This October the inaugural NOW Nestlé Caribbean Youth Summit is planning to impact 10,000 young people across the region. The formal address will be delivered by Caricom chairman and Antigua and Barbuda Prime Minister Gaston Browne, and the feature speaker will be Daymond John, star of the reality pitch show Shark Tank and founder/CEO of apparel company Fubu.
The two-day virtual event is being held October 5-6 for Caribbean youth aged 16-29 (though people outside that age range will not be deterred from registering) and is free to all participants.
Siti Jones-Gordon, head of corporate communications at Nestlé Anglo Dutch Caribbean, told Newsday in an interview the origin of the summit was the Nestlé Needs Youth Programme, which started globally in 2013. She noted Nestlé CEO for Zone Americas Laurent Freixe championed the creation of the programme and its rollout around the world, and it was developed because of the high level of youth unemployment, at the time, in Europe.
"So it started from a place of wanting to increase the employability of young people."
She said in the Caribbean there were similar issues of youth who were educated but still finding difficulty getting a job or accessing support for entrepreneurship or agripreneurship.
It was rolled out first to Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean in 2015, then Barbados, Guyana, Jamaica, St Lucia and Turks and Caicos.
Jones-Gordon said the programme has had an impact on 38,000 young people in the region in four key areas or "pillars": getting skilled through workshops to increase employability implemented with the assistance of Nestlé's Alliance for YOUth partners (governments, foundations, youth organisations, academia and the private sector): getting more opportunities through internships and "enternships" (entry-level positions); getting support via mentorship and networking: and getting hired, with 218 young people hired for vacant positions at Nestle Trinidad and Jamaica over the past six years.
She said the summit is being held at a pivotal point after Nestlé's investment in developing youth over the past six years as a corporate entity.
"And now we believe, even more so, youth needed to be inspired, they need to be excited, because we are seeing there is a restriction of economies across the Caribbean spurred on even more by covid19."
She said there are so many youths who are budding entrepreneurs, or are already operating as entrepreneurs, and need support and guidance, or who are graduating with great grades but finding difficulty in getting jobs because there are fewer jobs available. She added young people are more vulnerable to losing their jobs under the system of last in, first out.
The company planned to hold the summit last year but because of the "curveball" of covid19, the organisers decided to give themselves more time and do it virtually. Jones-Gordon said they can include more young people by using a virtual format. She said the summit is expected to be a conglomeration of all their efforts into a two-day event, and to expose people who might not otherwise have been exposed to the Nestlé Needs Youth Programme initiatives.
She noted part of the population they are trying to attract may be in school or at work during the day, so it will start on both days at 2 pm.
Jones-Gordon said one of the key features of the summit is the workshops. She recalled the organisers tried to develop workshops by working with a youth committee to identify the real needs of young people.
One of the key topics they came up with was agriculture and how to develop your business in agriculture, which she pointed out was very important in the Caribbean in terms of diversifying economies.
The summit agripreneurship panel will include Alpha Sennon, founder of the Siparia-based nonprofit We Help You-th FARM (WHYFarm).
In the lead-up to the event, Nestlé held an entrepreneurial boot camp, partnering with Junior Achievement in Jamaica, which offered workshops to more than 200 aspiring or budding business owners across the Caribbean. Jones-Gordon recalled she sat in during the pitches for the entrepreneurship competition and found them inspiring.
"I heard four pitches about agriculture and I told them they are the light of the future. If you hear the level of innovation that these young people had! It assured me that having a session on agripreneurship is absolutely critical."
Jones-Gordon hopes the entrepreneurship competition will be inspirational to the youth participants.
"When they see others doing it from across the islands they will realise, 'This is not so far removed from me.'"
There will also be a culinary talent competition and the winner will be highlighted. Jones-Gordon said the region is known for its cuisine, but young people in TT who wanted to get into hospitality and tourism may have been discouraged by the closure of the TT Hospitality and Tourism Institute. She added the sector is highly restricted, owing to the pandemic.
"We want to keep that inspiration there. Get innovative. Get ideas for how you can still prepare yourself for when the sector reopens."
The summit will also include sessions on financial management.
"Most of us have no inheritance, so we need to take a little and do a lot."
There will also be a skills-building workshop on how to establish a presence in a room, and on branding, which will focus on the image of themselves young people put out on social media.
"What do you have out there, and how are you using it to strategically align with the messages that you want to send about yourself publicly?"
The event will also include information on how to establish a business on an e-commerce platform and the necessary tools and resources. There will be mentorship sessions of 45 minutes with business leaders in various fields. There are 30 mentors and these sessions will accommodate a maximum of 48 people.
"These are people who are on the top of their game. We have people we are confident can guide and answer questions, and young people who really want to know somebody who can answer their questions in a real way. This is their chance."
Another feature of the summit will be a segment on climate change and Jones-Gordon explained this was about how to create a sustainable planet.
"It is really about educating people on how you personally live more sustainably to support our planet, and how are corporations and institutions in the society coming together to support the creation of a more sustainable planet."
This session will feature Dr Keron Niles, lecturer and climate change researcher from UWI. Jones-Gordon said Niles has done extensive work and research on sustainability.
"We wanted people from the Caribbean who could speak to our reality."
She said they wanted to have a Caribbean base of speakers or at least people with Caribbean roots. She noted Fubu CEO and motivational speaker Daymond John was born in Brooklyn, New York, but has Trinidadian roots.
In addition, "Apart from his very impressive curriculum vitae, we wanted someone with a lot of experience overcoming hurdles to achieve world-class success and to be recognised as such, someone who can speak to inspire and whose story could be relatable."
She added: "We want young people to know you can do world-class things. Sometimes we are limited by our upbringing, our own self-doubts, but the best way to overcome that is to see that others in similar situations have done the same or more."
She said the organisers were very happy to have Browne agree, as Caricom chairman, to give the formal address and said it will have quite an impact. She noted the summit is being held in partnership with Caricom and could not have been done without its involvement.
"It means that we are seeing that Caricom is a relevant part of our future. And utilising the Caricom platform to create unity across the Caribbean has been an ongoing discussion. So integrating youth into that discussion is so important."
She also pointed out: "We wanted to ensure this was not about Nestlé. This is about us as Caribbean people coming together, supporting youth and putting our time and our money where our mouths are."
TT Minister of Youth Development and National Service Foster Cummings will also give a formal address at the opening.
Jones-Gordon said the organisers went through a rigorous process of choosing presenters.
"We spent the most time ensuring the agenda would be something applicable and attractive to young people, and to ensure the people speaking had the experience required to add value to the listener."
The organisers wanted the speakers to be contemporary and currently influential.
"So we spent some time to see who were their followers, what are their interests, what do they post, and whether they are truly inspirational in their daily lives.
Youth to youth
On Day 2 of the summit, in the Youth NOW segment, youth leaders will discuss the challenges and opportunities facing young people in the region. Jones-Gordon stressed this is one of the critical areas.
"We need young people not to be told what the future will be like for them, but they need to be a part of the conversation, because they will be leading us into the future. So that panel will be talking about what are the challenges young people are facing in entrepreneurship, employability and supporting communities and societies in their islands and across the Caribbean."
Among the speakers on the youth panel will be Caricom Youth Ambassador TT Renee Atwell. Jones-Gordon explained this panel will be used as a platform to explore how young people need to be inspired to add value to society and to be forward-looking and forward-thinking and not be bogged down by negatives.
The youth panel will be complemented by an employers panel where employers will discuss what skills young people need to have for the future. This will feature recruitment and HR professional Lara Quentrall-Thomas, Massy Group human resource manager Rosanne George-Dede Sombo, Digicel Jamaica learning, development and people experience manager Tashana Briscoe, and First Citizens Bank HR general manager Kirlyn Archie-Lewis.
"(These are) people who are seeing what talent looks like today versus what we need in the future and who would be available to advise young people who may be at a crossroads on what their passions are and what areas they want to develop."
There is also a Day 2 session called Cross-Talk: How to Communication Between Generations (In the Workplace & Beyond) which will include as speakers president of the UWI Guild of Students at the St Augustine campus Kobe Sandy and personal development coach and author Daniel Francis.
Jones-Gordon said one of the most profound aspects of the summit will be one of the shortest – when Nestlé and its partners will pledge at least 1,000 jobs.
"We will let them know that we will really do what we say, which is stand by you and create opportunities for you."
The summit will also have chatrooms for youths to lounge and network, separated into areas of interest.
"You can go into a chatroom with budding entrepreneurs. You can go into a chatroom with people looking for employment within a particular field."
Participants will also be able to access mixtapes prepared for the summit by four Caribbean DJs: DJ Charlotte from TT, DJ Quest from Antigua and Barbuda, Blaqrose Supreme from Barbados and DJ Diamond from Guyana.
Jones-Gordon said participants in the summit will be inspired to put thought into what they want to achieve in life, start planning how to add value to society and discover there is no one path to success. She added they will see opportunities to close skill gaps and even actually to close those gaps so they are more prepared to be employable, to add value, or to start their own businesses.
"This summit is about young people not letting any opportunity pass them by. We need to take advantage of all opportunities and not underrate any chance to spend some time introspecting, thinking and planning about how we are going to impact the world around us.
"Because collectively young people have the power to make a difference and individually each youth has an opportunity to impact their own communities today. Not tomorrow. Now. And that is the theme of the summit.
"So start now impacting positively those around you, the communities around you, and that influence will grow as you get stronger."
For more info and to register: https://nestlecaribbeanyouthsummit.vfairs.com/en/#agenda.