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Caribbean program encourages young entrepreneurs

January 29, 2013

Growing up in the remote fishing village of Soufrière on St. Lucia, Ismela Henry was accustomed to the yachting and tourism industry. Approximately 4,000 yachts arrive through the Soufrière Marine Management Association’s mooring zones every year, bringing more than 12,000 passengers annually.

Ismela HenryIsmela said that when passengers left the boats, the first thing they almost always wanted to know was where they could find a laundromat. But the closest laundromat on this small island in the Caribbean Sea was a 40-minute drive from the docks.

“Right away, that sent a thought to my head,” Ismela said. “Why don’t you invest in a laundromat?”

Ismela applied for a loan to buy a laundromat, but local banks turned her down. Still confident she could fill a niche in the tourism industry, Ismela took in passengers’ laundry herself. She could clean most of the clothes in her own washing machine, and she handwashed the delicates. After a few months, rows of cotton shirts and pants were flapping on Ismela’s clothes lines, drying behind her house.

As Ismela was getting her business under way, FHI 360’s Eastern Caribbean Youth Microenterprise Program (ECYMP), funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), was also starting in St. Lucia. Responding to high unemployment rates and an increase in rural poverty on the island and other countries in the Caribbean region, FHI 360 designed the program to advance self-employment opportunities and sustainable livelihoods for young people.

A Successful Business Woman

Ismela’s dynamic personality and strong work ethic made her an excellent candidate for the program. Through ECYMP’s Accelerator Grant Fund, which was created in partnership with the Soufrière Marine Management Association, Ismela applied for and received $12,000 for equipment, materials and start-up costs.

The fund also links youth entrepreneurs like Ismela to existing professionals in the private sector and accelerates their progress. Sure enough, the Soufrière Marine Management Association offered Ismela advertising space and referrals to increase her access to clients dramatically.

Additionally, Ismela approached a local loans facility, the James Belgrave Micro Enterprise Development Fund, which contributed $6,000, as well as skills training and mentorship.

With the help of her partners, Ismela opened First Class Laundromat in the spring of 2012. It has a profitable and sustainable business model, with agreements already in place with local hotels and delivery boys.

“It was always my passion, my dream, to be a successful business woman, and I never gave up,” said Ismela.

FHI 360 is the prime partner in the FIELD-Support Leader with Associates cooperative agreement, awarded by the USAID Microenterprise Development Office. The ECYMP Accelerator Grant Fund, administered through this cooperative agreement, awarded over $130,000 in in-kind grants to aspiring youth entrepreneurs in the Eastern Caribbean in 2011–2012.