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For the Reckord | Henley Morgan on a mission to transform Trench Town (Part I)

Published:Wednesday | December 19, 2018 | 12:00 AMMichael Reckord
Dr Henley Morgan (left) seated with Professor Stephen Vasciannie, president of the University of Technology, before his recent presentation.
A mural in Trench Town Culture Yard.
A visitor beside a piano it is said Bob Marley played while he lived in Trench Town.

Dr Henley Morgan thinks Trench Town’s musical heritage can be utilised to transform and enrich not only that community, but Jamaica.

Bucking the warnings of friends and well-wishers against going into the area (“Too dangerous,” they said), he set up office there in 2004, and formally registered his company Agency for Inner-City Renewal (AIR) in 2008.

Now, he and all 27, 600 residents are happy he did. Today, hundreds of people are employed directly by AIR, and indirectly to other companies in a third-party outsourcing arrangement. One result was that last year, nearly $200 million flowed into the community.

Morgan told an audience at the University of Technology recently that Trench Town and its environs have been experiencing the fastest rate of homicide decline in Jamaica. 

“Young men dying and mothers crying are no longer everyday occurrences,” he declared.

He said, “I refer to myself as a social entrepreneur,” defining a social enterprise as “a business whose mission is to solve social, economic or environmental problems at the community and/or national level through effective and ethical business practises, with the reinvestment of profits in the social mission.”

In a presentation that he said was similar to the one he had made at the White House in Washington, DC, he advocated a new approach to community transformation. It rejects the traditional “needs-based” approach, and adopts, instead, an “assets-based” approach. The former focuses on trying to solve the problems of a community, and the latter on building on its assets.


Morgan said that the needs of Trench Town lie in high levels of youth unemployment; limited opportunities for training; high levels of high-school dropouts; prevalence of poor parenting; high levels of crime and violence; and substandard infrastructure and social services.

On the other hand, its assets are a young trainable population; a rich cultural and musical heritage; a wide range of educational institutions as well as churches and civil society institutions; and an internationally known brand. Using those assets, his mission is to transform Trench Town into “the maker and Mecca of reggae music”.


Morgan identified several major lessons he has learnt on his journey through the community.

He realised that inner-city communities enjoy unique advantages as locations for social innovation and high-impact investment. These include strategic locations, large market demands, and reasonable telecoms and physical infrastructure.

He realised that the needs-analysis approach leads to external control, while the assets-based approach engages the community, and leverages the community’s interest, strengths and assets. 

“You get different outcomes when you plan to solve problems than you get when you plan to reach objectives,” he said. “Every community has the seeds of its own redemption.”


Morgan said the Jamaica’s Vision 2030 ­ to be the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business ­ is put at the top of any proposal he makes to potential investors. He identified sustainable national development goals as no hunger or poverty, health and well-being, clean water and sanitation, quality education, decent work and economic growth, and sustainable communities.

He said the AIR mission was “to transform zones of political and social exclusion into zones of opportunities, investment and wealth.”

As there is risk in trying to be all things to all men, one should prioritise actions and try to pick winners. Using the Stephen Covey model, AIR acts on matters that are urgent and important, rather than those that aren’t.

Henry said that he also learnt that public-private-civil society partnership is essential for community development ­ with a high-quality team working together to reach the goal. AIR has a virtual management team, with members communicating via the Internet, Morgan revealed.

Finally, he said profitability and sustainability are key to survival and prosperity. Activities in Trench Town under this heading include Productivity Empowerment Project Greenhouse Farming (PEP), the Jamaica Music Institute (JaMIN) recording studio, and JaMIN tours (within Trench Town itself and to places like the Bob Marley Museum, Peter Tosh Museum and Bunny Wailer Museum).