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