Yaneek Page is Managing Director of Future Services International, Executive Director of the television show “The Innovators,” and a trainer and consultant in innovation and entrepreneurship. She is a woman of boundless energy, drive and enthusiasm, with her feet firmly on the ground. Yaneek was invited to speak to a group of Jamaican students (21 of them) who had received scholarships and book grants under the Burger King National Scholarship Awards Program to pursue secondary and tertiary studies. This is the fourteenth year of the program.
Here is Yaneek’s speech to the scholarship winners. If you have a child who needs a little inspiration as the new academic year is about to begin, perhaps you could share it with her/him…
Thank you so much for this kind invitation, and what an absolute honour it is to be here in the company of tomorrow’s leaders. When I was asked to deliver this charge to BK’s 2014 scholarship awardees I was absolutely elated. After all, what greater privilege could one have than to aim to inspire Jamaica’s future visionaries and game-changers?
I have a very short time with you today but I know in my heart that the next 20 minutes will inspire one of you, if not all of you to change your community, help transform this beautiful place we have the privilege to call home & hopefully make your impact felt around the world – so let’s get started.
The first step in changing the world – as big as that goal may seem – is to change yourself.
I know you’ve probably heard this before, but I want you to stop and think about it for a second. If you stop complaining about all the problems that we face and start thinking of ways you could solve those problems it changes everything. Right?
How many of you see yourselves as problem-solvers? Future leaders? Game-changers? Each one of you has the power to think differently, take bold action and transform your world. It all starts with believing in yourself. Most of you bright sparks have found your drive for excellence at an early age, unlike me. I would describe myself as a late bloomer. It wasn’t until university that I recognized my potential and began to really believe in myself. As you heard earlier I did very well at university, winning an academic scholarship to pursue post graduate studies, copping every award at graduation and emerging at the top of my cohort as the most outstanding student overall. I will never forget feeling so accomplished but yet so uneasy at my graduation…almost pressured. I remember my fellow graduate who gave the vote of thanks at the awards ceremony saying “Yaneek, you have done very well. We are expecting great things from you.” I couldn’t help but wonder, what more do you expect? I’ve worked so hard and done so much already. How can you possibly expect me to top this?
Little did I know that it was possible to achieve more, much more. And so today, I challenge you all, as my colleague challenged me – you have done well and we are proud of you, but this is just the beginning. We are expecting great things from you.
Let me share a few lessons – from me, the late bloomer, that I hope will guide and motivate you along your new journey.
There is a saying that I came across that has resonated with me from the first day I read it. I don’t know the author but those words aptly describe my journey so far. The saying goes like this:
“Work for a cause/Not for applause, Live life to express/Not to impress,
Don’t strive to make your presence noticed/Make your absence felt”
I have always worked for a cause, without any expectation of success, recognition, fame or fortune. I focus on my passions – for justice, entrepreneurship, women’s economic empowerment and my beloved family– and taking bold action to make positive changes.
There are two things I have that will make me truly wealthy forever. I’m not saying I’ll be rotten rich, I’m saying with those two things no matter how many times I fail, no matter how hard things get, no matter how bad the economy may be – I will always find a way out. Do you know what those things are? Who can guess?
Yes, education is one. Can anyone guess the other, anyone?
The other key to true wealth is building relationships. Sometimes we get so caught up in trying to acquire material things that we forget how important it is to build relationships with people. My strengths have been investing heavily in continuous education and self-improvement and building strong relationships with great people. Every major break I’ve ever had can be attributed to strong relationships and working hard for a cause, never thinking about applause.
This picture is from my first big break as a professional – I landed a coveted job with GraceKennedy (GK) and was recruited to their Accelerated Development Program for young professionals. They chose 12 people from a pool of over 800 applicants. What’s funny is that after leaving university it took 7 months to find a job- even with a distinction & all those awards! In that time I did a project for Jamaica Employer’s Federation which required some interaction with GK’s Chief HR Officer who invited me to apply. We had never met before, only engaged via email and telephone. There I was minding my business doing this small project to the best of my ability and someone noticed, and offered me an opportunity that lead to my dream job.
It was the experience at GraceKennedy in Risk Management that allowed me to create a viable business model in my company Future Services International. From my days at university after being introduced to the concept of “Restorative Justice” I knew I wanted to find a solution to some of the challenges ordinary Jamaicans experienced in accessing justice but I had no idea how to do it – until I learned those risk management skills at Grace. But even after leaving Grace I had built and maintained strong relationships. In my years with the company I had earned a reputation for being a professional who was hard working and would get the job done no matter what. My boss used to say ‘Give it to Yaneek. If she can’t get it done it’s probably not possible.’ I always had and shared big bold ideas. Whether it as a way to save the company money or help make the company more money, I was all over it. So much so that even the Chairman and CEO Mr. Douglas Orane knew me well. Not usual for a company with nearly 2,000 employees. When I had an idea for a young professionals network to link youth at home with the Diaspora I went to Mr. Orane with a group of like-minded colleagues to get his feedback and guidance. He too was excited about the idea, endorsed it and put me in touch with Sandra Glasgow from the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica (PSOJ). I will tell you that he gave me some great advice and every concern he expressed came to pass. It’s not that he was psychic, but with experience comes wisdom do never you forget the value of older people.
I went on to launch the Young Professionals Association of Jamaica – here I am with Mr. Bruce Golding, who was the Prime Minister at the time and the guest speaker at the event. From an idea to seeking guidance from distinguished leaders, to bold action.
I went on to join the PSOJ, Young Entrepreneurs Association (YEA) and Women Business Owners (WBO) – I was always volunteering to help, never shying away from a challenge, always speaking up, sharing ideas. I went on to become an elected VP of YEA, the youngest elected president of the WBO and an elected executive member of the PSOJ. I dedicated my summer to giving back to students by organizing Jamaica’s first entrepreneurship summer camp. With all this work I was doing, I caught the attention of Sandra Glasgow who nominated me for the prestigious U.S. International Visitor leadership Program (IVLP). You can’t apply to this program; you must be nominated – and the PSOJ CEO whom Mr. Douglas Orane had introduced me to, nominated me. See what happens when you pursue your passions, build relationships, work hard for a cause and act with integrity? The world of opportunities opens to you, and if you use your talents fully it is likely that you also create your own big opportunities.
Every year I think things can’t get better. They do, I continue to be blessed beyond measure. During the IVLP I connected with an organization called the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) – just sharing what I was doing in Jamaica in supporting women’s entrepreneurship. Guess what happened? I was invited to participate in a yearlong mentorship program where I was mentored by one of the US top association professionals and trained by the ASAE. I’m now a member. Even more the US State Department invited me to meet the then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Santo Domingo, Dom Rep. She was amazing, and by far the most famous person I had ever met – but in all the awe I still managed to build a connection with one of the organization’s I met on at that conference – WEConnect International. After the event we exchanged emails, kept in touch and I offered to work for them in Jamaica for free. They were reluctant at first. However we stayed connected and eventually we partnered with them to launch a chapter of their global network in Jamaica – it was the first in the Caribbean (and they had no plans of coming here). Would you believe that since the launch last year we have over 160 self-registered women entrepreneurs. Better yet, on August 1, 2014 I was named the official representative for WEConnect International in the English Speaking Caribbean. How amazing is that?! And it all started with me going over to talk to the founder Elizabeth Vazquez to congratulate her on her amazing presentation and awesome work.
Last year, through WEConnect and the U.S. State Department I learned of an amazing program that supports women entrepreneurs to grow their business – Vital Voices Grow Program. Another wonderful U.S. non-profit. Well I applied, was accepted, received a year of free training and even won a small grant – my first ever in business! But would you believe – it did not end there, by speaking up during the training, helping other participants, volunteering to lead follow-on webinars I was invited to apply to be the 2014 business planning trainer. I did, and was accepted and in October 2014 I’ll be off to Argentina to deliver business planning training to women entrepreneurs from across Latin America and the Caribbean. As I continued to do my work, people continued to take notice – without asking for it or even expecting it I received recognition, awards and much applause.
Now I don’t want you all to think life is a breeze and that you will never have challenges. You will! Believe me when I tell you sometimes those challenges will shake you, even bring you to your knees, but you must stay strong and never let them break you. Challenges are actually amazing. They may be hard at the time but they prepare you for bigger things. Sometimes what seem like good doors will have to close for even better doors to open. For example take a look at this last slide – this was me as the host of Live at 7 on CVM. Funnily enough, I never chose TV. It was the producer who chose me. Yet my stint at CVM was a complete disaster. My first night on air I froze! Dumbfounded and silent on live TV. Can you say embarrassing! I was devastated. CVM was so angry. A few weeks later they said it wasn’t working. I felt like a complete failure. But from that experience, which seemed like my worst nightmare coming to life, came the best silver lining. A few months after leaving CVM I picked myself up, brushed myself off and decided to extract value from the experience and put my new skills in television to work. Everything fell into place as it was meant to be. I had the idea for a great TV show, The Innovators, and wanted to bring it to life. Without the skills and connections made at CVM I would never have been able to do it. In fact, if CVM didn’t let me go I would have been trapped in a two-year contract. I would never be where I am now – proudly celebrating the fourth season of Jamaica’s #1 entrepreneurship television show, The Innovators –which is now aired in 18 countries.
Now that you’ve heard this late bloomer’s story, I hope you have learned some lessons you can use. I want you to keep in mind not only the lessons but these top tips. If you take nothing else away from this presentation today I promise that if you do the following eight things you will unleash your potential to positively impact your community and hopefully the world.
- Be constantly aware of the country’s challenges and remember you have the ability to fix them
- Work on yourself and aim for experiences that challenge and develop you
- Keep learning
- Balance knowledge and technical know-how with soft skills
- Be bold and create your own opportunities
- Find your driving force
- Build relationships as you work for your cause
- And again don’t fear failure, embrace it. It’s part of the course, a constant source of learning, the best way to new discoveries and most often a prerequisite for success.
I know I may have exceeded my time a bit and I hope you will forgive me, but I hope most of all that I inspired at least one of you to make the most of your education, build strong relationships, think big, be fearless, take bold and make a change. Thank you so very much.