Conference ‘inspiring and empowering’
The prospect of being your own boss, working on projects that fire you up and relying on your own wits to succeed is a perennially attractive one.
But the reality for entrepreneurs and self-employed individuals is very different: long days, short nights, no holidays – or weekends – the constant difficulty in getting paid properly, and underpinning it all the unnecessary pressure to conform to someone else’s outdated thinking that you ought to ‘stop messing around and get a real job’. (Whatever that’s supposed to mean.)
It can be a lonely and unforgiving place, which is why a regional entrepreneurs conference such as YES Caribbean plays such an important role, as organiser Nerissa Golden explained.
“My vision for the conference has always been to equip Caribbean entrepreneurs – Caribbeanpreneurs as I call them – with the knowledge and resources to launch businesses and to grow them to better themselves and their community.
“The first conference was held in May 2006 and Cayman’s Susan Barnes was one of my first visiting speakers. We then held another YES on St. Kitts in May 2007 and since then I’ve just been doing speaking engagements around the region about entrepreneurship,” she said.
The 2011 conference was in Montserrat and featured Cayman designer Luigi Moxam and Badir Awe.
“We were proud to go and represent Cayman at this gathering of creative minds from around the region,” said Moxam.
“Susan Barnes of the dance academy gave an inspiring story about her life. It was my first time giving a presentation and it was all about learning and sharing ideas with each other.” One thing that became clear was that many people had the same story: that of a perceived or actual lack of support networks for their efforts.
“If we do not encourage and embrace what people are doing to make a difference in business and our community we will all lose out. Creative arts are often looked at as a hobby but people do not understand the sacrifice that goes into it. We need to get together and support each other; buy the products, stock them in stores. There are opportunities and initiatives out there but it takes money to realise projects,” explained Moxam.
His compadre, Badir Awe, added that there is a traditional disconnect between those who run a country and the younger generation.
“They do not see what we see in creative media. The Internet has a massive influence on the shape of the world and has great social potential. It engenders communication and openness which in turn raises consciousness and knowledge.
“The Internet is a library of everything; something like Youtube is about learning and sharing. Social media can be a pillar of economy around the world. It’s all about sharing, expressing one’s self – that is a profound psychological instinct in humans, as is the creative urge. But young kids are told to go into banking or tourism and even if they are interested in something else they are not being encouraged to be themselves,” Awe said.
He added that entrepreneurs can lead innovation so they should be invested in. The future, he feels, is there for Cayman to grasp.
“We could have a school that could be the most technologically advanced in the Caribbean. Let’s get Google wanting to come down and contribute. Why have we not invited them?”
Technology was a feature of the YES conference, explained Golden.
“I am a great supporter and believer in the power of technology to level the playing field for Caribbeanpreneurs. We have a high rate of connectivity to the technology but we are not using them to their full potential to make money and that is what we try to do at each YES event.
“Highlights this year had to be the Entrepreneur’s Story sessions each day when you heard the real life experiences of Caribbeanpreneurs… in person and also via video streaming. The For Ladies Only segment was also very special, as were the Acting classes with Actress Dionne Audain and Saturday’s marketplace where we looked at the work of persons and helped them set prices and learn to see the potential of collaborations, networking and just taking their natural gifts more seriously,” she said.
Ultimately the experience in beautiful Montserrat, now well on its way to coming back after the tragic volcanic eruption, was very enriching, concluded Moxam, who amongst other things is the brains behind the famous One Tree Four Five T-shirt and design company.
“We were there for four days; there was a presentation, the fashion show with the kids, conversations with the AIDS foundation. There were 20 kids just hanging out with us – we had had a palpable influence on them. They believe in what I am trying to communicate and we will keep in touch and I will do some designs with them. There were also well-renowned Caribbean artists there. It was great to have conversations on a business level and get tremendous feedback. People were excited and clapping. It was inspiring.
“It was empowering to see regular people from the Caribbean wanting to support the cause; we understood each other. [It was fantastic] to be able to share our mutual experiences with each other and with the world. Some people had doubts about taking the chance [to set up their own company]. Talented dressmakers, for example, who now have the confidence to venture out on their own.”
Ultimately, that is what will set anyone in good stead; plus, of course, a stream of ideas and a support framework which allows their exploration. The world desperately needs innovators, artists, those who think against the grain, otherwise it will descend further into a tiresome morass of corporate hegemony and grey, featureless sludge.
Luckily, the future can be colourful and challenging in the right hands. Cayman’s young entrepreneurs and creative artists certainly have vibrancy of ideas but are we giving them the palette and the paints so we can all benefit?