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Mustard Seed Communities: Building a social enterprise

Mustard Seed Communities: Building a social enterprise

Mustard Seed Communities shows Queen's Young Leaders how partnerships, marketing and business thinking enable social enterprise

Mustard Seed Communities (MSC) Jamaica is the largest non-governmental organisation (NGO) in the Caribbean and Central America, with 13 ‘apostolates’ or homes spread out across the island.

Founded in 1978 by Monsignor Gregory Ramkissoon, MSC now cares for over 400 abandoned children with disabilities and orphaned children affected by HIV/AIDS. Additionally, it is the only home in Jamaica which offers long-term residential care for teenage pregnant mothers and their babies.

What started out as a tiny mustard seed planted some 38 years ago, has mushroomed into a massive tree that has spread its life-giving shade throughout the region and beyond. Missions have since been established in the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Zimbabwe.

“MSC is even getting requests coming in from as far as Ghana – requests which we plan to take up as soon as our resources allow!” says Darcy Tulloch-Williams, Executive Director of MSC Jamaica.

The MSC’s impact extends its reach into the communities where it operates. With both local and international volunteers manning its operations, MSC Jamaica employs close to 400 workers – offering jobs, training and financial independence to persons who would otherwise have little opportunity to break out of the cycle of poverty. MSC has also combatted poverty through its own registered schools and a community-based radio station, Roots FM.

MSC worker in the field

Social enterprise

Running such a large organisation purely on fundraising, donations from its network of benefactors, and goodwill, is not realistic or sustainable.

 “Sustainability has become a necessity,” says Darcy, “especially given the fact that the special needs of the population which we care for are greater than those of the average person. With frequent medical care, special education and therapy being some of the services required, MSC realised that income generation could provide a steady stream of revenue to fund some of our operations.”

With fish ponds, egg production, pig and vegetable farms, a ceramics manufacturing unit, and a bakery, among other initiatives, MSC has reaped massive success with its income-generating projects.

MSC pig farm

David Silvera is Head of Business Development at MSC Jamaica. He was brought on board a little over a year ago to ensure MSC can transition from being a charity to a social enterprise.

“What we have chosen to do is capitalise more on the ideas which have proven to be successful in the past. For example, our ceramics manufacturing unit which has been in operation for 25 years will be expanding its range of offerings to include corporate gifting. This will further increase our income generating capacity which in turn will provide direct benefit to the persons we care for.”

Saffery Brown of the Jamaica National (JN) Foundation points out that MSC has capitalised on its strengths while securing valuable partnerships to achieve sustainability.

Saffery Brown of the Jamaica National Foundation
Saffery Brown of the Jamaica National Foundation

“In essence, MSC has piloted its first social enterprise through one of its key activities – farming. Through the development of the Fresh Farms Foods brand, MSC has developed a business plan focusing on the rearing and sale of tilapia fish and organic eggs. They have negotiated for additional land from the government and as a result have been able to project growth.”

Partnerships

MSC Jamaica has been proactive in its fundraising efforts to supplement its budget – not only by being the beneficiary of several charity events but also by establishing private sector linkages. Several companies have assisted with the overall financing of the organisation through the donation of both cash and kind. And companies have been supporting MSC’s social enterprise.

“Currently we have several hotel chains and supermarkets who purchase our products. Even though they could purchase eggs elsewhere at a reduced price, they still opt to support us, and we do appreciate that,” says David.

Chickens in a barn

Saffery adds, “Mustard Seed Communities has radically changed their approach towards revenue generation from one that is ad hoc and organic, to one that is strategic and growth based. There has been a real paradigm shift in the thinking of MSC as it relates to not just sustainability, but growth.”

Marketing

Given the grassroots nature of MSC’s operations, it is only natural that its staff members are the real machinery behind MSC’s marketing efforts.

David says MSC has managed to leverage the use of ‘word of mouth’ and that the organisation has a symbiotic relationship with its staff.

“Our staff members benefit directly as well as they are able to increase their personal income as they sell the eggs to their own community members.”

He adds that the social media aspect of MSC’s marketing strategy is best left to the young and technologically savvy of the organisation.

MSC has also gotten a lot of marketing help from its partners. The Social Enterprise Boost Initiative (SEBI) for example has given the organisation full access to its various platforms – be it conferences, meetings or shop space.

Business methodology

“Currently, only a few organisations run themselves as social enterprises,” says Saffery, “and these are the ones who are not only stabilising, but experiencing growth. Civil society must build social businesses founded on business methodology and approaches.”

MSC plans to expand its social enterprise projects.

“Already we are looking to construct an abattoir for our current pig farm on the north coast. We are also looking to increase the number of fish ponds that we have, as well as the number of egg layers as well,” says David.

This will enable MSC to continue to provide quality care for its residents and provide crucial social services for those most at risk.  

This article was written by Nicole Nation.