Hard working and philanthropic, Dr.Marcia Brandon is the Chief Entrepreneurship Expert/Founder of the awards winning, UN endorsed, Barbados-based, Caribbean Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Livelihoods (CoESL), and former CEO of the Barbados Youth Business Trust (BYBT).
Her story is very inspiring and her path is what the youth should try to toe. Born and raised in Jamaica at a time when values, discipline and strong parenting were the key hallmarks of a good home, Marcia who is now very prominent in Barbados and the Caribbean, grew up in a home where her family was committed to social development and voluntary work. This practice Marcia has adopted as one major part of her philosophy. In her early years, Marcia and her other relatives were encouraged to volunteer in school, the community and at church.
She said: “Volunteering was critical to my upbringing, at that time, I did not realise that I was being prepared for what I now do, but I was acquiring not just skills but also attitudes and the mind-set to help, to care and to act. Action is key to getting anything done, but more importantly to entrepreneurship.”
The woman who has impacted positively on Barbados and the Caribbean region, even wider afield, recalled that as a youth she danced and enjoyed music. Around the age of 16, she was a member of a group that sang at concerts and they even recorded a song.
In 1992 Marcia moved to Barbados with her husband and young daughter. A good fighter, while working on programmes at the UWI, it took her at least five years before she found a paying job.
Knowing the benefits of volunteering and with a love for helping people, Marcia undertook voluntary work with the HIV/AIDS Society, ‘Women In Crisis’, and with suicidal persons as a counsellor. Something she was already doing in Jamaica, where she was trained as a crisis counsellor.
Determined to write her name in gold, she never stayed still, always allowing her passion to drive her actions. It was on the recommendation of a friend that she applied for a job advertised at the Barbados Youth Business Trust (BYBT) where she eventually spent 15 years and held the post of Executive Director before taking up her present post.
During her stewardship at BYBT, Marcia became a pioneer of entrepreneurship and she worked tirelessly to build BYBT into a best practices model recognized at home, regionally and globally. An expert in youth entrepreneurship development, she has worked as an entrepreneurship trainer, advisor, mentor, consultant, researcher and writer. She has authored several articles on youth entrepreneurship development. Marcia realised that the work of BYBT helped to keep young people from a destructive pathway and she was instrumental in developing innovative programmes to interest the youth and to encourage them to work towards a prosperous future. “It was by no means easy”, Marcia said.
Marcia however commended her husband for his support. She said “If I did not have a supportive husband who had a steady career, I could not have done this”.
Marcia recognises the abundance of help she received along the way, listen to her. “I have a lot of people to thank for their support and help, rolling up their sleeves and donating man-hours to me, at all times of day and night. The NGO culture is not strong in the Caribbean as a career, people still see NGOs as a charity. This is one of the myths that I am working hard to break, no matter what sector you work in, as a professional, when you have the skills, the know-how and high value competence, you must be rewarded for it, whether you are male or female. Working with, caring for and developing people takes knowledge, experience, time, patience and energy. This type of career is not for the faint of heart. One has to be an entrepreneur, a humanitarian and everything else thrown in and you must have family support”, she adamantly stated.
She disclosed further “Another myth I am working hard to break, is that if one works in an NGO or a charity, one is begging! We have to break that chain, that mind-set. These organizations (NGOs) provide high value work by complementing the work of the governments and the private sector and are undertaking fundamental and vitally important social and economic, even political and cultural work, which the government and the private sector are not equipped to do.
“ I have seen many people come and go in this sector, many times simply because they are looking for a job and financially cannot afford to work for peanuts, but most times because they lack the know-how and the belief that this can work. My purpose is to make a difference and as long as God gives me breath and continues to bless me with good health, I shall be doing that.”
While Marcia is globally recognised and respected for all her work in the region and elsewhere in youth entrepreneurship, she is quick to point out that while the model was taken from the UK, she realised very early that she had to develop her own indigenous programmes if youth entrepreneurship development was going to take root in Barbados and by extension in the wider Caribbean.
One programme that Marcia is very well known for making central to youth entrepreneurship in the Caribbean is business mentoring. While at BYBT she developed a very structured programme, which she has improved upon. This unique programme has helped hundreds of regional young entrepreneurs to start and operate successful businesses.
With six staff members and 140 business mentors, Marcia demanded the highest possible standards and she also requested her young charges to bring a disciplined approach to their participation in the programmes offered by BYBT. She spearheaded a highly successful mandate at BYBT and was instrumental in helping to start-up and develop over 8 other youth business trusts in the region.
Over the past 13 years, Marcia voluntarily took on helping countries to implement and operate youth entrepreneurship programmes. She introduced entrepreneurship to CARICOM and was instrumental in training youth in entrepreneurship in Haiti with CARICOM and also developing the Creativity for Employment and Business Opportunity (CEBO) training manual, which is now used across CARICOM as the premier Caribbean manual for training regional youth in entrepreneurship. This manual is modelled on a training manual which was written by Brandon for use at BYBT.
Totally devoted to her career, Marcia has been recognised by the BYBT and many other partners for excellence and dedication to her work. In 2010 she was named “Champion of the Month”, by the Caribbean Research Innovation and Entrepreneurship Network (RIE).
She reveals; “When I started with the BYBT no one took it seriously, I wanted to get people to understand that helping our young people to start businesses was something that we should support and take seriously and I have achieved that. Despite the challenges and the sacrifices, getting the organisation and youth entrepreneurship development recognised locally, regionally and globally, is one of my biggest achievements.”
Marcia says that topping that is getting young people to understand that they have what it takes to start a business. They just need the help and the opportunities to get started and grow. In 2003 when the BYBT carried out a survey, the average age coming into the Trust for assistance was 30, in 2010 when they did another survey, the average age was 25. Just 7 years later and such a change in behaviours and mindsets! It would be very interesting to see what it is now. However I can say that across the region in a survey partners of CoESL undertook in 2017, the average age of young people starting businesses is 20.
Marcia explained that, “If we do not move with the times and the opportunities, we will be stuck in one culture. Cultures change, people change cultures, but there have been situations where cultures change people. Let us create the culture we want to see.”
In 2011 Marcia started the Caribbean Centres of Excellence for Youth Entrepreneurship (CEYE) and for Sustainable Livelihoods (CoESL) but maintained a close relationship with the BYBT until March 2013. The CEYE floundered and died in 2013 but the CoESL presently operates virtually working throughout the Caribbean with entrepreneurs, NGOs, Governments, International development organizations and non- entrepreneurs.
Caribbean Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Livelihoods (CoESL) works virtually and physically in Barbados and throughout the region, through Approved Preferred Partners (APP), focused on social and economic development for youth, females and adults. CoESL helps entrepreneurs and people to become entrepreneurial, resilient citizens, whether through starting and growing their businesses or as more engaged/productive citizens.
“In any one month, I speak to at least 5 people from all over the world and on average I speak every day to at least 2 persons interested in CoESL’s programmes outside of Barbados.” She said.
The entrepreneurship specialist has been able to help a number of regional countries (Anguilla, Antigua, Belize, Dominica, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Grenada, Bahamas, Anguilla, Bermuda and Suriname) to start entrepreneurial organisations or explore entrepreneurship programmes. Under her leadership, in 2013, before the Centre of Excellence for Youth Entrepreneurship closed its doors, it won the prestigious IDB International Juscelino Kubitschek award in the Economics and Finance category for promoting youth entrepreneurship in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Marcia stresses that her goal is to get people to understand what entrepreneurship is really about: she wants Caribbean people to see themselves as entrepreneurs and not just as employees.
In her words: “Entrepreneurship is synonymous with life. One of the things that I would love us to understand is that we have extremely creative people who are only seeing themselves as employees and until we can change that mind-set and get people to see how valuable they are in helping to sustain our economies, then we are not going to progress and that is also why we have poor customer service. Businesses, governments and academia need to adopt and adapt an innovative philosophy.”
Marcia wants to push entrepreneurship from the preschool stage, a process she began at BYBT and has continued and she is looking at innovative strategies to involve parents and teachers in helping the region’s youth to see how they can understand and help to push entrepreneurship.
.“I have been working with parents and teachers to understand how to deal with entrepreneurial children and students and recognise how to help these types of individuals. We need those creative skills to run and understand our own businesses.” She stated
Driven to work and help people, Marcia has a genuine passion for her career and thoroughly enjoys what she does. She says that she will work until she dies.
“ I believe that this is my purpose on earth, I know I have very little time to do what I have to do and so I do not have time to be side-tracked or distracted and I am driven by a passion to make sure that I help people, I enjoy what I do and I will work until I die. I have been given a unique gift/talent, I feel blessed, privileged, and extremely grateful to be the one to receive this gift. I wholeheartedly embrace it and intend to continue to use it to his glory and honour, until his will be done.”
She was the only female to sit on the committee which developed the Small Business Act for Barbados. She was a member of the team which developed the CVQ standards for entrepreneurship in Barbados. She introduced entrepreneurship to the CARICOM youth desk at the CARICOM Secretariat and facilitated the development of an entrepreneurship training manual and programme for regional youth called CEBO. She was a member of the curriculum development entrepreneurship panel for CXC’s CAPE. She created and created the YEPEC project and was an integral part of the writing of the youth and women component of the PROPEL project. Marcia is the Acting Managing Director for Global Entrepreneurship Network Caribbean and founder of Caribbean Entrepreneurship Week.
She has been a member of committees including the Canada Caribbean Disaster Risk Management Fund, the OAS Scholarship Committee, and the Advisory Board of the SEED Project at the UWI, Cave Hill Campus.
Marcia’s professionalism saw her called upon to be a judge on the BIDC Business Plan Competition, the TIC Americas Business Plan Committee, and the Prime Minister’s Innovation Competition. She was a Consultant for the CDB Youth Entrepreneurship Development programme, founding Director of the Caribbean Microfinance Network, and a past Director of the Small Business Development Venture Capital fund. She is also a past Director and the Chair of the Business Mentorship and Networking Pillar of the BEF.
One cannot help but observe Marcia’s wealth of knowledge and understanding of people and her commitment to help. She also has a deep sense of self and is fiercely loyal to friends and family. She admits that, “I have been given a talent to understand people and I know that if you treat them with dignity and respect then you can expect them to act a certain way, but I also understand that people living in inhumane conditions will most times not be able to have dignity or give respect since they are not exposed to these.”
When asked whether she has time for leisure and family considering her work load she express her love for Reggae music and dance. You might even find her at a night club with mature people, dancing the night away. She loves to “pig” out on movies as well, and fiercely treasures her ‘home-time.
Marcia says about her home: “My home is my sanctuary and I treat it accordingly.”
She also loves spas and she pampers herself with facials, massages and manicures. Whenever she arrives in a new location, she heads to a spa. “I am a very happy person. I have joy and peace within in. We each make our own happiness, we have to have that inner motivation. I think that if you are happy, things fall into place. That is why it is sad for anyone to depend on another person to make them happy.”
Mother of two, Marcia acknowledges her very supportive husband for standing by her side and allowing her to grow in her career while they raised their two children and maintained a happy marriage and family.
She says about her husband: “I have an excellent husband. He has been there for our family when I could not be there”.
Her daughter has apparently followed in her mum’s love for challenges and has lived in several places including Spain and Dubai,San Francisco, Turks and Caicos and has done a European tour by herself, while her son is involved in sports.
The proud mother gives a picture of her children : “Both are very responsible, caring human beings, I am very proud of them. I think we have done a good job as parents, but this is one job that never ends”