Startups

Branson Centre entrepreneur turning pig s*** into social good

CaribShare biogas jamaica agriculture

Carol with Lascelles Gabbidon, vice-principal of Westwood High School, a farm participating in the CaribShare project. (Photo: Contributed)

One freezing Toronto February day in 2012, Jamaican Carol Lue was learning about how a company called Zooshare was collecting organic waste from supermarkets and yes, the local zoo, to produce biogas. Fast forward four years and through her social enterprise, CaribShare Biogas, Carol is collecting waste from pig farms and hotels to produce organic fertiliser and clean energy.

Carol is a graduate from the Branson Centre Entrepreneurship in Montego Bay, which has helped produced businesses as varied as One One Cacao and EduFocal. As part of the head start the centre gave her, it also gave her the opportunity to share a stage with Richard Branson in New York. And if that sounds interesting, then you can submit your business idea – but hurry as applications for the latest intake close May 19. [Scroll down to apply]

But as Carol’s experience shows, being an entrepreneur isn’t all glamour. For her it’s about the hard work of pig waste; building a biogas plant; benefitting the environment and giving farmers a helping hand. That and being grounded in 10+ years working for corporations and as a research analyst studying development projects for clients like the World Bank and USAID, until she decided upon her own…

We prepared numerous analysis reports on development problems. Yet, I found that regardless of the country or case in question, the same or similar solutions to sustainable development were prescribed. Although known and well-studied, they, however, were not been implemented in practice at the rate that would truly make a difference.

Coming from a developing country, I found this reality to be really frustrating and couldn’t find it personally gratifying to just continue with writing the same reports. I wanted to be more involved in implementing the actual solutions.

I was always contemplating how I could return to Jamaica, knowing that I would only come back if I was able to start my own business. Fortunately, that opportunity arose in 2012. I entered the proposal for CaribShare in the IDEAS Energy Innovation Contest sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank. And, as one of their eight winners, I received a US$200,000 grant which I have been leveraging to raise sufficient funds to launch CaribShare’s pilot thanks to support from our other funding partners: Development Bank of Jamaica, Digicel Foundation, and Artvark Foundation.

It took about two years to find the right financiers who not only understood our business case and were truly serious about helping us launch, but who also embraced our social enterprise model. Finding equity investment is relatively easy in comparison to attracting investors willing to offer only debt to a not for profit/social enterprise.

Farmers are often not given recognition or respect. They feed and sustain us. They represent tradition and demonstrate what it is to live simply, humbly, and honestly in parallel to our increasingly complex modern times. Agriculture is still a mainstay that links people, economy, and environment; and we cannot achieve sustainable development without it.

But as technology has advanced, farming communities have not kept pace. While the essence of the culture remains, I see rural communities declining and poverty growing.

With modern advances there is sadly an underlining vulnerability as many are increasingly disfranchised and left behind. So, there is really a need for enterprises whose mission are to maximise social good. I am intent on demonstrating CaribShare’s ability to produce significant surplus revenues to help alleviate some of our social ills.

Many believe that social enterprises should not be taken seriously. But, on the contrary, we are able to earn sufficient revenues to cover our expenses and debt servicing as any traditional for-profit company would. However, we chose to use our surplus revenues or profit for social good versus dividend payments.

Support CaribShare Biogas-HD from Carol Lue on Vimeo.

A farmer with 50 pigs on average should earn initially at least US$1,000 per year, which will go a significant way towards helping his or her family achieve better schooling and healthcare. For our pilot project, we are targeting 50+ farmers from several communities in Northern Trelawny (Duncans, Martha Brae, Clarks Town, Jackson Town, Steward Town, Westwood High School). As we complete construction of our bio-digester plant, we hope to start operations in June 2016.

CaribShare Biogas is a social enterprise and registered charity. Our mission is to produce clean energy and fertiliser from organic waste in a manner that strengthens rural livelihoods. Through our Waste to Cash programme, up to 50% of surplus revenues from our biogas and fertilisers sales are shared as meaningful income with our participating pig farmers in exchange for supplying their waste.

Biogas (type of biofuel) is made from the anaerobic digestion of organic waste. Bacteria eat and decompose organic waste in an airtight tank (digester), belching or releasing biogas. The process is similar to how peptides in our stomach break down our food, which at times causes us to pass gas.

We significantly reduce the waste disposal cost of our hotel partners (Sandals, RIU, Iberostar, Hyatt, and Half Moon Resorts in Montego Bay) as we collect their food waste for free on a daily basis. Their sustainability levels are also enhanced and environmental footprint significantly lowered as we divert their organic waste from landfills to produce clean energy. Additionally, they are able to support our small farming communities through partnering with us.

Waste is a valuable resource that is unrecognised and constantly discarded in Jamaica. Recycling is the key to solving our waste problem with positive and significant economic/business spinoffs. Though at the same time, recycling businesses, such as CaribShare, are the best enablers for changing how waste is valued and used in our society. With more recycling businesses, I am somewhat hopefully that this change will occur over time.

My ambition is to develop several biogas plants in Jamaica and across the Caribbean under the CaribShare model. At a later stage, I would like to introduce other climate change mitigating/adaptive technologies related to energy generation and waste management. I am also very keen on broadening the portfolio of programmes to achieve our social mission with our farming beneficiaries.

Long term I would like CaribShare to act as an intermediary cooperative to market and broker sales for the farmers’ produce. As CaribShare will be producing organic fertiliser and working closely with farming communities, we are also in a great position to push the organic foods movement in Jamaica.

To become a Branson Centre entrepreneur, apply here; and for more info about CaribShare visit: caribsharebiogas.com

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