The children of Belize are not allowed around the table when the financial affairs of the family is being discussed. In most cases, it is not until the individual finds a job and is expected to contribute that they learn of the family expenses. The practice of not involving young people in the economic affairs of the household has contributed greatly to the rise of a generation of economically stunted individuals. This is also the case for the rest of the Caribbean and, it extends from the home to the very society where we live and learn. Experts have pointed to this practice as the reason for the low sense of entrepreneurship in youths of the region.
Dr. Heather Johnson, Coordinator of the Regional Youth Development Program in the CARICOM Secretariat, said, “The culture in the Caribbean is one where parents don’t encourage their children to start business. There is no culture of entrepreneurship. We don’t teach it in school. The whole idea of going out on your own is scary.” That is why CARICOM commissioned the drafting of a manual to teach the merits of entrepreneurship to youths across the region. That manual has been launched and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports has adapted it and is now introducing it to Belizean Youths.
The Youth for the Future recruited about 30 talented youths from the Southside of Belize City and are challenging them to become business owners. Those individuals are currently participating in a five-day workshop, which uses CARICOM’s CEBO manual to teach business principles and steps to starting a business. CEBO stands for Creativity for Employment and Business Opportunities. Dr. Johnson said that though it is not likely to create an entrepreneur in five days, the workshop should inspire an entrepreneurial charge as youths learn that there are plenty of economic opportunities available in their own communities.
In the workshop, the youths were separated into four groups based on their interests and talents. Each group was challenged to come up with a business idea, which they will build upon throughout the five days. The Guardian visited the workshop on day 2, Wednesday, October 17th, and found that each group had already settled on their business proposal, choice of marketing and clients they hope to target. The source of start up capital is the same for each since the coordinators of the program will give loans of US$25 to each individual. The co-owners of the company will pool their resources to start the business. On Saturday, October 20th, four new businesses will be launched at the NARCIE building on the Stella Maris compound.
One of the businesses is a restaurant. The restaurant promises to serve a wide variety of food at quality comparable to the best joints in the city. One of the businesses is a cafeteria. The establishment will serve drinks such as frozen coffee and light snacks. The third business is a salon. The salon will offer pedicures, manicures, hair styling and other cosmetic services. The fourth business is a clothing line company. The company will be selling clothes with original designs that will surely appeal to the Belizean market. The event is opened to the public, so, one can visit the NARCIE building on Saturday, get some food from the restaurant and a cold drink from the cafeteria then get their hair and nails done at the salon before they purchase a fabulous new outfit from the clothing company.
Dr. Johnson said she hopes that at least two of the companies will remain open after the workshop. Kirk Augustus is the Manager of the Violence Reduction Unit at the Youth for the Future. He said that there is a plan to support any viable business introduced at the workshop. Youth for the Future has partnered with the Youth Business Trust, which will aid the young entrepreneurs further. Youth Business Trust will not only secure funding for the projects, but will also assist with technical support through additional training. Augustus is extremely passionate about the program because he believes there needs to be a “change in the mindset of our young people”. He said, “I would like to see less young people finishing school and looking for job and more of them using their education to create jobs.” Dr. Johnson is responsible to inspire this change in mindset across the region. She says entrepreneurship may not be the answer to all our economic challenges but it puts us in a better position to take on those challenges. Dr. Johnson said entrepreneurship is even more important today since Governments across the region are “shrinking as an employer”.
The workshop has been held in other countries of the region as well including, Jamaica, Dominica, the Bahamas and St Kitts & Nevis.