My St Lucia: Entrepreneur Michelle Samuel
Michelle Samuel is an entrepreneur who has turned tragedy into triumph.
After losing her husband to cancer, Michelle decided she couldn’t let that terrible event destroy her, and so set about providing a better life for her children by starting her own recruitment agency.
Michelle, who recently represented St Lucia at the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative, has ambitious plans for 2018 and she told Yello all about them, as well as her aim to assist other entrepreneurs on the island to make the most of their talents.
Tell us about your childhood in St Lucia.
I was born into the community of Bois Patat, a quaint community of simple family-oriented people. Everyone knows everyone and it once was a place where you could go to town, leave your windows open and your doors unlocked, and know that your neighbours would keep an eye on things for you.
But sadly, times have changed. The old folks who perfectly exemplified this culture no longer exist, persons passed on and others left the community. Even more saddening, is that this culture of community left with them.
I attended the Ave Maria Girls School, then went on to the Leon Hess Secondary School. After that I went to the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College, where I completed two years but felt like I had wasted my time, and my mother’s hard earned money, because I didn’t see where my certification would lead me.
My subsequent experience in school and in the workforce has solidified my belief that not enough is being done with young people to avoid this occurrence each year.
What was the motivation for starting SLU Dream Team Employment & Recruitment Agency (SLUDTERA)?
I was unemployed for several years, and when my husband was diagnosed with cancer, I sold Avon products to get by. He was the sole breadwinner and he could no longer work. I was still recovering from a C Section but I had to move around and do what needed to be done for us to sustain ourselves.
After he died, I was devastated, but I couldn’t shrink into the dark. All the responsibility lay with me and I was tired of not being able to afford a decent meal for me and my children.
I also reflected on the bigger picture – there were several employment agencies out there and they all charged fees and most of the time people would never get called back to attend an interview. Furthermore, many of the people who were searching for jobs, didn’t meet the job requirements of most hiring companies. But where did the disconnect start? In schools.
At the third form level in secondary schools, when students are required to select CXC subjects, they don’t get the guidance needed in order to make the right choices. My business will address that shortcoming.
Who are your clients?
My clients are job seekers and employers. But the primary focus going forward will be on Secondary school students, marginalised individuals and startup entrepreneurs. All of our services will be free to our customers/job seekers.
To employers, we offer a business led approach which acts as an extension to their current HR Department. If they don’t have a HR Team, we assume the responsibilities of one with select services catered to providing a skilled and educated workforce which adds value to their companies.
We are employment matchmakers.
Is St Lucia a good place to be an entrepreneur?
Not right now but that will soon change. I actually know several entrepreneurship opportunities available right here in St. Lucia, the only thing is that if you are looking to get further training or knowledge in entrepreneurship, it doesn’t exist. Or if you want to extend beyond St. Lucia, those opportunities are not there either.
Many entrepreneurs either become stagnant after many years of no advancement, or they leave the island to go elsewhere.
We have the talent and the skills, we just lack the awareness of available opportunities and strategic mentoring and coaching.
You recently represented St Lucia at the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) – what was that like? What did you learn?
The experience was extremely enlightening. I can translate it to a moth living its life thinking that the light bulb it’s hovering around is the furthest that it can get, only to discover how vastly unexplored its surroundings have been and that the world’s biggest light source is the sun, and so in an ambitious effort of guts and grit with faith, it ventures out to learn all it can in order to come back to the other moths desperately trying to get a turn to hover around the light bulb.
I learned that making connections and established resources are actually more valuable than the monetary prizes that most of the other Fellows were aiming for.
I was able to make solid and promising connections with influential people through several networking events, and I got to be in the company of people who I’d have never thought to meet in person.
Through the training workshops, seminars, job shadowing and cultural activities, I developed relationships with key stakeholders and received the necessary tools to execute my company’s aim, which is to address the high unemployment rate of St. Lucia.
What other projects are you working on?
I’m currently working on a project entitled ‘Celebrating Entrepreneurial Culture’ which is a series of weekly video interviews with YLAI Cohort of 2016 and 2017, as well as some entrepreneurs who have achieved some level of success, and who can become a mentor to emerging entrepreneurs.
In 2018, along with my team, I plan to launch the Entrepreneurship Readiness Program which is a series of workshops, seminars, events, competitions for persons interested in becoming entrepreneurs or who are already running a business. Most of the sessions will take place online in a tutor and class style setting and will be very interactive.
Next year, along with select sponsors, we’ll be launching ‘Startup Huddle St. Lucia’. A monthly event where two entrepreneurs get to present their startups to a panel of judges and an audience of their peers, students, business professionals and the community. The goal is to connect promising St. Lucian Entrepreneurs with the international resources that they need in order to grow their businesses.
What advice would you give budding entrepreneurs?
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and the rest shall be added unto you. You may have an idea or vision to do something, but the truth is, that there are spiritual powers in action as well trying to counteract all the good being done in this world. You have to be careful not to let yourself be subject to a vision or an idea which may not necessarily be for the good of your fellow man.
Every person who becomes a member of the SLUDTERA team or SLUDTERA Community will know and understand that through men some things are possible, but with God, all things are possible!
Describe yourself in three words
Ambitious, faith-led, spirit-filled.
How do you juggle being a mother and an entrepreneur?
Time management is key when you are a single mother. I do admit, these days I go to bed very late and wake up very early each morning.
However, some sacrifices need to be made in order to reach a goal – that’s the truth of being an entrepreneur. The role of mother doesn’t have a shift or schedule so I’m always juggling that responsibility.
I just praise the Lord that I have been able to do it successfully for as long as I have been doing it.
What do you love about St Lucia?
Though I may not be able to go often, I love going to the beach. I also enjoy going for a drive and taking in the topography of this beautiful mountainous island. One day, I will take on the challenge of climbing the Pitons, but who knows when that will happen!
Aside from the scenery, the flora and fauna, I must say that I do love that we are still a praying nation!
What makes St Lucia unique?
We may have our shortcomings as a people, as any other Caribbean country, however we are a praying people who believe very strongly in prayer and God.
Our culture is also very rich and ingrained in almost everything we do. Though we are a small population, we are big on family values and friendship.