February 7, 2016
It was an overwhelmed Robert Taylor who shed tears upon hearing that his daughter Lisa had passed the Common Entrance Examinations and was placed at the Alpha Academy.
Taylor, a single parent, had been raising her on his own for most of her life in the inner-city community of Trench Town in the Corporate Area, doing unconventional tasks like combing her hair, much to the amusement of her peers at the Jones Town Primary School.
“Whenever he combed my hair, the children at school would laugh and say, ‘Is your father comb your hair, don’t?’,” said a chuckling Taylor-Stone, who is now the project management and research manager at the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC).
Times were hard, but Lisa was humbled by the fact that her father worked hard and had big dreams for his little girl.
“I was at risk just living in Trench Town, so it was a do-or-die situation. When I brought home the book lists, my father would choose the most important ones and buy only those because that’s all he could afford.
TEARS OF SORROW
“So when the reality hit that I was going to high school, his tears were not joy, but sorrow. He was sad because he knew he couldn’t pay the school fee,” Lisa explained. Still, the life she had experienced up to that point was all she knew, and she was about to be exposed to a whole new world.
“I didn’t realise I was poor until I reached Alpha and saw how the other girls looked and the vehicles that took them to school. My father paid half of the school fee, I had no textbooks, and most days, I had no lunch,” said Lisa.
Her guardian angel would find her at the end of first form, following two events. First, a teacher overheard her jokingly telling her peers that she went without lunch most days, and the second saw her receiving a letter that her space was in jeopardy for an outstanding balance on the school fee.
“I went home and read the letter for him, and he stormed to the principal’s office to complain that they wanted to throw me out. But the principal was so graceful and understanding, she managed to calm him. A few weeks later, we got a call that I had a sponsor for a full scholarship as long as I maintained a high standard.”
The little Lisa did not disappoint as five years later she had amassed 10 CSEC passes on her way to sixth form and later the University of the West Indies to pursue a Bachelor of Science in sociology, minoring in demography and psychology.
In those university years, Lisa would get lunch from friends, research gigs from lecturers, and an academic scholarship, culminating in her graduating with first-class honours and making history as the first family member to graduate from university.
By this time, it was evident that Lisa had perfected the art of making winning proposals in a bid to overcome challenges. But little did she imagine that she would make a career of it as research was the farthest thing on her radar.
Jobless with a first-class honours degree and a pile of rejection letters from organisations, her frustration grew and she made a bold move in writing to her member of parliament, berating the fact that as a daughter of the inner-city she was told that education was the way out, yet no one seemed to want to hire her.
“In my letter to him, I demanded that he either find me a job or get me a scholarship to a Master of Science degree. To my surprise, he called two days later and asked which option was my first, and I told him that if I got a job, I could see myself through a post-graduate degree,” Lisa recalls.
A few days later, she began to receive calls for interviews and began to write her impressive résumé, which spans the Students’ Loan Bureau, the Jamaica National Building Society, the Jamaica Employer’s Federation, the United States Agency for International Development’s World Learning Project, and currently the JBDC.
One could say that the research and project management dynamo must have fulfilled a date with destiny in joining the JBDC in 2013 as her passion for the micro, small and medium-size enterprise (MSME) sector precedes her employment at the organisation.
In fact, the Christian woman and wife of a pastor says God’s hand was in it all along. While at university, a pastor’s wife prophesied that she would be doing what she does today.
She ventured into private practice, forming Silver Stone & Platt Research Solutions Limited, and wrote a book, 2009 Compensation & Benefits Survey for MSMEs.
“I prayed, and the Lord said I should invite then Prime Minister Bruce Golding to the book launch. It was an emotional event for my family when we actually saw him arrive. We had no money. We knew nobody to pull strings for us. But here in our midst was the prime minister endorsing my work, and so we cried.”
During her time at the World Learning Project, she travelled the Caribbean conducting workshops, unearthing hidden potential, and developing her teaching skills.
Since joining the JBDC in 2013, Lisa’s department (Project Management & Research) has implemented several initiatives and successfully managed major projects. Part of the division’s mandate is to train and prepare MSMEs to successfully acquire funding for their businesses.
“Data has revealed that access to financing is a major obstacle for MSMEs and so the JBDC designed a proposal-writing workshop, involving practical training and hand-holding over a three-day period. It also gave participants an opportunity to interact directly with potential donors,” she said.
Dubbed ‘Tapping into Donor Funds’, the workshop aimed to build the capacity of participants to construct strategic proposals for business or developmental projects, as well as understand the dynamics of proposal writing from the donor’s perspective.
Participants also leave with a fully developed proposal ready for submission, as well as access to the JBDC Funders’ Registry. The workshop, which is held three times a year, targets entrepreneurs, project managers, NGO employees, funding agency employees, grant seekers and whoever is interested in skills improvement.
$76M FEELS AWESOME
According to Lisa, more than 200 persons from private- and public-sector entities of all sizes have participated in the workshop, with several benefiting immensely, having been awarded $76 million in grant funding from several donor entities.
“The workshop has become a hit as the majority of our participants are referrals from persons who have attended and experienced the impact or reaped financial gains as a result,” she pointed out.
Lisa’s vision for the MSME sector is to see heightened innovation and commer-cialisation. “I want to see our MSMEs taking business to the next level by using research a lot more. Research drives innovation and there are critical things which can only be revealed through data.
“Training is also significant, evidenced by those who have come through, not just proposal writing, but also applied research methods workshops. I get an overwhelming sense of pride just seeing the joy when they feel the money, taste the money, touch the money! Seventy-six million dollars feels awesome!”