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.
SERVICE & TRADE :
- Hair Braiding
- Hair Dressing
- Tailor Shop
- Goods Delivery Services
- Restaurants & Fast Food Canteens
- Pre School/Day Care
- Block Making
- Computer Applications
- Computer & Cell Phone Repairs
- Karaoke System
- Beauty Parlours
- Barber Shops
- Massage Parlours
- Beauty Day Spas
- Tyre Service & Repair Shops
- Videography & Photography
- Security Agency
- Internet Cafes
- Sign Making
- Auto Body Repair & Cleaning
- Janitorial Services
- Printing Services
- Muffler, Radiator & Shock Repair
- Electronics Repair
- Auto Mechanic Shops
MANUFACTURING & INDUSTRY:
- Craft & Boat Building
- Puzzle Book Publication
- Cocoa Stick Processing
- Soya Bean Processing
- Ceramics Manufacture
- Furniture Manufacture
- Dress Making
- Icicle Manufacture
- Wine Production
- Scented Candle Manufacture
- Jams & Jellies Leather Craft
- Concrete Products Manufacture
RETAIL & DISTRIBUTION:
- Mini Marts
- Grocery Shops
- Vending (Roadside)
- Frozen Foods Retail
- Local Music Distribution
- Pottery Retail
- Variety Shops
- Gift and Souvenir Shops
- Bridal Parlour
- Health Product Retail
- Fish Vending
- Fishing Accessories
- Pig Rearing
- Broiler Production
- Layer (Egg) Production
- Vegetable Farming
- Aqua Culture
To date, over nine hundred and fourty (940) loans have already been disbursed at a total value of approximately $16.7 million, and in the process at least one thousand four hundred and ten (1410) direct jobs have been created, with at least one thousand five hundred and ninty-eight (1598) 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.
In other areas of success it can be safely said that more of the BELfund’s target market, which is the Grass roots, and more so the youth, have been benefiting from the programme and receiving assistance. 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:
Dennery, Praslin, Mon Repos, Micoud
Millet, Anse La Raye, Canaries, Soufriere, Choiseul
Castries, Babonneau, Grand Rivierre, Marisule, Mongiraud, Monchy, Bocage, Forestierre, Bexon, Marc, Barre Denis, Marigot, La Croix, Roseau,
Desruisseaux, Vieux Fort, Laborie
Gender of Participants:
Of the persons who have benefited from BELFund’s assistance, 53% are Female while 47% 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.
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 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 need to put in place an additional Business support officer, whose job it be to travel to the various business locations to assist and advise BELfund's clients in the various areas of business to ensure the continued success of the business in the long term.
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 Gablewoods Mall, Sunny Acres, Castries