migrants took their entrepreneurial skills with them, these skills have manifested in different ways depending on the country in which people have settled.

“In the case of Canada, the migratory pattern has tended to be one of relatively well educated people moving there from Jamaica. Many of them also had already owned businesses or had families involved in industry and commerce in Jamaica. Therefore, on settling in Canada they transported with them a culture not only of entrepreneurship but also the structural framework that directed their desire to create and nurture sustainable businesses.

“In the US, a similar pattern took place. However, the size of the migration has been much larger and has incorporated a far wider range of skills and income levels. The migrations to these two North American countries have been relatively recent in the history of Jamaica, which has allowed for closer bonds to be maintained between the indigenous Jamaican business community and the Diaspora business community."

He said that despite the successes of UK-based entrepreneurs such as Reggae Reggae Sauce’s Levi Roots and Black Farmer food products founder Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, “in the case of the UK, migration started much earlier, from just after World War Two in the late 1940s, and the typical migrants were seeking better economic opportunities, since they were largely coming from rural communities where there was little opportunity for employment."

As a result, a culture has become embedded where a strong theme in the UK Diaspora is to seek security through preparing for and obtaining a nine-to-five job.

“We know from anecdotal evidence that this is encouraged by parents with their children. Many times, children hear comments like ‘go and get a good education and become a lawyer or a doctor’, or ‘don’t get involved in business… it’s too risky’.”

He quoted UK-based entrepreneur Junior Douglas of Dees Imports, who said of his upbringing, ‘The worst thing my father did to me was to send me to university to study political science, and then he told me to go and look a job with the government. It is a good thing that after I left university, I realised that if I had followed through on that, I would have regretted it. I went into business instead.’

Orane, who spent nearly five years in the UK in the 1960s and attended a Scottish university, said he learned two valuable lessons early that helped him to succeed.

The first was to get to know those who are successful and learn “business etiquette”; the second was that “all successful people, without exception, have taken personal responsibility for the outcome of their lives. Blaming others for our failures is ceding our own power to others, thus draining our batteries, and is ultimately self-defeating.”

Orane also said it was interesting how Jamaicans are keen to change their environments, no matter where they are.


He said: “…Jamaicans tend to excel in the social arena and are prevalent in sections of the society which deliver social services, which is very important. You will often find us as the heads of non-governmental organisations and community based organisations, as we are passionate about being at the forefront of the engine of change. But this may well have been to the detriment of our greater involvement in the business community.

“A member of another ethnic minority in the UK made this telling comment: ‘Jamaicans control the aspects of making life bearable for everyone, but they often forget to make money for themselves.’ ”

He also referred to complaints made that some Jamaicans in the Diaspora fail to support Jamaican businesses and have a mentality described as ‘crabs in a barrel’, “…that is, we do not want to see any of our own succeed.”
He linked it back to slavery, but said: “We are now masters of our destiny (and) the good news is this - I believe that that historical divisive attitude is receding.”

Orane urged aspiring entrepreneurs not to be put off by bureaucracy, social barriers and obstacles that may come from financial institutions that are reluctant to lend money to black businesses. He said more businesses are relying on personal funding and family and friends.

In addition, Orane said: “We need to examine how other ethnic groups have overcome this issue and learn from it ourselves.

“I have periodically heard complaints that banks are reluctant to lend to newly emerging Jamaican entrepreneurs. I asked one of our senior bankers in GraceKennedy what he would suggest to facilitate overcoming this issue in the future. His advice: ‘Open an account, save regularly, always pay your credit card statements on time, get to know your bank manager, establish an exemplary track record’.”

Orane ended his lecture by fielding a lively question and answer session from the audience. Host for the evening was Jamaica’s Acting High Commissioner Mrs Joan Edwards, who welcomed and introduced Mr Orane.

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