Inspiring hundreds of young entrepreneurs in Jamaica
I have worked in various countries around the world and have concluded that youth unemployment is one the biggest barriers to development. There are millions of youth in the world eager to take advantage of economic opportunities in their countries. The Statistical Institute of Jamaica estimates the unemployment rate in Jamaica at 12.9 per cent (July 2016) and the unemployment rate for youth is considerably higher at 27.4 per cent.
Women and youth are commonly marginalised groups in society. As a gender advisor, it is important to recall that gender equality is about creating equal opportunities for both men and women, boys and girls. After initiating the Women Smart Networking Series, where women are trained for strategic networking, I wanted to address the situation of young entrepreneurs.
One of the things that struck me is that Jamaica has a great asset in its young people; they are creative and passionate about entrepreneurship. Self-employment is a catalyst for development and social change and it is often the answer to unemployment.
I am convinced that young entrepreneurs can have a positive impact on the economy, and I wanted to address it. So, on Saturday, January 21, 2017 the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) hosted its first entrepreneur conference, ‘Young Entrepreneur: Own Your Future’. The conference was held at the Courtleigh Auditorium in Kingston and was attended by over 300 participants.
For the first time, hundreds of students and entrepreneurs from across the country gathered for a unique empowering experience. Students from HEART Trust/NTA; The University of the West Indies, University of Technology, Jamaica; Campion College; and Jamaica College were present, as well as beneficiaries and representatives from organisations such as the JN Foundation, Branson Centre, Junior Achievement Jamaica, Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication, the Sameer Younis Foundation, Cuso International, and many more attended the conference.
The event also marked the official launch of the Give1project Jamaica Chapter, with the objective of enhancing the youth participation in the promotion of Jamaica’s Vision 2030: "To make Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business."
I managed to recruit a panel of influential and inspirational community leaders and entrepreneurs: Minister of state Floyd Green, Nicole McLaren-Campbell, Valrie Grant, and Thione Niang – past advisor to Barack Obama, a social entrepreneur, youth advocate, political strategist and founder of Give1Project who came in from Washington, DC, as the featured guest speaker.
The speakers shared their experiences and provided the audience with the ability to analyse their own strengths and weaknesses and gain the self-esteem, confidence and abilities to carry out their goals. Discussion points raised included cultivating and encouraging a positive mindset. Grant offered that, "Attitude governs the way you perceive the world and the way the world perceives you." Niang spoke on the pressing issues of having no capital to start a business. He advised that money is not the answer to starting a business instead, it starts with an idea and a partner.
We all know that entrepreneurship is a tough journey, and the speakers were able to touch on challenges that many of them face.
I have strongly encouraged the JCC to make the conference an annual event. I believe this to be the first national event of its kind and participants asked that we repeat the experience. Serving young entrepreneurs was a rewarding way to work hard, learn a lot, and collaborate with extraordinary future leaders.
Darine BenAmara is a gender and development advisor at the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce. Send comments to the Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org