Forward Step targeting at-risk youths
"We believe in teaching you to fish, we don't believe in giving you fishes, so we equip you with the skills and mindset to go forward and be entrepreneurs yourself," Sasha Shaw, operations manager at Forward Step, located in Gregory Park in St Catherine, told Rural Xpress recently.
Shaw was representing Forward Step at a social enterprise forum at Jewel Paradise Cove Hotel in Runaway Bay, St Ann. The event was hosted by two United States Agency for International Development (USAID) projects, the Community Empowerment and Transformation Project Phase II (COMET II) and the FHI 360 Local Partner Development Project, with input from another USAID-funded project, the Social Enterprise Boost Initiative (SEBI).
Forward Step has been around since 2006 but was officially registered in 2013 as a non-governmental organisation to provide youth with training and employment opportunities. The objective is to give at-risk youth in the communities an "opportunity to see the world on a broader scope", Shaw said.
The message is, she told Rural Xpress: "You are great, greatness lies within everybody; so once you align yourself with the right people, and you have the right mindset, you will be able to transform yourself."
The transformation process includes training for different skills, such as furniture making, jewellery making, and computer graphics design. Furniture is made on demand. There are also a recording studio, office services, creative arts development, a youth movement, Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate classes, social activities on Fridays, and presentations from motivational speakers. It also operates a one-stop party shop, Party Mania, where all and sundry are available for social events.
As a social enterprise, an entity that uses business to develop communities, Forward Step has partnered with and/or assisted by other development entities such as the Jamaica Business Development Corporation, SEBI, USAID/COMET II, Jamaica Social Investment Fund, and the Social Development Commission.
There is also much support from the youth in the communities in terms of participation, because they are interested in changing their lives. "We are making a difference. We can see the difference in the persons we train. They are now more confident in themselves," Shaw said. Yet, she added, "Our biggest challenge is to get ourselves on the level where we are seeing the fruits of our labour."
It is about viability, but financial challenges are not a deterrent to moving forward for, she said, Forward Step has evolved from a foundation to a movement, one that is inclusive. "So I would encourage everybody to join the movement," she said.