How can a not-for-profit invest in for-profit businesses?
This is a question that comes up from time to time when our readers see the impressive businesses popping up through the ACE ministry in St. Mary. ACE calls them micro-businesses as they are small and only have between two and five Jamaicans working together to produce a product that can be turned into income for their families to live. The best way to answer a question like this is to go back to the beginning of ACE three decades ago and understand how we, as a non-profit, started having an impact in Jamaica.
HEALTH AND WELL-BEING
The ACE focus back then was to meet the needs of the Jamaican Nationals in our area who appeared to be in poor health, mostly uneducated, unemployed, and, for a lack of a better word, lost. In order to treat the whole person, it was important to bring in professionals to assist in wellness treatment and prevention to strengthen the body as well as to provide educational tutoring and literacy training to strengthen the mind. ACE began to seek volunteers – both local and in the U.S. and Canada – to lend their talents and expertise to our community in these areas. This worked out great through the early 90’s and 2000’s.
So many of our families began to thrive from just feeling good, both physically and mentally. Children began attending school with confidence and performing well. ACE started small groups and book clubs for parents. Volunteers hosted Vacation Bible School weeks in the summer for students and our Men and Women Conferences for adults in the winter months to focus on the other building block of health: spiritual health. Once people’s bodies were stronger and their minds sharper, they began to hear and comprehend that God loves everyone and has a purpose for their lives. They could see the changes being made in their lives, thanks to our staff and volunteers working through Him.
(Click image to scroll through Health & Well-being Gallery)
As our community began to mature, it became obvious that there was very little employment for a young adult or family provider. Many times, a family member would leave the country for years to work abroad in the States so they could send money home for the rest of the family members unable to work or find jobs. The separation of fathers and mothers from their children was devastating on the family dynamic. In addition, just when many young adults were gaining the confidence from their educational and spiritual growth, they felt discouraged at the dead end of job opportunities, seeing their dreams fading into the sunset.
That’s when ACE realized that part of the success of sustainability had to include a sustained economy. For ACE, this means we began to create and incubate a business from local resources, involving teaching, training, and building a product that would be appealing to customers and lucrative for buyers and sellers in the local market of produce, agriculture, or eco-tourism.
(Click image to scroll through Employment Gallery)
One way we achieved this was through our generous ACE donors giving their time and treasure. We began to build an ACE network of “owners” who work and help create business that depends on other businesses developed within the ACE network locally. It sounds like circle talk but it really is a working economy using all the skills sets of our ACE non-profit and putting them towards profitable companies for families once the businesses can sustain themselves. And, in doing this, we are not laundering funds or side-stepping the rules of a 501(c)3. We are doing what every ministry in the 21st century should be doing: seeking to be a self-sustaining outreach program that can survive any hardship, like this current COVID experience.
(Click image to scroll through Job Training Gallery)
GALINA BREEZE HOTEL
A great example of this strategy is our Galina Breeze Hotel. Prior to 2005, ACE was paying a different hotel to house our volunteers when they came to serve with our ministry. As the story unfolds in our ACE book, The Mango Tree Gospel, God literally “gave” us an old hotel (called Trade Winds, now Galina Breeze) that required lots of work. Speed forward 16 years: the hotel (pre-COVID) employed 33 local Jamaican adults who were trained by ACE in all areas of hospitality and food management. While a non-profit provided the funds to purchase the building, the funds also hired and trained these families that had no work to be sustainable. These employees could now feed their children, afford better housing, attend their church, and eat well all while being a part of building a better community. Had it not been for ACE and our donors, the hotel might have been bought by someone else and not had the success we have enjoyed and continue to share with our volunteers today.
(Click image to scroll through Galine Breeze Gallery)
FARMING AND LIVESTOCK
Another example is our Green Life Llanrumney Farm. The hotel needed to buy food for the volunteers who come to stay. Instead of buying food from the supermarket (which we still do in part), we created smaller businesses for food production to prepare our meals at Galina Breeze. Chickens, pigs, vegetables, and fruits now come from the farm we established! Our community families work hard, learning to grow food they have never tasted before, all because of the many volunteers – the same volunteers who will eat the food at the hotel – coming down over the years to train and educate them on agriculture, farming and livestock care. In the process, relationships were built and small businesses were born. ACE calls this micro-business.
(Click image to scroll through Farming & Livestock Gallery)
We could go on and on, but the bottom line is when a non-profit focuses on the total picture of human need (mental, physical and spiritual), earning a living is part of that picture. And this is how we do it. Once ACE creates and trains, the time comes where the employees are able to sustain themselves and their business…and economy happens naturally.
Most importantly, it’s at this point, after years of personal investment, that we have earned the right to have those eternal discussions (or what ACE would call the God conversations) so everyone knows the why for all that we do. The Kingdom of Heaven is real and not just a story; our goal is to help others get there by providing opportunities to live good, honest lives, use their God-given talents, and become the best version of themselves for His sake. Through our micro-businesses and outreach programs, we feel God’s love reaching down and touching the tiniest souls in our little area of Jamaica.
Thank you for not only investing in our not-for-profit but for the many lives you have personally touched for profit.
I am very proud of what ACE is doing in Jamaica. Thanks for sharing these micro-business testimonials. This is a good example of investing in the whole person: physical, economical and spiritual. May God get all the glory! Amen!