Deaf Can! has successfully completed a significant project by accessing financing received through the Jamaica Social Stock Exchange (JSSE).
The important milestone of social sector investment resulted in the validation of a framework for social financing, monitoring and measurement. It also went to the heart of the sustainable development goals (SDG) for social inclusion as Deaf Can! is a coffee company staffed mainly by deaf persons.
The company has the distinct privilege of being the first company with a project to be listed on the Jamaica Social Stock Exchange (JSSE) in 2020 and, through the aid of the project, was able to double its sales in 2022 while maintaining a sound governance structure that is in keeping with the framework that the JSSE requires of companies that are listed on the Exchange.
The upshot is that the successful social sector organisation is now independent and expanding, recently hiring 12 new staffers, all young members of the deaf community, as the entity shows strong post COVID growth.
The deaf face a number of challenges that fully-abled people don’t. It’s hard for most persons even imagine the kind of isolation brought about by living in a world of silence with the attendant negative social attitudes, stereotypes and prejudices, difficulties communicating and the general lack of knowledge and ability for sign language in the wider society, or access to assistive communication devices.
It is therefore all the more commendable that Deaf Can! “is setting such high performance standards”, noted Seth Kaeb, director of operations, in an interview.
Emerging from a proposal to the Jamaica Social Stock Exchange (JSSE), itself a radical concept in 2018, the Deaf Can! ROOTS Project was selected for start up funding in January 2019 with financing from the NCB Foundation and NCB Capital Markets, with additional support from United Way and other local and overseas based contributors to the tune of some J$7.5 million.
However, the gloomy clouds of COVID were on the horizon and, not long after, the world changed and Deaf Can! was forced to pivot and adjust to the strictures brought on by the global pandemic.
These strictures included implementing COVID-19 sanitary requirements and creating a physical space dedicated to both baking and roasting operations without risking cross contamination. Deaf Can! weathered those storms and is now fully established as an independent entity.
Professor Neville Ying, chairman of the JSSE, is extremely satisfied with Deaf Can!’s achievements.
“The goal we have for Deaf Can! and other social enterprises at the JSSE is to establish financial self-sufficiency so they can use that position to leverage equity capital and grow,” said Ying.
“This will enable them to manage their costs and increase income through what I call a strategic thinking process as they negoitiate the upward part of the curve. I am very proud that Deaf Can! is now up and running, having demonstrated a capacity for focussed work and smart business acumen.”
Ying noted that, going forward, Deaf Can! “is now in a better position to seek outside partnerships and business relationships to maintain their growth trajectory having been established as a social business, they are now poised to go forward in this second phase of their development as an efficient entity”.
He added that legislation was pending to allow social enterprises such as those financed and listed on the JSSE to be able to raise capital through the issuing of shares on the social stockmarket and for investors to trade these shares with a view to accelerating the drive towards more social enterprises becoming social businesses and eventually JSSE listing.
Deaf Can! has now leased three acres of land, up from an initial 1.5 acres, and produces between 10 to 20 per cent of the coffee it sells, noted Kaeb, an American who answered the call of his ministry in working with the deaf. He pointed out that the venture recently added a line of baked products produced at its headquarters, located at the School of the Deaf on Cassia Park Road in Kingston, where the dream took root.
“Our goal is to produce coffee from ‘seed to cup’,that is our motto and we have established good relations with our other suppliers as we increase our own coffee production in the cool Manchester hills,” he noted.
Best Practice for SMEs
Dr Marlene Street-Forrest, managing director of the Jamaica Stock Exchange, knows all about establishing and maintaining the kind of strict governance requirements required by publicly listed companies.
Street-Forrest said she observed that, through the template established and successfully used with the Deaf Can! project, this framework can serve as a best practice for other businesses going forward.
“Among the lessons learned, is that the process of collaboration and engagement with our partners, with each utilising their strengths in areas such as monitoring on the ground, producing detailed reports and how to manage challenges, measure and pivot, is critical for projects to come to a successful conclusion. There is now a higher level of capacity in areas such as phasing of the projects and looking at other projects to see how to adopt appropriate aspects,” Street-Forrest observed.
“The JSSE has developed the same template for other sectors, incorporating lessons learned by Deaf Can! on financial reporting, and how a social project can be sustained, through prudent management and accountability. It has helped us in scaling to determine an appropriate social return on investment and we are working with international bodies to utilise their measurement tools. We are also getting help from the Government which has a consultant working on the measurement tools, as well as other technological advancements that we can utilise.”
“Investors want to see sustainability and the results are clear that successful enterprises like Deaf Can! has a multiplier effect on individuals, their families, communities and the business itself.Our funding partners and donors do measure the results and in December 2022 we had a new drive via our telethon to raise funding for JSSE projects. People will have more confidence and invest more in the social market as we continue to show gains.
“We are making strides in areas such as inner-city renewal, entrepreneur training and sucide prevention. The telethon raised $17 million with strong support registered locally including from our Government and the Diaspora, so there is progress, and we utilise all this information into developing various matrixes to determine how a company is selected to get to listing on the JSSE Platform,” Street-Forrest stated.
The JSE managing director noted further, in relation to Deaf Can!, that “the organisation can have a positive multiplier effect on the wider development agenda of Jamaica as it relates to the Sustainable Develoment Goals established by the UN and the aims of Vision 2030″.
She concluded: “Deaf Can! has met the overall objective of contributing to the development the deaf community and Vision 2o30. It has realised an increase in total employment from 16 at the start of the project to 29 currently from the deaf community, enabling its staff to become leaders in their families and communities. The ROOTS Project has also helped to increase societal awareness of the Deaf community as is evident from the increase in our social media following by some 36 per cent over the duration of the project.”