♦ By Cynthia Hobbs and Stefan Wright*
Sometimes one opportunity can change a person’s life. That seems to be the case for Mr. Keefa Harris of Kingston, Jamaica. Keefa received training in steel work under an IDB-funded Citizen Security & Justice Program. His interest and dedication set him apart as a star participant.
Seeking to engage viable business models in a way that is environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive, the IDB saw an opportunity to do more for Keefa and four of his classmates while providing financing to our client, Caribe Hospitality, for the construction of a Marriott Courtyard Hotel in New Kingston. As part of the construction of the 129 -room hotel, the IDB sought to embed a shared value approach to maximize both the development impact of this project and its financial returns. We developed a program to hire a group of at-risk youth to work in the construction and operation of the hotel. Prime Construction agreed to hire five of these youth, including Keefa.
Opportunities such as these don’t happen frequently in Jamaica. A 2013 International Labour Organization study found that 61 percent of youth surveyed spent one year or more looking for stable employment once out of school. Unemployed youth are close to 40 percent, the highest of any category, and young men (15-29 years) are most at risk for homicide and other serious crimes. Nearly 40 percent of Jamaica’s youth are poor or fairly poor, and lack of finances impedes the ability of some to finish school or training programs.
Last week, we visited the Kingston site. We noted good progress on the construction. More so, we were highly impressed with the performance of Keefa and the other interns, which represent five of 200 construction jobs created for this hotel. Keefa spoke about the uniqueness of this opportunity to learn construction skills on-site.
He remarked, “I have learned a lot more here about steel work and other jobs than I did previously, because this is a real working environment and my supervisor takes a lot of interest in me.”
His supervisor Mr. Chester Campbell was equally optimistic, “They have all done very well, and I will definitely be taking them to my next construction job,” he said. There could be no better endorsement, especially for these youth with little or no formal work experience three months ago. A short training opportunity has led to potential long-term employment and career opportunities for Keefa and the other four young men.
When construction and training can come together to impact lives, when the IDB can find ways to make connections between projects and people to create life-changing opportunities, this is when development happens.
Keefa summed it up when he was asked how this internship had impacted him. His response: “I feel like a man now.”
This post has also been published by the blog Sustainable business of the IDB.
*Stefan Wright is a Lead Investment Officer in the Structured and Corporate Finance Department at the IDB and senior banker covering the tourism and hospitality sector throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. Previous professional experience includes Near Shore Solutions, Inc., and Bank of America Securities, New York. Mr. Wright holds a MBA from New York University and a BS from University of the West Indies, Mona.