Sat | Nov 18, 2017

Give your 9-5 jobs a walk ... seek opportunities

Published:Tuesday | December 27, 2016 | 12:00 AMSashakay Fairclough
Ayanna Samuels
Ayanna Samuels
Ayanna Samuels
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Jamaica's struggling economy is often blamed for a lack of innovation and creativity among its people, however, one game changer sees opportunity for growth in our predicament.

Ayanna Samuels is a 36-year-old aerospace engineer, motivational speaker and international development professional specialising in information and communication technology (ICT) to advance socio-economic development, technology policy and gender equality. She is also a health and wellness consultant. Her work, which has spanned more than a decade, has been the engendering of socio-economic development. She is also passionate about the intersection of technological innovation and human development.

"This is the time when entrepreneurship should thrive. Budding entrepreneurs should think outside the box and get out of their comfort zones of a traditional 9-5 and ask themselves where they see opportunities to create solutions to existing problems. The most important thing to do is act. A lot of people sit and plan but they do not act."

Acting is something Ayanna knows all too well. As an aerospace engineer, she uses information and communication technologies as a tool for socioeconomic development and to bring greater access to human rights which means that she allows people to understand the role that ICT can play in making their lives more efficient and in giving them new job-creation prospects. In essence, she teaches them how to use the tools they already have available, for example, broadband, text messaging and others, in order to improve themselves and participate in the global workforce.

"I was the regional coordinator for an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) project titled, "The Broadband Infrastructure, Inventory and Public Awareness in the Caribbean Project". This took place in eight countries, namely Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Belize, Suriname, Dominican Republic, Guyana and Haiti and lasted three years.

"We took an inventory of broadband infrastructure across these countries, then, we looked at the legal and regulatory infrastructure in place to ensure it would promote the growth of broadband. Then we considered effecting public awareness campaigns so people can understand its potential and utilise it for their socio-economic development. We also provided public policy recommendations for the design of national broadband strategies in each of these countries to act as practical guidelines for governments to accelerate the penetration rate and usage of broadband services among different stakeholders. Research has shown that an increase in the penetration of broadband can increase the GDP levels because people become more productive with increased access to the job-creation mechanisms that come through greater access to broadband, etc."

 

SEEK OUT MENTORS

 

Ayanna believes that in order to attain success, young entrepreneurs should seek out mentors in older, more established executives.

"The value of a mentor has been found by the Harvard Business School to be worth more than US$300,000 per year, so finding this kind of guidance is priceless and won't run dry, whereas, if you were to receive a capital injection of US$5,000 it could. Networking is also important so you can learn without having to go through the process of failures to learn everything."

 

CREATIVITY REQUIRED

 

When it comes to the difficulty in securing capital, she believes that some creativity is required from both the banks and the loan applicants.

"I would like to see banks be more diverse in what they seek as collateral. Entrepreneurs should also pitch internationally. Visit different venture capital groups and have a strong pitch that you are always ready to deliver. People should understand that they are the drivers of their own destiny and traditional ways of getting capital are not the only ways today."

In the next 10 years, using her work in ICT for development and also using technology policy as well as motivational speaking, she hopes to have enabled, a number of Jamaicans to realise their full potential. She is especially passionate about helping those at the lower ends of the socio economic ladder to move into full self-actualisation and empowerment. When it comes to Jamaica, as a whole, she wants to see the ICT hold be greater actualised in all sectors including healthcare and education.

The World Bank's Caribbean Mobile Innovation Project is something else that she is working on in order to support growth-oriented mobile app businesses in the region. The aim of the project is to strengthen the Caribbean mobile innovation ecosystem and to enable sustainable and competitive mobile enterprises to grow through a number of regional and local activities that will target early-stage innovators and guide them to market readiness. The desired outcome is the creation of a regional pool of high-growth potential mobile start-ups, with the capacity to release their apps to the market and raise additional capital to grow. Additionally, she is working with a very exciting start-up called mSurvey which allows the customer/other groups to use their phones to articulate their view on services received.

She said: "It is exciting because just using email or writing doesn't always result in companies getting substantial feedback. A company is able to communicate with all its customers in one go by using the mSurvey software and get feedback within minutes."

The mobile network operator, Safaricom, known for the successful creation of mobile money M-PESA, with more than 21 million customers and more than US$20 billion of transactions, has invested in mSurvey.

Ayanna Samuels has some pertinent advice for budding entrepreneurs who worry about the economic mire that Jamaica is currently in.

"Don't wait until everything is perfect before moving along. The pursuit of perfection causes paralysis. Don't be afraid to act. Just because the economy is struggling doesn't mean that there are no opportunities. Get out of the hand-to-mouth reality which a 9-5 often leads to. Also, one does not need a formal degree to be a game changer, in fact, many game changers do not have that, they just believed in themselves. Know that there are no failures, only lessons. Be brave."