From Dominica to Vogue: Big dreams on a small island

United Nations

Small island developing States (SIDS) often enjoy favorable weather, beautiful beaches, and lush landscapes, attracting a large number of tourists, especially from the United States and Europe, who are looking to escape the dreary winter months.

However, growing up in these countries can be challenging, with limited opportunities and high rates of youth unemployment. Recent studies have shown that more than half of young people in some SIDS are without work.

According to Robert Tonge, Digital Economy Coordinator for the Government of Dominica, life in the country has been difficult in recent years.

“After the COVID-19 pandemic, many people lost their jobs and were unable to support their families,” he said. “This came after the devastating Hurricane Maria a few years earlier, which resulted in a significant number of people losing their livelihoods. However, the impact of COVID-19 was longer-lasting, especially from a business standpoint. Many companies closed, and numerous Dominicans chose to leave the country.”

The leaders of SIDS have recognized that new and emerging technologies, if utilized effectively, can provide opportunities for their youth to seek work online and earn a better income without having to leave their homes.

In Dominica, the government has collaborated with the UN and other partners to create Work Online Dominica, a program for job seekers between the ages of 18 and 40. Over a period of 12 weeks, trainers teach students business management and how to present themselves effectively online, enabling them to compete in the global online marketplace.

“Many young people have a wealth of skills, but they are unsure how to utilize and market them beyond their own country,” explained Mr. Tonge. “This program helps individuals to develop and enhance their existing skills and offer their services not only in Dominica but also across the Caribbean and around the world.”

One of the program’s participants, Mr. Johnson, who grew up in a poor and marginalized area of Dominica, shared that the program has significantly improved his career prospects while allowing him to remain close to his family and friends.

“The Work Online program was very informative, and I learned a lot,” he said. “The trainers taught us how to find online jobs, create strong applications, and compete with other applicants. They gave us valuable tips, such as applying for jobs as soon as they are posted, even if it means waking up in the middle of the night. They also encouraged us to apply for multiple jobs at once, rather than waiting for a response from one job.”

The program has opened up various opportunities for its graduates, including virtual assistance, translation, data entry, and call center work in countries like the United States, Australia, and Canada. Shortly after completing the program, Mr. Johnson secured a job working in customer service for a Canadian company, but he continues to pursue his dream of becoming a professional photographer.

“Photography has been my passion since I was young,” he shared. “I have always been fascinated by the idea of capturing a moment in time. Even in high school, I always had a camera or phone with me, taking pictures of everything and everyone around me. Thanks to the training, both in Dominica and other Caribbean countries, I have been able to work as a photographer and build a network, leading to numerous opportunities.”

Mr. Tonge stated that the program’s graduates not only gain new skills but also become more independent and positive in their thinking.

“Many of the individuals involved are now earning significantly more and are extremely happy that they took part in the program,” he said. “They have been able to secure jobs that they would not have had otherwise, and some have even been able to hire other Dominicans.”

Mr. Johnson also agrees that many of his fellow program participants have benefited, realizing that they do not have to leave Dominica to advance their careers.

“I hardly see some of them anymore because they are working online from home,” he shared. “But now, they can do things that many Dominicans struggle to do, like going on vacation and having spending money. They no longer have to worry about struggling to pay their bills.”

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