This month, OECS YES In Action caught up with Jasmine Duncan, a 20 year old Saint Lucian business student whose passion for helping others has inspired the launch of two local companies with regional and global reach!
Tell us a little about yourself.
I am 20 year old Jasmine Duncan, an undergraduate student at the University of the West Indies pursuing a Bachelors of Science in Management Studies and Entrepreneurship. I discovered my love for the environment from an early age when I came to the realization that we have one single planet and it was our duty to preserve it.
I also have a passion for business, particularly youth-led organizations and business. I pursued both science and business at the St. Joseph's Convent, where I received the class award for Principles of Business among other awards; and Biology, Law and Environmental Science at the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, where I also received the Award for Law.
In 2018, I founded GEION Group – an award winning environmental sustainability company that focuses on environmental solutions. I also launched YE! Youth of Excellence, which is an award winning social enterprise that supports young persons who are having difficulties achieving their goals in any area – whether it be business, sports or academics – by offering them opportunities for growth.
I have been actively involved in many youth organizations. I am currently a Staff Sergeant of the Saint Lucia Cadet Corps, a One Young World Ambassador, a Resolution Fellow, a Global Peace Ambassador, a Queens Commonwealth Scholar and a World Economic Forum Global Shaper.
During my school years at the St. Joseph's Convent, I was also a RBC Young Leader and a BILD Youth Sports Leader. I consider myself a goal driven individual as I find peace when I am focused on my work no matter how small or big it may be.
When did you first notice your inclination towards entrepreneurship and environmental protection?
In primary school, we had the opportunity to join clubs of varying areas of interest. Of all the clubs that were offered, however, I chose the Save the Environment Club – which only one of my friends chose. It was there that I discovered my love for the environment; I felt it was my responsibility to preserve the place that sustains all life. From very young I have always liked the outdoors, been very curious about how the rain falls, how the trees provide oxygen, and how it all works together in a perfect balance that we are able to utilize for survival.
My inclination towards business came at the secondary school level. Although I applied to the science class, I was instead placed in a business class. At first I wasn’t happy about it but after a few weeks I realized how much I actually liked Principles of Business and from there my desire to have my own business grew.
What were you doing before you embarked on this entrepreneurship journey?
Like most others who left tertiary level education, I was seeking employment. I worked as an Administrative Assistant and in Customer Service until I realized that this was not my calling. I needed more than the monotony of going to work and repeating the same thing each day.
I was interested in renewable energy, so I pursued CAPE Pure Mathematics and Physics to be eligible for a degree in Electrical Power Engineering. It was around this time that I came across the Caribbean Tech Entrepreneurship Program and this prompted me to found GEION in December of 2018.
What inspired you to start?
GEION and YE! were both long time dreams of mine, I just did not know how or where to begin. The Caribbean Tech Entrepreneurship Program inspired me to start as I sought to become eligible to compete. Aside from this, there was a desire to create my own path as I felt misplaced in what I was doing before. That feeling led me to find the space I needed to be in, which was building my own business. With YE!, the lack of support and the lack of an infrastructure on island for young persons who are willing and able to take up available opportunities prompted me to start this social enterprise in an effort to offer support.
What obstacles, if any, did you face and how did you overcome them?
The biggest obstacle would be building a team. Finding people who understand the vision and are willing to work to see it come to reality. The second would be access to information such as the market and competitors. To overcome this I made use of my networks and began asking people from different islands for information, visiting different business places, and setting up meetings in order to validate my market and clientele assumptions.
Tell us about the journey from the first spark of interest to where you are currently.
The first spark came from wanting to preserve our environment. The desire to combine my two passions for the environment and business resulted in the creation of GEION in 2018. In that same year, I applied to the CTEP Caribbean Tech Entrepreneurship Program funded by the Caribbean Development Bank and made it into the finals – placing 10th overall.
The project focused on getting rid of tires in the landfill by recycling it into furniture. This was not moving at a sustainable rate and a revised but confidential alternative was designed and is currently in development. Using this platform, I applied via the OECS Commission, to attend the One Young World Summit in London. The nomination required us (5 nominees from the OECS) to apply for scholarships to the Summit. I applied for the Audi Environmental Foundation Scholarship and the Leading the Americas Scholarship as suggested in the correspondence, however I was fortunate to receive a full scholarship from the Queen's Commonwealth Trust QCT to attend the Summit in London.
Another opportunity which was a long term vision of mine and – in the words of my former principal of the St. Joseph's Convent – “I grabbed it” was the Social Venture Challenge open to all undergraduate students and university students who had an idea for a social project that they wanted to implement.
I was selected to participate in the challenge whilst in London. It took place over the course of two days; the first being an open forum where the judges and the general public – in this case summit attendees – would engage the participants with questions. Having to split time amongst attending OYW workshops, QCT functions, the flag bearers’ rehearsal and completing assignments – as I am a full time student of the University of the West Indies Open Campus – I had very little time to prepare brochures or handouts for the open forum. As a result, I sat at an empty table with only my name, the venture’s name and a very well thought out explanation of my venture in my head.
Following the forum we were instructed that five people would advance to the finals at 6 am the next day. The finals would take the format of a live pitch, which required a PowerPoint presentation and a budget plan – none of which I had. After attending a QCT function in the evening, I worked through the night and from 10 pm to 5 am created the pitch deck and the budget, submitting both at 5 am.
Each participant was given 5 minutes to make their pitch and we were advised that the winners would be announced at the closing ceremony.
I went into the closing ceremony and, unexpectedly, I heard my name and venture being called out as one of the four winners! My accomplishment also marked the second individual from the Caribbean to win this challenge. While all of this was happening, I was in Cohort 2 of the Caribbean Tech Entrepreneurship Program with a second solution, which addressed Sargassum Seaweed. It is also worth mentioning that, having walked in the rain to get to the pitch in London, I got sick and had to press on despite feeling ill to produce my pitch video.
A week later, the results came in that I was selected to compete in the finals. The judges’ comments highlighted their interest with the project despite the absence of a pitch video. I was confused because I did submit the video but there was a technicality where the video appeared in my drop box but wouldn’t appear for the judges. Thankfully, the pitch deck was sufficient to put me through to finals amongst the 10 out of 50 submissions to make it through. I pressed on to finals and managed to complete my prototype the evening of the deadline.
Some weeks later, on my way home from a meeting, I received the results that I placed 3rd in the competition. This was a proud moment because, once again, I struggled through and emerged victorious. I was flown out to Barbados for the award ceremony on the 16th of December and now both GEION and YE! are award-winning ventures.
What has been your biggest challenge along the way?
The biggest challenge would still be team building, finding the right people who understand the vision. It is important because when the going gets tough, people get worried and tired and it is easy to walk away especially if the dream isn’t theirs. So it is absolutely imperative to get a team that will remain dedicated in the face of adversity.
Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?
I am most proud of the Resolution Fellowship because I can now extend opportunities for success to other young persons who I know are out there and who need a little support. With the network available, YE! will be able to provide that sense of confidence in our islands’ youth and I am extremely proud of that forward projection.
What would you say most motivates you to do what you do?
With YE! , my motivation is the endless potential I see in Caribbean youth. With the right exposure we can build the next generation of forward thinking individuals with the means and confidence to take action and control of their futures. I feel that many shy away because of doubt and my passion to help them come out of that negative space and develop themselves is what motivates me. In relation to GEION, my one and only motivation is the fact that we have one single planet and without it we are nothing.
What are the goals you most want to accomplish in the near future?
My two main goals are:
- YE! , provide opportunities and support to young persons in a range of fields and ensure they succeed.
- GEION, become a pioneer for sustainable and environmentally friendly businesses regionally.
Did you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced your journey?
One individual who deeply influenced my success and supported my journey is Mr. Hendrick Laing, CEO of RPS Group OECS Inc. Mr. Laing is a young entrepreneur who saw a need to formalize the training of security personnel in the security industry. This much needed reform came at a time when the role of a security officer was being belittled and the island saw three deaths of security officers who were not trained properly to defend themselves and their employers.
Mr. Laing founded a subsidiary called the Institute of Security and Public Safety which focuses on the formal training of security officers. He has held courses for close protection officers with the participants being 98% regional and included police officers, a bailiff of the High Court and business owners.
His resilience amidst all the hardships he has faced has motivated me to remain strong no matter how hard it gets. He has offered up his time, expertise and moral support at times that I felt no one else would assist. His reason for doing so was that he understands what it means to be a young person fighting to claim a spot amongst those that are more established and how the lack of support can really determine if one makes it or not. And so, with this understanding he gave me the support that he wished he had when he was building his company. My second supporter was Mr. Anselm Marius who tirelessly searched and drove round the island with me to source raw materials for both projects. He has been there from the beginning of GEION and played a very important role in my success.
What advice do you have for other Caribbean youth aspiring to get involved whether in computer technology or other areas?
My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs or young persons in general would be:
- Stay ahead by planning: Planning is an important step in ordering the steps you will take and it allows you to pivot or alternate without having to start from scratch.
- Understand your ‘why’: Understanding why you do what you do will point you in the right direction.
- Mentally prepare yourself: Give yourself a reason – most commonly this is your ‘why’ – to continue even when you feel the need to quit or when you cannot go any further. You will feel the need to quit, you will cry, you will have regrets, however it is what you do with these negatives that determines your success. You call lay them down and remain below or you can stack them up and rise above.
- Keep learning: There is always something new to learn, keep an open mind.
- Give thanks: Thank yourself and those who have supported you.
What’s next for you? What are you looking forward to?
I will continue the development of Prototype Two I and then finalize the product from the Sargassum project, which will go to market. I am also looking forward to the app launch for YE! to reach a number of young persons and present life changing opportunities.
Special thanks to organisations like the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) that bring such unique opportunities to the region. The regional relationships forged during One Young World has dissolved the feeling of being on different islands and we now feel like one family moving towards a reformed Caribbean region.