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01.10.15

Caribbean leaders commit to 'think as a region' to support entrepreneurs

"Never stop innovating, this is what keeps you ahead of the competition!"

This was the message to young people in the Caribbean from Tamika Fletcher, entrepreneur and Director of the Bead Café in Trinidad, who addressed the first ever Caribbean Young Entrepreneurs Summit (CYES) in Barbados.

CYES marked the closing phase of a successful partnership between YBI and USAID that has helped to start more than 100 new businesses, created 174 new jobs and provided business start up support for over 1,500 young people. Tamika was just one of these young people who had been empowered by a programme that has also been successful in developing a stronger ecosystem for young entrepreneurs in the Caribbean.

For the first time ever the community of regional YBI members, in partnership with USAID, brought together regional entrepreneurial leaders with the explicit ambition of promoting the idea of the Caribbean as an ‘entrepreneurial community ’ with a focus on empowering young entrepreneurs to ‘think as a region’. Joining the entrepreneurs on stage, and reinforcing the key regional message were regional leaders including Stephen Lashley, Barbados Minister for Youth. Lashley reaffirmed his government’s support for entrepreneurship and the importance of the regional outlook promoted by CYES participants.

“Entrepreneurship is an effective developmental tool, but for it to be most impactful and sustainable we must take a regional approach to advancing and showcasing its legitimacy.” Mr Lashley also acknowledged that there are additional challenges faced by young entrepreneurs who seek to start a business, and endorsed the messages of CYES and the importance of specialist support for young entrepreneurs. “Priority must therefore be given to developing policies, programmes and support mechanisms that will nurture youth entrepreneurship and cater to the needs of young people as they establish and grow new youth-led enterprises,” he added. As a legacy of the USAID project, that has been running since 2012, YBI and its members used CYES to launch a brand new collaborative web environment and 'virtual centre of excellence' to ensure that young people across the Caribbean are able to connect to the support services they need and that local organisations are able to continue to promote the regional message. We called this community Youth Business Caribbean and it can be found online at www.youthbusinesscaribbean.com.

These developments take place against a background of significant need in the region. One of the key challenges faced by aspiring young entrepreneurs in the Caribbean is the small and fragmented nature of local markets and the lack of a well-resourced infrastructure to support startup businesses. People from outside the region often view the Caribbean as one homogeneous group of islands, but in reality each independent nation has its own employment and trade law, business rules and legal requirements for new businesses. Young entrepreneurs with an eye on the export market often face huge challenges just reaching new markets for their products. These challenges mean that the Caribbean region has some of the highest levels of youth unemployment in the world.

A recent study by the Caribbean Development Bank revealed that nearly 25 per cent of youth, in countries for which statistics were available, were unemployed. Those rates are among the highest in the world. While many other comparable countries have relatively flat youth unemployment levels the impact across the last 10 years, the impact of the global credit crunch on the dominant tourist industry means that many countries demonstrated a spike in youth unemployment since 2007.

“This Summit is a great start and I hope that at its conclusion we all can move beyond the conversation and begin to ‘think as a region’ in the promotion of entrepreneurship,” added Minister Lashley.

Throughout the global YBI network new youth led businesses are always a cause for celebration. CYES was a powerful forum to showcase the achievements of these local heroes and relatable entrepreneurial role models for aspirational young Caribbean people. But for this project the real measure of success of will be the extent to which the participating organisations move on from CYES and begin to think, and act, like one community, with the power to change things for the better for young entrepreneurs, where ever they are in the Caribbean. That is the true ambition of CYES, our partnership with USAID. As one speaker at the event commented, the “true test of a network is its ability to influence policy” and in that respect the work of Youth Business Caribbean hosts is only just beginning.  

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