I Believe In ‘Irrational Hope’ – A Conversation with Imani Duncan-Price on the Central Kingston Small Business Development Programme Project

As an Eisenhower Fellow, and Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, Imani Duncan-Price, is a passionate woman, wife, and mother of 3, committed to the vibrant growth opportunities and the development of the people of Jamaica. A changemaker, strategic planner and problem-solver. Throughout her journey, Imani has always made it a point to further her knowledge through local and global experiences and opportunities that can lead to positive change in her various roles and responsibilities. These roles include: Former Senator, Board member of the Development Bank of Jamaica, Managing Director of a luxury adventure destination management start-up, Co-founder and Co-Executive Director of Jamaica’s leading think tank, the Caribbean Policy Research Institute (CaPRI), and Group Strategy Officer for the JMMB Group –a leading Caribbean financial services group. Imani exhibits an impressive track record of successful leadership in a range of areas and after completing her year focused on sustainability and violence reduction issues as Miss Jamaica World 1995, she earned an interdisciplinary BA in Economics, History, Government, and Philosophy from Wesleyan University in the USA. Imani then attended Harvard University for her Masters in Public Administration for International Development. Here is our conversation with Imani Duncan-Price on the Central Kingston Small Business Development Programme Project.

Where in Jamaica are you from?
I’m from Kingston, Jamaica but my family roots are from deep rural Jamaica in Aboukir, St. Ann and Lewis, St. Ann – the garden parish.

Tell us about the Central Kingston Small Business Development Programme project?
The Central Kingston Small Business Development Programme was launched in June 2019. I had actually conceptualized the idea for such a programme twenty years ago when I did my Master’s thesis on building social capital to reduce violence in communities such as Arnett Gardens, Jones Town, Craig Town, and Rema. It was clear that people need viable options to earn a living legally and take care of their families, otherwise they would turn to other means. My commitment to working with such inner-city communities was cemented then as I recognized that Jamaica could only grow, and in harmony, when the divide between the formal and informal economy, between uptown and downtown, was bridged and everyone had equal access to opportunity.

How did it get started? How did you come up with the idea? How are the recipients for the business guidance and micro-loans selected?
So as I progressed in my professional career as a business management consultant for large companies in developing countries, and then in the financial services sector in the Caribbean I kept looking for relevant solutions. This was critical as enterprising residents of such inner-city communities need business funding of a particular type as they have no collateral. The Grameen Bank model in Bangladesh was of particular interest. The model provided funding in small amounts, did not require collateral, had weekly repayments and used a community approach to ensure a very low delinquency.

When I became the People’s National Party  (PNP) candidate as Member of Parliament (MP) for Central Kingston this year, I consulted with residents across the political divide in the constituency to determine the most pressing challenges in across the constituency. Lack of earning opportunities was one of the top issues.

So I established the Central Kingston Small Business Development Programme to help vendors, cookshop owners, pan chicken men and seamstresses to take their small business to the next level. The programme combines micro-loans and business coaching to help these micro-entrepreneurs to move their enterprise from a “hustle” to a consistently profitable small business. I provided the seed funding of US$9000 and established a partnership with a microfinance entity, LoanSmart and with the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC). It was important that I partner with a company to assess and administer the loan part of the programme – so as to reduce the moral hazard where recipients see the politician as the source of a give-away and not pay back the funds.

The loans in the programme are unsecured as these enterprising citizens of Central Kingston do not have any collateral. The loans are short-term, 3 months maximum with weekly repayment, as a lengthier time becomes a burden and leads to an increased likelihood of delinquency. I negotiated with LoanSmart that the interest rates are half of what a regular microfinance entity charges. This is required to cover the administrative oversight needed to ensure viability of a revolving fund – many phone calls and visits by a very patient and rootsy loan administration officer. In addition, Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC) held an introductory business management training session in the area.

Can you tell us about some successes of the project?
We received 106 applications from all across the constituency of Central Kingston, from the communities of Rose Gardens, Parade Gardens, Rae Town, Southside Allman Town, and Franklyn Town. So far the microfinance partner has approved sixty-eight persons and disbursed loans, in a non-partisan way, between July and August 2019.

The good news is that the loans are being re-paid on a regular basis and we are on the path for it to become a successful revolving fund so others in the constituency can access the financial support. Its still early days but things look promising. They have used the incomes from their micro-businesses to support their families, pay for back-to-school and every day living expenses.

What are your current funding goals of the project?
Given the impact of the Central Kingston Small Business Development programme on 68 families so far, I would like to expand the reach with additional funding. Many of the persons in the first cohort would like to enter into a second loan cycle to continue with their micro-business growth.  As such, I am seeking to raise an additional US$10,000.000 to double the size of the programme. We have an additional 46 applicants plus the remaining in the first cohort who qualify but we were not able to fund as yet.

If someone wants to help with the project what do you suggest they do?
Anyone who wants to help with this initiative, please go to to make a contribution by November 30, 2019. Donations of all sizes are appreciated.

Are there plans to expand the project across the island?
We will continue to document the successes and impact as well as lessons learned in the programme so we cans share with other community and political leaders across both political parties for them to decide if they want to implement and fund a similar programmme. It is my hope that it will be replicated.

Complete this sentence. Growing up my hero was…
My late mother, Grace Duncan, social activist who built 22 Schools of Hope across Jamaica to support children with  intellectual disabilities and my father, Dr. D.K. Duncan, political activist who sought to make the economic and social system more fair in Jamaica. Because of them I believe in ‘irrational hope’ and we have a responsibility to make our space a better place, better than how we found it.

The book, movie or song that changed your life?

The books – The Celestine Prophecy and Eyes on the Prize changed how I saw the world and my role in it – each of us can make a difference.

The movie – Sound of Music is my go-to movie when I want to go to my happy place and. It reminds me of Sunday matinees with Mummy, when JBC was our only TV station.

The songs Bob Marley’s ‘Jah will never give the power to a bald head’ and Chronixx’ ‘I can’.

I feel happiest for the day when I…
I get home after a challenging day in Central Kingston and my children Aidan (8), Marley (6) and Selah (4) run to the door and give the tightest, most love-filled hugs. I know then that all will be well, and it’s important to never stop trying.

Thanks for your time and all the best.

For more information on Imani Duncan-Price and the Central Kingston Small Business Development Programme project:

About the author

Xavier Murphy