Interview Series: Tonicia Williams -- By Asabi Rawlins -- STEM and innovation in the Caribbean

Hi everyone, Asabi here again. Ready to talk more about #STEM and #Innovation in the Caribbean. My latest interview was with Tonicia Williams. As Ms. Williams is a Trini-born, Jamaica-raised, US-educated young woman, I was eager to get her opinion on science, technology and development in the Caribbean. A snapshot of our very interesting and frank conversation is below.

Asabi: Are you optimistic about economic opportunities available in your countr(-ies)?

Tonicia: No, just speaking from experience with people who live here, or have lived here longer than I have, it seems like a struggle. Having lived in the United States and a couple of other places, and knowing what the opportunities are over there, being here [in Trinidad  ]… I do not know what my options are.

Asabi: As someone that has had a very dynamic upbringing in terms of exposure to different cultures, is the Caribbean where you want to establish long term roots?

Tonicia: I have no idea. I do not see myself living here anytime in the near future. When it comes down to it, I have finally accepted the reality that this is my home and if worse comes to worse, I would have to return here, or maybe even after I have an established career in 10-20 years, but not anytime soon.

Asabi: What has contributed to you finding other places abroad more attractive?

Tonicia: I think it comes down to Caribbean culture. Having grown up here (Trinidad and Tobago) and Jamaica, there are small things outside of the current economic crisis; there are small things like customer services and administration that we don’t even need money to change. Culturally, there are things that make me not want to establish roots [in the Caribbean] right now. Even my parents, who grew up in the Caribbean and my dad, who went to the University of the West Indies (UWI), decided that this was not a system they wanted their children to settle for. They wanted us to know that there are other things to be experienced in the world. That’s why both my sister and I were educated abroad; my sister in Australia and myself in the US.  I guess in this way we had systems to compare it to through a more global lens. Having to deal with administrative hurdles and jump through hoops for services that you are paying for, is not something that impresses me in the Caribbean.

Asabi: You have had the experience of working for a tech company in Washington, DC? Has that informed your perspective since you’re not talking about tech as a mere consumer, but someone with more exposure?

Tonicia: Yes, I definitely saw the underside of a tech company. Even though it was a sizable organization with many regional offices globally and thousands of employees, I was able to see the interplay of STEM and non-STEM since I was in the marketing department and played a big role in communicating abstract or big facts about big data to regular consumers. Our CEO was so focused on tech that he was unrelatable. So, in order to promote the product we would have to edit our message. This really changed or rather shaped my perspective on STEM.

Asabi: Are you familiar with the term STEAM where you try to incorporate traditional STEM with the arts?

Tonicia: I have never heard of that before

Asabi: Ok, but do you think there is any value to it?

Tonicia: Absolutely! I feel that there is no room for extremes in the world in general. If we focus only on the arts, things like science and technology cannot be fully exploited, but without the arts the creative and reasoning sides of STEM are compromised. We would lose the human side, and that is a big part of why we are coming up with all this technology anyway. So I think STEAM is something we need to focus on more. 

Asabi: I know you have not spent much time in Trinidad and Tobago, but drawing up on your Jamaican experience as well, do you think emphasis is placed on STEM in the Caribbean?

Tonicia: I could be wrong, but in my opinion it is. Since we were young, emphasis was placed on being a doctor or an engineer and going towards so-called “prestige” occupations. Careers that I assume are meant to make money. As someone in the arts, I received significant push-back from friends and family about my study choices; people claimed I was wasting my time and my parents’ money. The arts are kind of shut out in the Caribbean. The focus just seems to be what is money-making. But I think a push for STEAM embraces the human aspect of science and technology.

Asabi: Are you aware of resources dedicated to STEM or innovation more broadly in the Caribbean?

Tonicia: No.

Asabi: You talked about how people seem to support STEM insofar as it is money-making or prestigious, but do you think some of that emphasis is misplaced? Do you think we promote STEM solely for profitable occupations and not to push boundaries of exploration and innovation?

Tonicia: Absolutely. This is a kind of differentiator between Caribbean countries and other nations. We lack a certain entrepreneurial spirit, where we fail to push STEM for its benefits related to development and innovation. We do it because it is a lucrative career that looks good to family and friends.

Now I know we do not have the resources that bigger countries have, but I still do not think we link whatever limited resources we do have to development. For instance, my aunt was a science professor at Georgia Tech and I remember her talking about how they recruit academics and professionals in STEM and specifically consider how their work relates to development. They are encouraged to come up with innovations that will actually make a difference in the world, not just for the sake of doing it. We do not consider that down here.

Asabi: So correct me if I’m wrong, but I gather that you believe we simply engage in STEM to regurgitate what is already out there, we are less concerned with putting our unique Caribbean stamp in the field of science and technology?

Tonicia: Look, I would never want to make it seem like I am just saying "why are we not the way the US is?” There are restrictions locally in terms of access to resources and access to funds. We have to have a certain level of expertise. But I think the Caribbean has the opportunity to come up with many innovative solutions to current problems. I am thinking about problems like climate change that we experience first-hand. Solutions that arise in Europe or North America may not be applicable to some of our Caribbean realities. That creates a space for us to innovate and show the world our creativity.

Asabi: How do you feel about having a STEAM Center in the Caribbean? 

Tonicia: That would be great. I think it is exactly what we need. The promotion would be great, and I hope it would open up more resources.

Asabi: Do you think there is merit to STEM for development?

Tonicia: Looking at all the competitiveness reports and metrics, innovation is one of the top markers of advancement and development. We have to come up with new solutions. But, I just want to reiterate that I think the arts are important in how we innovate moving forward.

Thank You

Hermina Johnny
Interview Series: Aniesha Scott -- By Asabi Rawlins --STEM and innovation in the Caribbean

Hi everyone, it's Asabi again. My next STEAM interview was with an ambitious young woman, Aniesha Scott, an Information Technology enthusiast from Laventille, Trinidad and Tobago. Aniesha holds an Honors Degree in Information Technology and works in the area of software analysis and development. I was particularly eager to speak with Aniesha as she, in my view, is a positive beacon.

Globally, it is no secret that women are underrepresented in STEM. In Trinidad and Tobago, negative stereotypes about the Laventille area abound. Aniesha clearly challenges stereotypes!! Let's talk about #STEAM #TrinidadandTobago #Innovation

Asabi: As a young person, are you optimistic about the economic opportunities available to you in your country?

Aniesha: No, I am not optimistic about economic opportunities in my country. In general, meaningful opportunities in Trinidad and Tobago are influenced by nepotism. My lack of optimism comes from a real place, the government has allowed some large conglomerates to dominate critical industries. This has created barriers to entry and stifled the growth of many smaller businesses, thus creating a dependency that I find dangerous. As a young person looking at the economy holistically, and taking into account the government's “complacency,” I cannot be optimistic.

Asabi: Do you feel supported as a woman in STEM?

Aniesha: No, I do not. There is still a lot of discrimination in the STEM environment in Trinidad and Tobago. Some of which I have been unfortunate enough to see and experience first-hand. There ought to be a local/regional “Women in STEAM” organization/foundation that can raise awareness and aid in the removal of the lingering stigma attached to women's ability and performance in our field.

Asabi: What do you understand by STEAM and its impact on development in the Caribbean?

Aniesha: From what I understand the purpose of STEAM is to nurture creative thinking and problem solving in the youth so that they will be equipped to meaningfully contribute to society’s development. STEAM has impacted the Caribbean in that more and more students (especially female) are gravitating towards STEAM as opposed to business and other fields of study. Caribbean economies are yet to see the kind of developments that are possible if STEAM is well nurtured and implemented.

Asabi: Do you think enough is being done to advance innovation in your country?

Aniesha: Trinidad and Tobago has not done enough in terms of innovation. The quality of lives and productivity of our country can be drastically improved through advanced innovation. There is too much red tape and bureaucracy that hinders a lot of advancements in innovation.

Asabi: Are you aware of any resources that encourage STEM combined with innovation and arts?

Aniesha: No.

Asabi: How do you feel about the opening of a STEAM Center in the Caribbean?

Aniesha: This will be a step in the right direction for the Caribbean as it will nurture generations of STEAM professionals to facilitate STEAM development, but multiple STEAM centers will we required to be able to make any substantial impact outside of where it resides.

Asabi: What particular services would you want a regional STEAM center to offer?

Aniesha: Some of the services that I think such a center should offer are as follows:

(1) Structured after school curriculums where students can be rewarded with participation certificates after major milestones; (2) After-school or co-curricular lessons; (3) and Opportunities for voluntary work; this applies to both staff and students.

Hermina Johnny
Interview Series: Nestor Garcia -- By Asabi Rawlins— STEM and innovation in the Caribbean

We talk a lot about innovation being important for the advancement of Caribbean economies. The usual rhetoric is that with technological adoption we can streamline processes, modernize antiquated systems and better integrate into the world economy. 

As a young woman from Trinidad and Tobago, I have often felt that rhetoric or “old talk” is abundant but we are weak on follow through. I have long opined that high-level policy is meaningless or ineffective without commensurate, and sustainable action. Is this just view of a cynical 25 year old? I set out to interview a cross section of young women and men across Trinidad and Tobago to gauge their opinions on science, technology, innovation and their impact on the development of our dear nation. 

Let’s talk about #STEAM # Innovation #Development # Trinidad and Tobago

I interviewed Mr Nestor Garcia, an International Tax Analyst from East Trinidad. Mr Garcia is also an MSc student at the University of the West Indies. 

Asabi: As a young person, how do you feel about economic opportunities in your country?

Nestor: Overwhelmingly negative. There is a paucity of economic opportunities. We have a high level of university graduates being churned out, but there is a real lack of employment opportunities for them. People are languishing because they have certain qualifications, but the job market is not prepared to receive them, which is problematic and worrying. If we want to push our society forward, we have to be able to retain our qualified personnel. The current economic landscape is encouraging people to simply migrate and in the long run that will prove counterproductive for our development. 

Asabi: What is your understanding of STEM? 

Nestor: It’s an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. 

Asabi: Do you think there is a link between STEM and development?

Nestor: Yes. For example, countries such as Singapore have leapfrogged in development by investing in education in STEM fields. I think STEM could be a leveler for most Small Island Developing States, it is not a question of creating economies of scale for us. It is about cultivating ingenuity, carving out a niche in which your country could be highly productive, whether it is in pharmaceuticals or conducting R &D (research and development in a particular area). Trinidad and Tobago can merge, for example, STEM with our indigenous practices or medicinal herbs to carve a space in the pharmaceutical sector. Of course, this is just one example of monetizing what has historically been ours, while embracing modern STEM [combined with innovation]. This would also provide a means of countering the longstanding approach by foreign companies who look at developing countries as just sites for extraction. By becoming more adept at innovative approaches to STEM, we can exhibit a greater degree of ownership. This clearly spurs economic development. 

Asabi: What role do you think art plays in innovation and how does it allow us to think differently about processes? 

For example, when we think about arts and creativity, we think with a different side of the brain. How do you think that adding arts to the typical STEM model could promote creativity and innovation? What is the potential to shift the typical STEM curriculum to add in arts and innovation (STEAM) in order to create more unique interest and further opportunities for employment in our changing employment landscape?

Nestor: Art has a place in innovation. Some people construe the sciences as a rigid, step-by-step, systematic process of using x and y to get a particular outcome, while art may be viewed as freeform or not stuck to a particular process. It is more flexible and creative. I think that when you are approaching certain questions in the STEM field, some people may get stuck on the process and the well-trodden path. They may not think outside the box. I think implementing STEM in concert with art, and emphasizing the intersections, people in the arts could transition to STEM and vice versa to bring about new perspectives, new creations. 

In the Caribbean, we are creative people. That creativity could be cultivated further and leveraged in the STEM field by highlighting linkages between science and art. 

Asabi: Do you think enough emphasis is placed on introducing STEAM into the classroom or even informal learning centers locally? 

Nestor: No not at all. I think that in our country, many things, even beyond STEAM, that are necessary for development are not well implemented. I digress but look at the idea of Spanish as a second language, not in name only but in actuality, we are lacking in that area. The same is the case for STEAM. When I was in secondary school, apart from sporadic, ad hoc visits to NIHERST (The National Institute of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology ) we did the traditional CSEC curriculum, but STEM was not specially emphasized. There were not any after school programs, any adjunct programs, I do not know if that is afforded in private or more affluent schools locally, but speaking generally, the majority of Trinidad and Tobago does not have that. And the thing is, there may well be a swath of people that are interested in that. What tends to happen is that we have certain “prestigious” professions of doctor or engineer but there is so much more to STEAM beyond this. There are so many alternative pathways to use local genius and expand minds within STEAM. 

Asabi: So what I gather from you is that 1) We talk about STEM without actually promoting it as a viable career beyond being a doctor or an engineer and 2) Not much is being done to promote credible ingenuity, R&D and 3) There is a problem regarding continuity or STEAM being looked at as a sustainable avenue for economic growth and opportunities for people at large. 

Nestor: Certainly

Asabi: Are you aware of any resources available locally to support STEM and innovation? 

Nestor : I know of the engineering program in Trinidad, but I think there is a lack of support. We are too short sighted in our planning and looking at other avenues of economic growth and diversification. Just because STEAM may not be traditional to us, does not mean that we should remain in our comfort zone, we need to reach out to the world. We need to be brave, be bold!

Asabi: How do you feel about the proposed opening of a STEAM Center in the Caribbean? 

Asabi: I think that would be brilliant! It depends on how it is operationalized though. I think it is good to have a head center, but there must be other centers within the region and not only in the “Big” countries like Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. Very small countries can carve out significant niches in STEAM, this is why we cannot overlook the smaller Caribbean islands. STEAM can have a transformative impact on all the regional nations. This proposed Center can positively impact nations like St Lucia, Dominica, to train young minds and spur innovation. It can open up new avenues for growth and advancement. 

Asabi: What particular services should this center offer? Particular areas of focus?

Nestor: I would want there to be an emphasis on medicine and pharmaceuticals in some way - this is a real potential growth area regionally. Also technology broadly, but we can find specific areas that are technology-intensive for our islands to thrive. If we invest in our populations and find particular products within that technology value chain to establish ourselves as competitors. 

Asabi: So, do you have any final thoughts to offer on the issue of STEAM and development?

Nestor: Just to conclude, I think that if we do not seriously embrace STEAM, it would be a missed opportunity. I am glad that your organization is engaging work in the STEAM area and I hope you get the requisite support from relevant governments and other pertinent stakeholders.

Hermina Johnny
Interview Series: Sean Swaby. -- By Alberta Richilieu

Sean Swaby studied Biochemistry and Zoology at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus Jamaica. Currently, he undertakes the administration and accounting duties for his family’s hardware store in Kingston, Jamaica. His hobbies include reading extensively, traveling, and enjoying great days at the beach. Sean is passionate about fostering and promoting Caribbean integration and development.

Sean contends that keeping young adults, especially young women, engaged and confident in their abilities to succeed in the international arena, is a rather complex concept which requires deep thought. He emphasized that the solutions are far from simple.

Nevertheless, Sean highlighted that keeping young adults engaged and confident overall actually starts from childhood. “If the necessary tools are not already in place, then the individual is heavily disadvantaged, though not permanently so. Therefore, the best solutions would start from early childhood with parents, teachers, and other adults who feature in the lives of the children, encouraging them and always speaking positively to them, and engaging them.”

He also made mention of the importance of getting children out of their comfort zones. Noting that what will also be necessary is that young people realize there isn't anything they can't do and that it is better to try and fail, than not to try at all.

More significantly, Sean underscored that for young adults, and in particular young women, a range of initiatives should supplement these early childhood measures across various socio-economic classes of society that enables them to achieve their best. “If that happens, then confidence in their ability to succeed will happen naturally, as will engagement. Engagement is a two way street, and for young women, being willing to engage generally, propels ... self belief.”

He made mention of individual women (and men) of more advanced ages mentoring young adults to pass on their experiences, knowledge and skills. Sean noted that the changes in society would also be necessary. He alluded to society becoming more willing to give young women (and young men) the chance to make their mark in the world. He also highlighted that the culture prevalent in some workplaces of favouring persons who have simply been there the longest- which is in itself an achievement, but not the be all and end all- instead of rewarding initiative and hard work by young recruits, would need to change. “Seniority should be acknowledged, but is no substitute for meritocracy.”

Sean also views the role of the government as critical in constructing an environment that facilitates success. He pointed out that this environment could be created via legislation (to ensure that the glass ceilings, which still exist for women, are broken ) and programmes such as; skills training, apprenticeship opportunities, and other work experience programmes in collaboration with other governments abroad. More essentially, he stressed that it would then be up to the young adults to grasp these opportunities for self-improvement and career advancement.

As regards what young women require to help push the agenda for social change, Sean made the point that social change takes a long time. “Generations in fact.” He further stressed that social change requires a consistent effort. “Part of that effort has to be by young women pushing the agenda. To do this, they would need the support of private individuals and, where possible, from the governments, though it is likely that during the early stages of an initiative of some kind of social change, one would see organized groups of young women pushing the agenda to governments.”

However, he went on to make the point that maintaining the effort is key to achieving social change. Sean stressed that women need to organize themselves into working with non-profit organizations and private societies in order to obtain the necessary funding and gain support from private individuals, because this will eventually lead to the success desired to bring about change.

In the context of teaching and building skills in entrepreneurship and embracing mentorship, Sean sees career-enhancing life skills as playing a critical role in helping youth build better futures for themselves. He mentioned that far too often young people have to learn the essentials of entrepreneurship on their own, outside of any formal or structured educational system. More importantly, he underscored that as a consequence, young people are often ill prepared to take on challenges both at home and internationally, until they develop this experience by themselves, which may at times be too late.

He went further to stress that mentorship and early teaching of skills which foster entrepreneurship help break the cycle by having adults pass on knowledge and experience gained over the years to the youth (and to children) so that they can avoid the same mistakes. “New mistakes will likely be made, but from these come new learning experiences which can be passed on to the next set of young adults.”
In terms of the role played by men and boys in female empowerment, Sean noted that female empowerment could, in fact, occur in the absence of men and boys. However, he pointed out that it makes a weaker society where men and boys are in essence "dropping out" of society and thereby leaving women to pick up the pieces.

“Men and boys need to play an active role in female empowerment as that leads to a stronger and healthier society. Men need to teach boys to respect girls as their equals and partners, not as their subordinates and playthings. Boys in turn, if they are taught to acknowledge girls as their peers, will allow girls to grow up into young women who have both self-respect (which should have been taught by their parents) and the comfort of being respected by their peers. 

The other critical way in which men can empower females is by teaching girls (whether daughters, nieces, goddaughters, students) to respect themselves and to view themselves as the equals of men.” He concluded by emphasizing the vital role of not just men but both men and women in fostering female empowerment.

Hermina Johnny
Interview Series: Krishna Clarke --By Alberta Richelieu

Krishna believes that a good education and a positive mindset are complimentary tools that can enable youth to reach higher goals and succeed beyond their expectations. Through education, he believes that a greater understanding of their respective fields will enable young people to interact more with their environments and to contribute to innovation in their respective fields. 

While Krishna believes that there are tremendous opportunities presented by the contemporary economy , he also pointed that there are also many challenges that the youth today are faced with. “Society sometimes dictates that one must follow traditional career paths, such as medicine, law and/or other traditional gender based careers. With our advancing economies, complex systems and a more globalized world, new career choices are available to the next generation for exploration. Mindset is important because there will always be persons who would advise others to stay on a ‘safe’ path. You must be determined to achieve those goals others feel are not attainable. Ever so often, we hear about that one Vincentian, Dominican, or St. Lucian, who is a top executive at Google, has made a break through in cancer research, or works for NASA. They didn’t achieve their success by playing it safe, they had big dreams and worked hard to get there.”

Needless to say, Krishna pointed out that a lot of young people in the Caribbean lack the supportive backgrounds or mechanisms for such a mindset to prosper. “Promoting career fairs and career advisory [mechanisms] is a starting point in solving this and possibly ensuring that it is a requirement for all secondary schools.” 

A supportive environment for youth is tantamount for their future success. “After all, the main way forward is through innovation and allowing persons to think outside the box...What better way to innovate than to allow our youth to freely develop, based on their passions and career choices and not have them chosen by a parent, teacher or other influential adult.”

In regards to social change, Krishna firmly believes that for young women to push this agenda, they must be brave. “Young women need to be fearless and unintimidated." In today’s world there are certain jobs that senior professionals still believe can only be done well by a man. This type of thinking still exists in today’s world, despite all the progress made thus far in gender equality. There is a need for women to be strong and confident in the face of adversity. They need to stick to their opinions and not have anyone try to shake their stance.” 

He continued by re-emphasizing the importance of a supportive environment in creating a positive mindset particularly where it relates to achievement. “Through teaching and building skills in entrepreneurship, women can branch out and/or become business owners breaking the stigma that women are only allowed to do certain jobs.” He gave the example of traditional male jobs such as plumbing, carpentry and mechanics providing opportunities for women to work as well.” Moreover, Krishna mentioned that mentorship, through other women with success stories, is a great way to inspire and motivate other upcoming young and ambitious women to want more out of life.

“Our traditional society was molded in such a way that ensured women played domesticated roles in the household, such as child rearing, cleaning and cooking. Today our world is changing and so too are the roles of women; rightly so.” He highlighted that women are just as intelligent, with unique perspectives, and as such, can contribute to senior business decisions in any company. “The problem lies in the traditionalist views which are subconsciously hidden and prevalent in our society. This is where the role of males do come into play.” 

He digressed by giving the example of the epitome of flawed thinking that plagues societies as it pertains to divisive and discriminatory mindsets. 

He highlighted that this popular argument which builds on bringing people together by avoiding discrimination is more effective than division. It can similarly be applied to gender equality. “Why, for example, should companies or scholarship opportunities go out of their way to show a preference for having an increased presence of women?” He continued, “...Inequality exists throughout this world and many nations are actively seeking a resolve. Iceland, for example, quite recently made it illegal to pay a woman less than a man in similar roles. Very often the argument surfaces, why should women attain different treatment? Why should they be targeted for domestic abuse workshops only? Yes, men sometimes are abused but what is the major problem at hand? It is women majorly being victimized and abused not men! Therefore, specialized targeted workshops are required for women to correct these anomalies and injustices that exist in the traditional society.”

“This leads to the main role of men and boys in female empowerment.” Krishna highlighted that men and boys need to understand that
women need a distinct and separate platform of their own to voice their concerns, to equalize the historical injustices, and to let their voices be heard. He ended forcefully by stating that the role of men and boys is to be understanding, supportive and to help champion female involvement or equality. “Negative comments about special treatment only serve to antagonize an already sensitive topic.”

Krishna Clarke is an experienced risk analyst, currently employed with the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB). He holds a MSc. in Risk Management and Financial Regulation from the Queen’s University Belfast and a BSc. in Banking and Finance from the University of the West Indies. Krishna is also nearing the completion of his second master’s degree at the University of Leicester in Risk, Crisis and Disaster Management. Krishna holds various certificates under topics of gender, development, inequality and governance at notable Universities and institutions such as University of Oxford, Maastricht University and the World Bank. His passion is guided by his current job and recent studies, and rests mainly within regional development.

Hermina Johnny
Interview Series: Marcus D. Joseph --By Alberta Richelieu

Marcus D. Joseph currently attends the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College where he studies computer engineering with the desire to one day become a computer engineer. Marcus is passionate about the environment and hopes to promote eco friendly policies. He is interested in advancing the conversation on areas such as water and food security.

Marcus contends that young women need international experience in order to be confident in their abilities to succeed in the international arena. He believes that the role of governments would be crucial in providing this cross boarder experience. Governments, in collaboration with the private sector, civil society and NGOs, can use their power to forge agreements with other governments that would allow young people to experience life outside of their respective countries. 

Marcus asserts that in order for young women to push the agenda for social change, it is necessary for them to first be comfortable with themselves in a peer and family setting. “Only after young women are comfortable with themselves in these aspects can they interact and cope with social change.” To him, social change will require resilience and ease of adaptation, as well as familiarity with diverse environments. “Once they can adapt to these changes, they can handle anything life throws at them, but the necessary starting point will be them being comfortable with themselves, in other words, they would require empowerment.”

Marcus believes that teaching and building life skills in entrepreneurship as well as the promotion of mentorship are critical factors for the advancement of any group of individuals. He believes that when provided the necessary tools, young people could greatly improve life skills in areas of communication, teamwork and many other aspects, which are needed in the work environment. “These skills will play a major part in their life because it will help them…to get a job and make them [well] rounded individuals.” 

Marcus believes it essential to first figure out “how” men can play a role in the empowerment of women and girls and then utilize that as a starting point towards making a change. He maintains that while the role of men should not be undermined, it is important for empowered women to also ensure that they are visible to other young women, as this form of empowerment is generally more effective. More concretely, women need to practice telling their stories so that they can visibly serve as an inspiration to other women who are considering careers in similar fields. He noted that men can play a big part in pushing and motivating women, however more importantly, women must empower each other as they have first hand experience of the existence of gender inequality. He concluded by stating that men’s critical role will be in recognising and acknowledging their privilege and doing their utmost to address such.

Hermina Johnny
Interview Series: Ronald Francis -- By Alberta Richelieu

Ronald highlighted that part of what is needed in the Caribbean to keep young adults, especially, young women, engaged and confident is the understanding that not all women are the same. 

“The Caribbean is full of women who are empowered in different ways. For those who aspire to work in an international arena, it starts with showing them the possibilities available to them. I realized from teaching at the Saint Joseph’s Convent (SJC) and at the University of the West Indies that you can simply broaden someone’s scope and change his or her life forever. A few weeks ago, I explained to some of my students that Linguists in the Caribbean should learn computer programming and they might have a chance to work at Google and/or Facebook. I pulled up a few examples of job ads for Linguists from various social media companies and they were all shocked.”

Ronald pointed out that demonstrating to young people that possibilities are endless is key to empowerment, especially in today’s world. “We have to start showing Caribbean women, in particular, that the world is their oyster and that they are not limited.”

Ronald was quite cautious to comment on the idea of social change. He made it clear that understanding the agenda for ‘social change’ requires understanding the context of social change. “If you mean social change in the sense of equality and social justice, I think that it starts with education. It is crucial to tell children that their dreams are valid, especially girls. Inspiration should be part of [our] educational system.” He emphasized that the agenda for social change can be as simple as highlighting to young girls, stories of other women who have made it, telling stories of people who triumph over poverty and other struggles, and letting girls know that even though it will not be easy, it can be done!

In regards to teaching and building skills in entrepreneurship, Ronald opined that a business mindset is necessary despite the career pursued. “That is a lesson that I am learning the hard way. More and more, I am realizing that you must diversify your income. What I mean is that the person you work for can pay your salary at the end of the month but that person does not need to determine your total income.” Ronald highlighted that it is possible to have several streams of income. He noted further that people have needs and a good business meets a need. More importantly, Ronald underscored the need to ask oneself the following questions : What can you provide? How can you meet a need? 

He expanded on the need for a better job to be done in the Caribbean, at teaching skills in entrepreneurship at earlier levels. He underscored that it should not be just for students in the ‘POB’ class but for every student. “Every student, from the budding poet to the engineer, must learn how to monetize his or her skills and talents and make a living from them.”

In terms of the role of men and boys in female empowerment, Ronald stressed the need for men to be allies in the equity and equality for the women’s empowerment agenda. “It starts with attitude. Stop catcalling. Stop associating women with weakness. In a relationship, be a partner. Spending time with your family or raising your children or even cleaning the kitchen does not make one a ‘special’ or exceptionally sensitive man. Partnership needs to be the norm.”

With all of that said, Ronald highlighted that women themselves play a vital role in defining masculinity. “My personal opinion is that part of the responsibility falls upon women to accept the vulnerability and sensitivity of men and not equate those traits to weakness.”

Ronald Francis is a Ph.D. candidate in Linguistics and a Research/Teaching Assistant at The University of the West Indies, St Augustine Campus in Trinidad and Tobago. 
Ronald’s research interests are literacy, language education and language policy in multilingual contexts. Ronald hopes to work in the education sector at the local and regional levels with a focus on inclusion.

Hermina Johnny
Interview Series Part 1 of 5: Elihu Wahid, Barbadian International Trade Policy and Research professional. -- By Alberta Richelieu​

Elihu believes that rethinking how parents and future parents raise their children is essential to keeping young adults engaged and confident in their abilities to succeed in the international arena. 

“We need to allow our youthful population to live their lives based on a set of morals/ guiding principles as opposed to rules. Rules are often made within a certain framework, which make them applicable to a situation where certain limitations are present; however, these rules become counterproductive where these limitations are removed (due to a variety of circumstances such as technological change, geopolitics, climate change, etc.). However, when we decide to educate our youth and female population within a set of guiding principles, it is only then that regardless of any situation, which arises that we can expect them to make the best decision. I like to refer to this as building a culture of support as opposed to a culture of control.”

He emphasized that with a culture of support; youth will be more ready to take on any challenge regardless of the circumstances. He expanded further by highlighting that with a culture of control, confidence withers away with the slightest change in circumstance.

In order to push the agenda for social change, Elihu believes that young women need to recognize and believe in their own power. Confidence in their capacity to succeed and overcome challenges is therefore essential. “Young women must believe in their power as consumers, their power as a large portion of the electorate and their power as a voice within society.” He underlined a lesson which was highlighted by someone influential in his life, that served as a positive elucidation of the importance of letting go of fears, and recognizing individual powers and capabilities. “A mentor once told me that in life you never get what you deserve, only what you negotiate. Therefore, young women must bargain hard. Offer your support only to those businesses and political causes that align with your agenda.” 

As an avid promoter of believing in one’s self and capacities, Elihu stressed the need to believe within yourself that your time is now, rather than your time is coming. Essentially, take actions now in order to allow for the future you want. Hard work must be undertaken now in order to build for the outcome you desire. “This means the time for empty promises and best endeavour language have passed; you must strategically aim to remove the barriers to full participation within the economy and society, and compromise only when it allows for an improvement of circumstances.” He concluded by stating that, “the time has passed for standing in line and compromising for the sake of compromise.” 

Elihu views teaching and building skills in entrepreneurship and embracing mentorship as critical to towards the development of Caribbean economies. “The biggest revelation of my entire life has been [that] it’s ok to make mistakes.” He further stressed that both mentorship and entrepreneurship encompasses this revelation. “We are often afraid to share ideas or tackle complex problems for fear of ridicule or just being wrong. Having guidance really takes the edge off of these concerns. It is often said that we never hear of the smartest ideas, only the loudest; because the smarter people are often afraid to speak up.” Therefore young people and women have to remove the fears for speaking up for the things that matter most to them. They have to ensure that their voices are being heard in the arenas that have the most impact.

He continued by stating: “The more we move towards entrepreneurship and mentorship, I believe, the more we will see innovative ideas coming to the forefront of our societies.” We have to recognize that failure will often occur, but that the best innovations have sprung out of failures. Therefore, do not be afraid to fall down. It is how you get back up that matters most.

As a young professional male, Elihu views the role of men and boys as critical in the workplace. “I think men and boys must first think through and understand the privileges they enjoy from gender inequality. It is only after males are aware of these privileges can a conversation be conducted concerning the removal of said privileges and an understanding of the plight of the woman. The patriarchal design of our post-colonial societies has made it such that the cooperation of men is needed.” He concluded by stating: “Therefore, we must educate males further so that they too can use their power to drive the agenda for gender equality within society.” 

Elihu Wahid, affectionately known by his peers as Eli, is a Programme Officer in International Trade Policy and Research at the Barbados Coalition of Service Industries. In 2014, Elihu attained a Bachelor of Science in Economics and Law from the University of the West Indies Cavehill Campus. Developing a passion for trade and desire to contribute to the socioeconomic development of the Caribbean, Eli then pursued a Master of Science in International Trade Policy. 

Currently, he works at the Barbados Coalition of Service Industries (BCSI) where he actively consults in initiatives aimed at strengthening new and existing arrangements for the promotion and development of trade in services, locally and internationally. 

Overall, Mr. Wahid’s experience and interests bear great testament to his passion and dedication to regional and international trade, the promotion of cultural industries as well as the importance of regional integration in the Caribbean.

Hermina Johnny
Youth leaders are fired up, eager to innovate, and are becoming more empowered drivers of change!! -- By Alberta Richelieu

Hi everyone, it’s Alberta again. As part of a 5 part interview series in which I interviewed young women from differing socio-economic backgrounds regarding what is needed to support youth in the Caribbean, I am more inspired than ever. After interviewing and speaking to these five young women, they all spoke commonly about the need for role models, mentorship programmes, training summits and greater access to education. These factors are all necessary in order to build confidence in one’s abilities to succeed in the international arena, promote social change, expand entrepreneurship opportunities and allow for a greater role to be played by men and boys in female empowerment. It is essential that governments, international organizations, civil society, the private sector and all relevant stakeholders work together towards fostering the change that has already began taking place amongst youth in vulnerable regions across the globe. Youth today have big goals and dreams and are eager to drive social change.

Hermina Johnny
Interview Series: Eva Nicole Jn. Marie -- By Alberta Richelieu

Eva Nicole Jn. Marie studied Philosophy at Leeds University in the United Kingdom. She is passionate about holistic education. She hopes to continue getting involved with projects concerning female empowerment and groups created with the advancement of women and young girls in mind. 

“The first thing that comes to mind in terms of what is needed to keep young adults, especially young women, engaged and confident in their abilities to succeed in the international arena is representation. …Hard work goes a long way and talent can really take you to new levels,[ but] unless young women see evidence that what they are being taught[ has]… practical implications and… a place in the real world, all [their] efforts might seem moot.” Eva is a major believer in role models as the key to helping young adults believe they can do it too.” We need to see that black women have a place in the international arena and that our efforts are not in vain. The Caribbean has been putting in efforts to encourage young women to forge new paths for themselves, but I genuinely believe that [more] representation is needed.”

Eva believes that from a young age, women need to know that they have a voice and that their voice will be heard. She continued by noting that young women are encouraged by some to speak up and told that they can, but the actions of society tends to silence them. “They (women) need support from [one]… another and society. [They]… need a platform to honestly and openly express what their experiences are.” In that way, she views that this is a starting point for gaining a better awareness of what needs to be addressed.

Eva noted that as someone who had never considered entrepreneurship as a career path, the workshops and symposiums she attended gave her an opportunity to explore what feels like “a whole new world”. She can’t stress enough her belief that everybody has something to offer, and she highlighted that by learning and sharpening the right skills,, most people can successfully create their own business.

In light of high unemployment rates in the Caribbean, she believes that workshops fostering an entrepreneurship mindset are vital. “With climate change and the instability of the economy, our youth need to learn how to adapt to the times because times are moving very quickly particularly in the age of technology.” She added that teaching skills as opposed to passing on fixed knowledge allows youth to create jobs for themselves rather than waiting on the government and other respective bodies to create jobs for them. “We don’t know what the world will be like in the next two years, let alone the next five to ten years.” Hence, Eva believes building a better future means that we must, as Caribbean people, become adaptable to change. “We can no longer employ the methods of our elders who had more stability and more certainty about their future,” she stated adamantly.

Eva views the role that men and boys need to play in female empowerment as critical and emphasized that their role will be enhanced simply by them listening and internalizing the issues relating to gender. “Being in a position of privilege, men play a critical role in how peacefully female empowerment can move forward. For men to play any sort of role, they must first be aware of the problem.” Emphasizing that there is a tendency for human beings to down play the experiences of others, particularly when they have not had those experiences themselves, and as such are often unable to grasp the depth of the other party’s experience. 

“Female empowerment is happening, regardless of men's co-operation. Men's co-operation, however, allows society to create a harmonious space for ALL to dwell. Men must teach boys accountability for their actions. [Also] there is a need to teach boys [how] to get in touch with their feminine side so they do not grow up to see women as weak and emotional creatures, but rather consider the experiences of women as worthy of respect. Teaching boys about their own emotions and allowing them to experience them in the same way we allow girls to experience their emotions is important. Men must hold each other accountable for their actions. Patriarchy hurts everybody, not just women. The ‘macho man’ mindset has driven many of our young Caribbean men to suicide. There MUST be a focus on emotional intelligence.” She concluded by stating that she whole-heartedly believes in a holistic approach toward female empowerment. “We must focus on the practical, mental, emotional, and spiritual side of things if we are to move forward.”

Hermina Johnny
Interview Series: Jerelle A. Joseph -- By Alberta Richelieu

Jerelle A. Joseph is a PhD candidate in Chemistry at the University of Cambridge. She holds a BSc. In Chemistry and Mathematics and an MPhil in Chemistry from the University of the West Indies, Cavehill Campus. She is the founder of CariScholar- a mentoring programme designed to connect aspiring Caribbean scholars to suitable mentors from the region. She hopes to create spaces whereby young people in the Caribbean can realize their full potential.

Jerelle considers education a critical factor for social change. “Young people need to be made aware of the social stereotypes and injustices that are present in the Caribbean for social change to occur…this can happen mainly through the education system.” Ms. Joseph underscored that people would not feel a need for promoting change if they did not understand that there was a problem in the first place. “A lot of the things we brand as ‘this is how we are’ or ‘this is how it's always been’, particularly with regards to traditional gender roles and sexual orientation, needs to be redefined in the minds of the young people.” 

Jerelle believes that promoting entrepreneurship falls largely on the shoulders of the power structures in our society. “While parents and education systems can play a major role in encouraging young people [in the Caribbean] to be entrepreneurs, it is futile if the structures, spaces and opportunities are not created by those in power to facilitate [it.]” She stressed that for too long Caribbean governments have promoted a culture of dependency that have made many people complacent. In addition, the bureaucracy and fees associated with setting up small businesses is a huge deterrent to young people becoming entrepreneurs. “While the education system can promote these ideas, the governing bodies need to [create systems and policies to] facilitate these ideas.”

Jerelle founded the CariScholar mentorship programme because she views mentorship as crucial in the lives of young people. Emphasizing that it is an invaluable tool to have, especially in the Caribbean, where many young people come from communities that are lacking positive influences. She went on to note that a mentor’s main role is to open one’s eye to all possibilities and to provide guidance for young people on how to get there. “Our school systems in the Caribbean have traditionally not placed a lot of emphasis on career development and it is important to expose young people to good mentors who can help [them] fill in the gaps.”

Furthermore, Jerelle contends that the role of men and boys in women’s empowerment is fundamental. She highlighted that men and boys must become educated about the gender biases and injustices that are prevalent, so they can then help to level the playing field and create equal opportunities for women and girls. “ That [new] sort of mentality will trickle down to how they treat [and] value women in the home, in the workplace, and in society in general.” From her perspective, armed with the right knowledge men and boys will support women more and assume more responsibility for roles that have been traditionally branded as the woman’s roles. Jerelle considers this an effective way of building women’s confidence and supporting their dreams as a community.

Hermina Johnny
Interview Series: Yvane Agard -- By Alberta Richelieu

Yvane Agard holds a BSc. in Chemistry (major) and Biology (minor) from the University of the West Indies. She recently completed a Masters in Drug Chemistry with Distinction at the Newcastle University in the United Kingdom. She hopes to pursue a career in patent law relating to drug chemistry. She volunteers her time with high-risk youth and orphans by providing mentoring and tutoring to them, with the hope of creating a better future for the Caribbean. She is passionate about changing the culture towards women in the region and hopes to create more opportunities for young women in the science field for a more diverse and resilient Caribbean economy.

Yvane sees education as the main factor in keeping youth, especially young women engaged and confident in their abilities to succeed in the international arena. She contends that there must be a more flexible form of learning geared toward the increase in confidence across a wide cross section of people, for example, children with learning disabilities, and children who are more creative. “More creative children tend not to shine due to the lack of facilities [and opportunities available to them],” she explained. Creativity needs to be encouraged in order to grow. She noted that the revision of the curriculum in schools is necessary to incorporate and foster a more creative skills set. “Children who are more academically inclined tend to participate more in class because they feel a deeper sense of confidence, as such there tends to be a bias toward these type of children in schools.” We need to stop educating youth out of their creative abilities and encourage and foster a culture of innovation.

Moreover, Yvane views guidance and inspiration as essential factors in keeping young people engaged and confident in their abilities to succeed on the international stage. Most importantly, she sees the engagement of the diaspora and other inspirational alumni, as key factors in fostering inspiration in the region. “Inviting role models, particularly members of the diaspora and inspirational alumni to give speeches and mentor young people in order to give realistic views of what can be done with subjects studied, and [guidance for] future careers is important.” She emphasized that greater guidance instills confidence in what one is doing as well as what one wants to do in the future. 

Yvane underscored that insecurities bring about low self-esteem, and without someone to talk to, there is a tendency to carry these insecurities into adulthood. “Without confidence, one will lack the belief in their ability to start his/her own business or achieve higher goals, particularly internationally.” Considering such, Yvane believes it necessary for young people, particularly young women, to have a “safety haven” to express how they feel. However, she stressed that, in lieu of the small size of Caribbean societies, anonymity is essential. Hence, she suggested the creation of an app or chat room where experienced individuals are available to speak to other young people possibly through a hotline format.

The Caribbean is in dire need of a greater availability of scholarships. “Without finances, higher tertiary level education becomes difficult due to the exorbitant prices of universities, particularly universities in first world countries.” In general, access to the international arena requires a higher level of education. In the Caribbean, people who attend university are usually those whose parents can afford it. “Growing up in a financially unstable household gives one the preconceived notion that they are unable to achieve greater things in life, and so, there is a lack of confidence [at an early stage]. This can cause young people from such households to perform poorly at school and lack confidence socially.”

Most imperatively, she stated that there is a need to inculcate into the minds of young people, a greater appreciation for education, especially education in non-traditional fields.

As regards social change, Yvane believes that social change starts from political influence. “There is a need for policies which foster social change, for example funding geared towards female empowerment, such as conferences and training programmes.” She emphasized the need for conferences with a more creative touch that will attract young people, as opposed to the typical “talk all day conferences”. She gave examples such as including a wide range of role models beyond academics to include entrepreneurs, entertainers and other artists to keep the youth involved, attentive and interested in these activities.

In terms of the role played by men and boys in female empowerment, Yvane perceives the upbringing of boys as the vital factor. “It is important to raise boys to have more respect for women and view them as equals. Supporting the issues requires seeing and understanding the injustices.” Additionally, she believes that there is a need for greater inclusiveness of males in female empowerment groups, talks, etc., by making them feel welcome.

Hermina Johnny
Interview Series:  Anissa St. Clair -- By Alberta Richelieu

Anissa St. Clair is an administrative assistant at a local St. Lucian law firm. She hopes to help break the cycle of poverty on the island and inspire others to do the same. She believes that programs that provide basic skills, such as; computer literacy and public speaking, are crucial in promoting social change. Anissa holds the view that education, particularly on global issues, is a necessary precursor to keeping women engaged and confident in their abilities to succeed in the international arena. She highlighted the need for educating young people on global and cultural issues via foreign exchange forums and programmes, coupled with travel opportunities that create a greater understanding of the world around us. This could foster a sense of confidence and engagement in the international arena. Most importantly, she views the reformation and creation of sound policies as a critical factor in engaging young people. 

Anissa perceives breaking the poverty cycle as central to the promotion of social change. “ I think the poverty cycle can be broken by educating young people of their power to control when they reproduce.” She noted that education is necessary to sensitize youth on issues of sexual and reproductive health, and opines that access to basic health and reproductive care is also necessary. She holds the view that a greater sensitization of birth control can help women to achieve higher levels of education, and by extension, be in better positions to provide for and to educate their children. 

In regards to entrepreneurship, Anissa believes that programmes that provide basic skills, such as how to manage a business, how to manage their finances, as well as market research skills, and financial aid to small businesses are vital to contributing to entrepreneurship. She indicated that tools provided by a similar programme advanced her current role in the workforce and continues to advocate for more skill building programmes to be made available for young people, especially those from disadvantaged communities. In light of the limited access to education due to financial constraints, she opines that such programmes must be made affordable and easily accessible to the average person. 

Anissa views the role of men and boys as very important for the empowerment of women. She mentioned the need, on the part of women, to encourage men to get involved in women’s empowerment groups in order to push the agenda further. More particularly, she sees fathers as playing a critical role in empowering their daughters. She pointed out that fathers must make their daughters aware of the wide range of career options available to women, beyond the stereotypical female jobs.

Hermina Johnny
Interview of Tiala Scott -- By Alberta Richelieu 

Tiala Scott is currently a student of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College on the island of Saint Lucia, where she studies Chemistry, Biology, Spanish and Communication Studies. She aspires to continue to pursue her studies in the field of science and later become an outstanding physician. Moreover, she hopes to contribute to the improvement of the standard of health care in Saint Lucia, and by extension, the wider Caribbean.

Tiala vehemently believes that exposure to the international environment is key to keeping young adults, especially young women, engaged and confident in their abilities to succeed in the international arena. “This does not necessarily mean only exploring the geography of other territories, but also, becoming involved in…[diverse] transactions and professional activities common to other locations.” She underlined that “our young people should be given more opportunities to interact with people of other nationalities in order to gain insight into the different mannerisms and customs [of diverse peoples].” She made it clear that she views the aforementioned as a prerequisite to success in the international arena.

With regard to social change, Tiala highlighted the need for a strong support system as a critical factor in bringing about social change in the Caribbean. “As with anything, support is important,” she explained. She underlined that no one person can accomplish any change or reform on his or her own. Other members of society, as well as the wider regional community, must back young women that are looking to push the agenda for social change. 

Tiala strongly believes that teaching and building skills in entrepreneurship, while embracing mentorship, can serve as a jump-start towards boosting the careers of young people in general. “A skill-set geared towards cultivating the tools needed in a professional environment, helps to give young people the edge in the workforce.” Building up the capacity to function and interact with diverse groups of people is therefore one of the key factors necessary for the development of young people. We need to teach both soft and hard skills in order to ensure that youth would be able to survive in an environment foreign to them. Young people need holistic educational opportunities that harness their creative abilities, as well as train them for the careers of today and tomorrow. It is a “no brainer” if young people are sent to join the work force without the necessary tools to succeed, particularly as entrepreneurs, they are being set up for failure. In essence, a support system is essential.

Tiala holds the view that the current role played by men and boys in female empowerment is not substantial enough. “A lot can be done which is not being done,” she pointed out. “Little things such as supporting females, [regardless of age] in daily activities can go a long way. She sees a dire need for a “ loosening up of the grass” with regard to gender roles and male dominated fields. This means that we need to address taboo subjects as well as challenge, break, and reassess social conventions. Men and boys need to be more welcoming of ideas that help portray women in a different and positive light, as opposed to what they have been traditionally viewed as. More imperatively, Tiala sees the need for men to view women “not just as an accessory, but rather as a counterpart.” She added that the support of men and boys in the household goes a long way. “Reflecting on daily life, giving guidance where needed, and accepting [to assist with] work in the household, provides support for women, and by extension, leads to female empowerment.” Overall, Tiala highlights the crucial need for support, not just in bigger things such as groups, conventions, etc., but also, support in small things such as in the household, as critical in promoting empowerment of females in the Caribbean society.

Hermina Johnny
How To Build Self Confidence Among the Youth (particularly among young women)

By Alberta A.G.S. Richelieu

We have entered the age of a global knowledge economy, characterized by increased interconnectedness, high technology, huge amounts of information and quick changes. This new, interconnected world will have a tremendous impact on the 1.2 billion youth aged 15-24 (accounting for one out of every six people worldwide). These youth are in a critical stage of their lives where they need to acquire the skills to succeed in a globalized economy, but many, especially girls and young women, face towering obstacles preventing them from moving down the path of success.

One universally accessible tool that allows the youth to succeed is self-confidence. Self-confidence plays a pivotal role in youth development. It inspires young people to believe in their capabilities and as such, dream bigger and aspire towards a greater life. Three key skills that allow youth to develop self-confidence are managerial skills, critical thinking skills, and debating skills. 

Leadership roles build managerial skills. Such skills include effective time management, coordination, effective organizational skills, building of morale as well as the power to effect change and motivate individuals. While effecting coordination among groups of individuals, leadership also promotes personal development such as effective communication skills, active management of one’s everyday life and the ability to easily transfer skills across a range of expert fields and industries. 

Critical Thinking skills promote the development of higher thinking skills through reasoning, analysis, synthesis, evaluation, application and most importantly, creativity. These high level thinking skills aid in promoting individuals who not only excel academically but also socially as well. Socially, a higher level of thinking skills aid in the development of relationships, better communication and higher levels of tolerance. Moreover, it can be used in a wide variety of real life situations and as such, as it entails the requirement of effective communication and analysis. Critical thinking skills can be developed via several avenues including debating, effective conversation, argumentative writing as well as through social interaction with individuals from different socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. 

Debating is one way to foster critical thinking, as it allows for a greater appreciation for a wide range of perspectives as well as the understanding and processing of another side’s perspective, in a rational manner which enables one to deal with day to day situations. Reasoning, rational decision-making and empathy for other points of view, all crucial factors in debating. 

The new economy demands highly flexible skills as well as an ability to transfer knowledge, analyze information and integrate knowledge from a wide range of information sources. Effective critical thinking skills promote such thinking and consequently are vital for the modern day fast pace work place. 

As self confidence plays a central role in one’s aspirations, leadership skills, critical thinking skills including debating skills all foster self confidence and creativity. Self-confidence transcends in an awareness of new possibilities including gainful employment. With the awareness of new possibilities, this can be crucial in the economic development of Small Island Developing States such as Saint Lucia. 

Constituting almost fifty percent of the population of Saint Lucia and worldwide, women are central actors in moving towards sustainability. Hence, it is important that self-confidence is instilled in women, particularly women from developing nations such as Saint Lucia since they play a central role in the decision making of families. 

In conclusion, as noted by Michelle Bachelet, former Under-Secretary-General and former Executive Director of UN Women, “When women are empowered and can claim their rights and access to land, leadership, opportunities and choices, economies grow, food security is enhanced and prospects are improved for current and future generations.” For developing countries, where women tend to limit their career possibilities, it is paramount that self-confidence is fostered in youth and more particularly, in women. One of the many ways to do this is via promotion of leadership and critical thinking skills. 

My name is Alberta  Richelieu and I am writing a column on youth engagement, entrepreneurship, and career enhancing life skills for the Aspire Artemis Foundation. I will be highlighting the authentic experiences of youth from underserved communities starting with those from my own region.

Hermina Johnny
Reflections on career enhancing life skills and mentorship in the Caribbean

By Max Anthony Tanic

Coming from the French Caribbean Island of Martinique, and growing up on the small commonwealth island of Saint Lucia, I was exposed to challenges faced by young people from two different settings in the Caribbean. Whether it was the influence of the French or the English, the young people ended up encountering the same difficulties and challenges in discovering what their next step in life would be after high school. I came to realize that most of the young people around me were comfortable in their current situation and therefore did not look for opportunities to forward their futures or careers.

A Career Center would be a great resource for the governments of small island developing states in the Caribbean to offer young people dealing with the difficulties of obtaining a career. A Career Center would provide much needed services such as career enhancing life skills, job search resources, academic exam preparation, finding career and/or academic mentors, scholarship opportunities, step by step advisors, university opportunities and more under one roof. This would encourage young people to broaden their expectations and seek greater opportunities for their futures. It would be a great way to impact the entire population by reaching out and inviting young people to provide insights on what their next step could be. The center would help young people to realize that their voices matter and that they can play a role in shaping their own futures. The main focus of the career center would be on creating a program of mentorship that would provide guidance to students directly out of high school, even if the individuals do not have a clear idea for his or her future. It would provide direction for young people to understand the importance of stability and learn to empower themselves.

Young people who are interested in sports, do not get the support and financial aid they need from the government to help them reach a competitive professional level. Athletes who do try to reach a professional level usually end up being funded privately by their parents, which puts a strain on anyone having to compete with government funded opponents from other countries. There are many great sportsmen who are not able to show the world their true potential due to a lack of funding. These athletes tend to be passionate about their sports but grow out of it over time when the funding and aid isn’t there

In Martinique, even though there is a better system (than those in the other Eastern Caribbean countries) in place to assist young people in finding opportunities for advancement after they graduate secondary school, the young adults there still face difficulties, such as continuing their studies in France; their mother country. The exam selection process in Martinique only allows a small number of participants to advance their studies abroad compared to the amount of participants taking the exam. Martinique has had more rapid development than St. Lucia by being a part of the powerful economy of France, but Martinique only has two universities on the island. 

Young people are faced with many barriers to further their education, but when young people are empowered and are given the right opportunities, they become drivers for their communities. More opportunities should exist for young people to participate in decisions on the issues affecting them and to strengthen their abilities to further their own skills development for their futures. For example, young people can become engaged in helping shape decision-making around issues such as healthcare, education, and more, if they are offered more opportunities to gain in-depth knowledge in these areas.

Men usually get certain guidance from the female influences in their lives, beginning at home with their mothers, sisters and friends. Being surrounded by their mothers’ moral values and power from a young age forms young boys into organized, ambitious young men. Seeing these women in even higher positions of power would positively influence the self-esteem of both boys and girls, giving them the strength to push themselves even more in the workforce. For the younger generations, having women as equals allows for more opportunities for a higher earning capacity for families, which would create happier relationships and happier families. Growing up on our small islands, women are given opportunities to work in powerful positions, which a majority of the time, creates great results in the end.

Young women should be properly guided from a young age, inspiring them to acquire a higher level of education. In poorer countries in the Caribbean, young women who do not go on to higher education or try for a career, either marry into abusive controlling relationships or settle for jobs that are less than they deserve. Women are faced with many more barriers than men today, but they play an important role in and contribute to the productivity of their families, communities, and to the prospects of the next generation.

Many communities still need to be developed, yet they do not remain on the priority list of government interests for community development. Many small islands thrive off of tourism and the government tends to focus their attention on tourist attraction areas, which leaves the small communities woefully underdeveloped. If volunteer programs were reinforced and encouraged with support from the government, civil society, and the private sector, this would allow young people to continuously develop the communities around them. Beginning in high school and continuing onwards, young people would be allowed opportunities to grow and develop which will later allow them to thrive as empowered adults. Volunteer work opportunities and academic courses that build young people’s knowledge for use in future projects and provide them with information on how to further their career skills, would allow young people to learn those skills and earn higher positions through knowledge and practice. This would give them eligibility for scholarship openings and the opportunities to find good jobs. 

Through it all, volunteer work would keep young people occupied by performing skilled work rather than being on the streets, which oftentimes leads them in the wrong direction. Creating openings for young people to participate in debate programs would allow them to engage in and feel like they have a say in their communities or even their country as a whole. Skills development is very important in every community, as there is a need for society to continuously grow and expand.

In the Caribbean, there is a lack of skills training for young people such as instruction in public speaking, organization, and the principles of team-work. These three skills are important in developing self-worth and improving local communities.

Providing young people with the ability to attend foreign language exchange programs at a young age would allow them to have insight on different cultures for future business ventures. Students who travel and learn different languages benefit later on in life by being able to gain jobs without the hindrance language barriers can cause when working in different parts of the world. 

In the end, we should foster these programs so our future generations will be able to have the power to make positive changes and have successful futures allowing young people to serve as drivers for change. Having a more professional and educated youth population will create a greater development rate for the world, creating jobs and bringing down the percentage of poverty worldwide. 

My name is Max Tanic and I am writing a column on youth engagement, entrepreneurship, and career enhancing life skills for the Aspire Artemis Foundation. I will be highlighting the authentic experiences of youth from underserved communities starting with those from my own region. If you have a story to share, I would love the opportunity to speak with you. You can reach me at

Hermina Johnny