THE JAMES BELGRAVE MICRO ENTERPRISE DEVELOPMENT FUND INC. BELfund
The James Belgrave Micro Enterprise Development Fund Inc. (BELfund) was established by the Government of St. Lucia, primarily to promote sustainable development through self-help micro enterprise projects for individuals, families and groups among the less privileged sectors, through the provision of low cost loans, enterprise training, technical assistance and other support services.
In this regard, the overall objective of the BELfund is the empowerment of the poor, deprived, unemployed St. Lucian micro entrepreneur. BELfund fosters self-employment and job creation through the promotion and development of commercial and productive activities among low-income social and economic groups, and the informal sector in St. Lucia. This will be accomplished through the provision of Credit, Business Training, Business Support and other business services to poor persons who are seeking to become self-sufficient and therefore independent.
The BELfund was established to meet the following objectives
- To promote sustainable development through self-help micro enterprise projects for individuals, families and groups among the less privileged sectors through the provision of low cost loans, enterprise training, technical assistance and other support services.
- To facilitate initiatives which will allow for the advancement of academic and technical skills and employability of persons.
- To encourage small-scale commercial projects which will provide social relief and improve the standard of living of residents.
- To support initiatives that will create opportunities for sustainable employment and viable commercial activity.
- To assist the underprivileged sectors to improve their standard of economic and social well-being and in the process to uplift their dignity.
In meeting its objectives, the BELfund will undertake specific activities as follows:
- Make micro-enterprise credit facilities available to the less privileged members of society at affordable rates.
- Train micro-entrepreneurs in the rudiments of business operations.
- Provide technical assistance and business support to these micro-entrepreneurs to see the business through to success.
- Mobilize and coordinate (local and international) financial, human, physical and technological resources and to utilize such resources to develop economically sound and financially viable projects for the less privileged sectors in the national economy.
- Encourage the less privileged persons to access scientific, educational, economic and social development opportunities in St. Lucia.
- Promote self-help (individual, family and group) micro enterprise planning and development within the less privileged sectors of St. Lucia and encourage the more privileged sectors of the community to support such initiatives.
- Encourage the financial and business sectors to support the development of the less privileged sectors.
The BELfund was named after St. Lucia’s best known Philanthropist and Champion of the Poor, deceased James Alexander Belgrave, whose aim was always “to make ladies and gentlemen of the common girl and boy on the streets”. The BELfund was incorporated under the Companies Act of Saint Lucia on December 19, 1999 and opened its doors to the public on May 30, 2000.
All someone needs to begin the process of accessing assistance from BELfund is a business idea, which he or she believes can make money to sustain them. It starts with a visit to the BELfund’s Office and a request to speak with an Officer. This is where the first interview is conducted with the client. An appointment is not necessary at this point.
The client, together with the Officer will discuss the idea with a view to determining whether there is potential for the prospective business, and in the particular, at the location which the client is considering establishing that business.
If the Officer believes, based on knowledge and experience with other similar businesses and also with the particular area in which the business is to be located, that the business idea has the potential of becoming a viable business, then he/she (the Officer) will provide the client with the documentation necessary to commence the second stage of the process. At this stage, the Officer will inform the client that upon completion and collection of the necessary documentation, he/she would need to make an appointment for the second Interview. The reason being, that the second interview is a much longer interview than the first, and so it necessitates the Officer dedicating sufficient time to the client in undertaking that part of the process. It is at this point that the Officer together with the client will develop the business idea further, possibly into a business.
Currently there are two (2) programmes available at the BELfund. They are the normal BELfund programme and the Youth Enterprise Development Fund (YEDF). The normal programme caters to all clients between the ages of 18 years and over, while the Youth Enterprise Development Fund caters to youth between the ages of 18 – 35 years.
For normal BELfund loans, the maximum loan is thirty thousand dollars ($30,000.00) and is the same for YEDF. The Guarantor requirements under normal BELfund loans is three (3) Guarantors, while under the YEDF only one (1) Guarantor is required. Finally, for normal BELfund loans, the Training Programme is of two (2) days duration, while under the YEDF the training programme is covered over a period of twenty (20) days or one (1) month.
James Alexander Belgrave was a St. Lucian who, on countless occasions, showed great love for humanity. He was often labeled a man with a stout heart, great determination and much patriotism. He was always willing and ready to sacrifice leisure time and money in order to be of assistance to his fellowmen and in particular, the unfortunate and wayward youth in this land.
Born to Richard and Beatrice Belgrave on 15th August 1909, James A. Belgrave received his early education at the Anglican Primary School. At a very early age he became renowned for his wit and his ability to entertain.
In the 1930’s Mr. Belgrave became the first person to present carnival as an organized group pageant. This achievement earned him the nickname “Way-Le-Le”.
Mr. “B” as he was affectionately known, was a multi-talented man who used his talent wisely. He founded what he termed a “unique youth organization” the Victoria Sports, Athletic, Dramatic and Cultural Club (VSADC) on 16th September 1935. The Club nurtured scores of young men and women in the areas of sports, drama and music; areas in which Mr. “B” excelled. To expound his aims and objectives, he chose a motto which reflected the true man: mans sana in corpore sano” (A sound mind in a sound body).
In keeping with the title VSADC for his club, Mr. “B” organized a drama group which gave wonderful performances of the plays which he wrote himself. Two of those plays were; “Life and its Coincidences and “A Woman and her Brave Army”. James Belgrave’s contribution in the field of music was substantial. He was known by many as an ardent choirmaster, leading a choir on Derek Walcott Square during the Jaycees’ Christmas Tree Celebration.
His ability as a leader was tested and tried when he founded another organization, The Castries Boys’ Club in 1951. This club was for those he called “the waifs and strays” and was situated at the Reclamation Grounds in Conway. He promoted the development of scores of young boys in areas such as physical training, art, music, woodwork, agriculture and masonry. As a result, many of them grew up to be well-mannered and self-dependent citizens.
Mr. Belgrave’s musical skill did come into play during the Club’s activities. He taught the boys to play the steel band. His achievement was visible when “The Melody Brothers All-steel Orchestra”, which he formed, won the island’s competition in steel-band music in 1953.
In the field of sport, Mr. Belgrave emerged as an outstanding sports administrator. In 1949 and 1954, he was elected secretary and treasurer respectively of the “St. Lucia Football Association”. Also in 1953, he was treasurer of the St. Lucia Table Tennis Association. He was also a member of the St. Lucia Athletic Association. His love for boxing motivated him to train many of the boys from the club and many other local boxers at that time.
James always sought to promote friendship, mutual understanding and cooperation among youth organizations locally and regionally. He was able to achieve that, to some extent, as president of the St. Lucia National Youth Council, where he touched base with all the youth groups on the island. He was the first president of that organization in 1967. In 1974, he was elected vice president of the St. Lucia Mental Health Association.
On June 10th, 1954 James Alexander Belgrave was honoured by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, with the British Empire Medal. Also in acknowledgement of his contribution, an avenue at Sans Soucis and a Multipurpose Sports Complex were named after him.
In his latter years, he founded the “James Belgrave Kindergarten Childcare Centre” in lower Maynard Hill or Trou Rouge in Marchand. One of his greatest desires was to make men and women of the common boy and girl on the streets of Castries. That he succeeded in doing in large measure.
James Alexander Belgrave’s long history as a Social worker, Leader, Musician, Sportsman and greatest of them all, Philanthropist and Champion of the Poor came to a halt when he died on March 28th, 1983. His contribution and dedication to the upliftment and development of the underprivileged will long be remembered.
The Government of Saint Lucia, as part of its search for a strategy to eradicate poverty on a sustainable basis, proposed the establishment of the James Belgrave Social Investment Fund (1992-2000 Budget Speech). The proposed fund had the following objectives:
Support initiatives that will engender greater community togetherness and civic responsibility and promote participation in community development.
Facilitate initiatives that will allow for the advancement of academic and technical skills and employability of persons.
Encourage small-scale infra-structural projects, which will provide social relief and improve the living condition of residents.
Support initiatives that will create opportunities for sustainable employment and viable commercial activity.
The then Prime Minister and Minister for Finance in presenting the national budget also indicated that: “Overall…the objective is to rescue some of our young people from crime and direct them to self-sustaining economic activity.” To support the fund, the Prime Minister allocated EC$600,000.00 from the STEP programme.
THE PURPOSE OF THE BELfund:
The James Belgrave Micro Enterprise Development Fund Inc. (BELfund) was established primarily to assist the poor, deprived, underprivileged and unemployed St. Lucian Micro Entrepreneurs who have thus far been unable to access credit facilities. The BELfund has as its overall objective, the empowerment of the poor, the unemployed micro entrepreneur and other under privileged persons.
BELfund will foster self-employment and job creation through the promotion and development of commercial and productive activities among low-income social and economic groups, and the informal sector in St. Lucia. This will be accomplished through the provision of Credit, Business Training, Business Support and other support services to poor persons who are seeking to become self-sufficient and therefore independent.
An assessment undertaken by the World Bank of the Micro-finance sub-sector in Saint Lucia in March 1999 entitled “Revolving Fund for a Micro-finance Institution) recorded the following findings;
That micro finance institutions in St. Lucia do not follow sound financial practices regarding micro finance.
Micro finance institutions in Saint Lucia require collateral that the majority of micro entrepreneurs and farmers cannot satisfy.
The poorest of the poor are not beneficiaries of micro credit.
Interventions or projects aimed at assisting micro entrepreneurs to increase the profitability of their enterprises tend to be piecemeal, disjointed and limited in scope.
An integral approach is needed to improve the profitability of the micro sector.
If projects and investments that are proposed and/or are on-going were coordinated to provide an integrated set of interventions, impacts would be greater.
The report analyzed various options inclusive of the creation of a new institution for lending to the poor. The report further indicated that a “new institution could select the best expertise in the region to launch a programme designed to follow the best practices and reach the poor. A new institution would not have to overcome the bad habits of some of the existing institution but could start afresh.
The James Belgrave Micro Enterprise Development Fund Inc (BELfund) commenced its business operations on May 31st, 2000 at #31 Leslie Land Road in Castries. To date many persons have been interviewed in first interviews, and second interviews have been and are continuing to be conducted.
Since opening for business, a total of seven hundred and twenty-nine (796) loans have been approved at a total value of approximately 10.08 million dollars in the following areas of business:
SERVICE & TRADE :
Goods Delivery Services
Restaurants & Fast Food Canteens
Pre School/Day Care
Computer & Cell Phone Repairs
Beauty Day Spas
Tyre Service & Repair Shops
Videography & Photography
Auto Body Repair & Cleaning
Muffler, Radiator & Shock Repair
Auto Mechanic Shops
MANUFACTURING & INDUSTRY:
Craft & Boat Building
Puzzle Book Publication
Cocoa Stick Processing
Soya Bean Processing
Scented Candle Manufacture
Jams & Jellies Leather Craft
Concrete Products Manufacture
RETAIL & DISTRIBUTION:
Frozen Foods Retail
Local Music Distribution
Gift and Souvenir Shops
Health Product Retail
Layer (Egg) Production
Approximately eighty (93) training sessions in Micro Enterprise Management have been conducted at the BELfund’s facilities over the years with a total of over seven hundred and fifty (790) clients and non-clients participating.
To date, seven hundred and twenty-nine (796) loans (which include additional loans to existing clients) have already been disbursed at a total value of $10.08 million, and in the process at least one thousand, one hundred and fifty-three (1153) direct jobs have been created, with at least one thousand and three hundred and seventy-five (1375) indirect short-term jobs created as a result of the numerous renovations, extensions and other minor construction works undertaken in the various businesses by the clients.
Of the seven hundred and twenty-nine (729) loans that have been disbursed, 30% of current portfolio can be classified as delinquent clients. Presently, at least 60% of the BELfund’s clients are either sustainable or are doing well by all accounts and are continuing to manage their businesses. Many of the clients continue to service their loans, although a large number are paying less than the required amount, or paying in an untimely manner. A general decline in economic activity can be attributed to the payment and delinquency problems being experienced at this time.
In other areas of success it can be safely said that more of the BELfund’s target market, which is the Grass roots sector, and more so the youth, have been benefiting from the programme and receiving assistance as opposed to in the early stages of business. Whilst this is a very positive sign, we are cognizant of the fact that more needs to be done to get more of those persons coming forward to receive assistance from the BELfund.
Also worth noting is the fact that we have established clear policies and guidelines for the efficient and effective operation of the BELfund. The measures so far taken and those to be taken are designed to strengthen the internal control procedures of the BELfund and to ensure greater transparency and accountability in the conduct of the BELfund’s affairs.
The geographic spread of participants to date are as follows:
Castries, Babonneau, Grand Rivierre, Marisule, Mongiraud, Monchy, Bocage, Forestierre, Bexon, Marc, Barre Denis, Marigot, La Croix, Roseau,
Desruisseaux, Vieux Fort, Laborie
Dennery, Praslin, Mon Repos, Micoud
Millet, Anse La Raye, Canaries, Soufriere, Choiseul
Gender of Participants:
Of the seven hundred and twenty-nine (729) persons who have benefited from BELFund’s assistance, 370 are Female while 359 are Male.
The age range of beneficiaries from the BELfund’s programme of assistance to date is from 18 years to 74 years. However, of the total number of persons benefiting from the programme, over 50% are young persons between the ages of 18 – 35 years old.
Rural Development Credit Facility:
In July 2003, the BELfund was the recipient of funds from the European Development Fund in the sum of two hundred thousand dollars ($200,000.00), enabling it to participate in the Rural Development Credit facility established by the National Authorizing Office/European Development Fund (NAO/EDF. The Rural Development Credit Facility is a 50/50 per cent Loan/Grant Funding project of the NAO/EDF initiated to provide additional financial assistance to entrepreneurs up to a maximum of twenty-five thousand dollars ($25,000.00). In other words, clients under that project were able to apply for as much as forty thousand dollars ($40,000.00) to undertake their project and receive twenty thousand dollars ($20,000.00) in Loan funds and another twenty thousand dollars ($20,000.00) in Grant Funds.
However, in order to benefit from the grant funds, the entrepreneur must apply for and be granted a loan from a financial institution. Grant Funds in that regard were to be used to assist in the payment of fees associated with the loans and also for Technical Assistance (Business Plan preparation and implementation, Administrative, Accounting and Management) etc., after which any excess amounts would be used to assist with the purchase of equipment or stock etc. The idea behind the facility was to ensure that small and micro enterprises were provided with the necessary tools to assist them in establishing a successful business.
With the depletion of these funds in October 2003 another Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was signed with the European Development Fund in November 2003 making provision for another three hundred thousand dollars ($300,000.00). In May 2004 a third Memorandum of Agreement was signed between the BELfund and the NAO/EDF for an additional amount of two hundred thousand dollars ($200,000.00) for further assistance to participating entrepreneurs
The request for funds from the Rural Development Credit Facility was tremendous, and so were the benefits being derived from the facility. Agricultural diversification was one such benefit from the facility as a number of former Banana farmers were able to venture into areas such as Poultry Farming, Pig Farming, Deep Sea Fishing and other areas of business. The facility also provided aspiring entrepreneurs who required more than the BELfund’s maximum loan of twenty thousand dollars ($20,000.00) with an opportunity to establish their enterprises.
Re-commencement of the Rural Development Credit Facility – 2008
In 2008, the National Authorizing Office undertook to re-commence the Rural Development Credit Facility, utilizing the balance of funds under the SFA 2004 programme and the BELfund was one (1) of the few institutions allowed to participate. This was because it was felt (based on a report coming out of a consultation) that the BELfund was one institution best placed to provide assistance to the target beneficiaries of the Rural Development Credit Facility.
In that regard, a total of eight hundred and thirty-six thousand dollars ($836,000.00), matched by loan funds from BELfund was received between the period 2008 – 2009 and disbursed to qualified and needy micro entrepreneurs around the island of Saint Lucia. Under this programme, the greater proportion of funds were requested and disbursed to the Service and Trade sector. This trend is a slight shift from previous programmes where most of the funds requested were for Agricultural Diversification and from the Retail and Distribution sector.
In an effort to highlight the achievements and showcase the products and services of its clients, three (3) Product and Service Exhibitions have been held as follows;
A four-day exhibition held at the Castries City Hall from December 9 – 12, 2002. Twelve clients participated in the exhibition, which featured Ceramics, Scented Candles, Confectionery, Wines, Soya Products, Icicles, Drapery all locally manufactured and services such as Hair Dressing, Bridal Services, Bakery & Baking Services, and Horticulture using Magic Crystals etc.
A three (3) day exhibition held at the Vieux Fort Town Hall from October 28 – 30, 2003 in collaboration with the National Skills Development Centre (NSDC), whose Cosmetology Class put on massage, facial and other demonstrations through out the period. A total of twelve (12) out of an invited sixteen (16) BELfund clients participated in this exhibition, which featured Leather Craft, Marketing & Advertising Services, Radiator & Muffler Repair, Hair Dressing, Confectionery, Furniture, Upholstery, Architectural Design, Concrete Products, Dress & Uniform making and Screen Printing etc.
A three (3) day exhibition held at the Anse La Raye Parish Centre from Wednesday December 8 – 10, 2004. A total of thirteen (13) out of an invited twenty (20) clients participated in this exhibition which featured additional new products such as Aqua-culture, Joinery, Personalized Souvenirs and Garment Manufacture.
Feedback received from the many persons who attended these exhibitions indicates a high level of satisfaction and a high success rate. Everyone who filled out the comment sheets gave the products and services on display very high rankings in terms of the quality of the displays, even indicating the possibility of export and marketability.
In December 2002 the BELfund produced its first documentary, comprising three programmes, each highlighting two (2) successful BELfund clients. The purpose of the documentary was to highlight the work of the BELfund, to showcase the businesses of some of the persons who have benefited from the programme and how other persons can benefit from it also.
In August 2004, a second documentary was produced by the organization. This documentary featured the procedures for accessing a loan from the BELfund. It also featured at least six (6) beneficiaries, describing their experience with the organization and their successes to date.
THE WAY FORWARD:
In an effort to becoming more effective and make an even bigger impact in the St. Lucian Economy and on the populace of this country, the following is necessary:
- The need to further sensitize the populace of the existence of the BELfund and the services available to them. This can be achieved by the following;
- The continuation of the Community Outreach Programmes in the various out districts where the core of the BELfund’s target market exists.
- The continuation of the Public Relations and Advertising campaigns using the various media available.
- The availability of adequate funds to ensure a smooth operation of the BELfund as it relates to its operations and more importantly the granting of loans to clients.
- The sourcing of Grant or Charitable Funds which can be given at rates which can be considered concessionary to those persons who may not be able to meet the current requirements of the BELfund.
- The continued training of the BELfund’s staff members in the various areas of Micro Enterprise Development and Loans Management and any other areas which may be relevant to the operations of the Fund, in an effort to providing more efficient and effective service to its clients.
- The continued training of the BELfund’s clients in the various areas of business to ensure the continued success of their businesses in the long term.
- The need to put in place in the medium to long term, at least 2 Project Development Extension Officers whose job it will be to travel to the rural areas on different days to conduct loan interviews with those persons who are unable to make the journey to Castries.
All of the above are necessary if the BELfund is to have or expected to make any significant impact on the society and the economy of St. Lucia as a whole. However it must be stressed that the availability of sufficient funds to allow such impact is and will continue to be very necessary in the life span of the organization.
The strategy of poverty reduction through employment is sure to create sustainable development not only economically, but socially as well, as more St. Lucians will be able to provide for themselves and their families. The James Belgrave Micro Enterprise Development Fund Inc, if allowed, will serve as an effective weapon in the fight against poverty and under-development and is sure to create a significant and lasting impact on the economic and social landscape of St. Lucia.
The BELfund is now located at the John Compton Highway in Castries at the ground floor of the Labour Department.
To create the conditions for the empowerment of the poor, through fostering sustainable micro enterprise development, by providing access to credit, enterprise training, business support, technical assistance and other support services.
The vision for St. Lucia held by the BELfund is of a country which affords the poor, deprived, unemployed St. Lucian every opportunity for economic and social advancement and self improvement, and which promotes and encourages sustainable micro enterprise development as a mechanism for such development.