Junior Achievement Jamaica is one of the organizations which I was very pleased to endorse under the umbrella of the “I Believe” Initiative. Their mission to empower young people to own their economic success, left no doubt in my mind that JAJ is fully in line with the principles of the “I Believe” Initiative.  I therefore readily accepted their invitation to speak at tonight’s inaugural banquet to recognize Champion Achievers.

There are several reasons for my interest in the JAJ:

1. They recognize the importance of volunteerism in forging a much more caring and productive society.

2. The volunteers themselves realize the benefits to be derived from character and leadership building opportunities as they work to enhance the lives of others.

3. Their outreach to youth seeks to prepare them to function successfully in a job market which is very tight, but where the potential for entrepreneurship exists.

4. They help young people to begin at a very early age to focus on building capacity for employment or business creation. The success of JAJ will ensure that we will have fewer youth frustrated by the inability to land decent jobs, sometimes despite even tertiary education.

5. The JAJ’s work effectively illustrates the mantra of the IBI: “There is nothing wrong with Jamaica that cannot be fixed by what is right with Jamaica.”

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Vision 2030 targets development which will make Jamaica a place in which people will choose to live, work, raise their families and do business.  In 2030, you, today’s youth, will be the leaders of State, business and all other sectors of our nation. Will this vision be a reality then?  I believe that it can be if we prioritize the development of our best resources: that is our people. Investments in industrial development, however massive, will only bring the sustainable development which Jamaica so desperately needs when strategies are people-centred, eliciting the participation of all in the project to grow our economy.

This is not about populist, welfare policies. Rather, I refer to the priority to be given to building strong, healthy and productive citizens who can live in safe and caring communities. I speak of educational strategies which are values-based and market-oriented, linked into the country’s development strategy.  I speak of the importance of providing social services which will prompt self-esteem and a sense of dignity across our nation.

Our country must understand how best to tap into the energy, enthusiasm and ingenuity of our youth. When we remember that youth were the inventors of Google and Face Book for example, the question must not be “Why can’t our Jamaican youth be similarly inventive?”, but rather  “How can we create the environment which will give wings to their creative genius?”  And that is What Junior Achievement Jamaica is doing.  There is enough evidence of the abundant talent among our youth which, if effectively used, can catapult them and with them, Jamaica, into being significant players in the information technology revolution.

If youth are marginalized, if their energies and creativity are not harnessed for productive participation in socio-economic growth, the risk of their participation in deviant behaviour is extremely high.  It is therefore critical that both public and private sector leaders give greater attention to channeling the potential of our young people into technological innovation and other fields of economic development.

Let me commend, therefore, those members of the private sector who so faithfully support the JAJ through financial resources and very importantly, through mentorship.  The entrepreneurial examples which you set by your own action are of more lasting value than theories learned from the best textbooks.  I also commend the private sector bodies which provide scholarships and other forms of capacity building such as apprenticeships and access to technology. I recognize the sterling support which many business leaders give to public programmes for youth employment and for training to enhance our human resource pool and build our international competitiveness.

There is no doubt that both public and private sector leadership recognize the need for investment in youth development as a strategy for Jamaica’s transformation. However, it is important that youth themselves be party to the determination of policies and actions for their development.  They ought to participate in strategies to build a Jamaica of which our people can be proud to be Jamaican.  But our progress will be hampered if most of our best and brightest continue to believe that their only hope of advancement is migration.

Jamaica’s youth need to believe that even though salaries may not be what they would be offered in certain first-world countries, they have an important role in the development of their homeland.  As many young people will tell us, where they and their ideas are respected, when they are accepted as worthwhile contributors, their belief in themselves and in Jamaica will keep them here and keep them engaged.  There is a lesson here for bosses and supervisors whose attitudes dishearten rather than encourage youth who propose policy or operational changes.

However, this is something in which the youth themselves have a degree of responsibility.  Their approach and the preparedness and logic which they bring to discussions, have a greater impact than mere enthusiasm.  Being a star achiever demands focus, hard work and the intelligence to learn from the experience of older, wiser heads.  Many young persons need to lose their sense of entitlement, their erroneous belief that their families and the society in general owe it to them to put them on the path to success.  There is a need to curb what has become a worrisome trend to view mendicancy as acceptable.

Youth need to rediscover the dignity of hard work.  With poor work ethics, too many remain at the bottom of the job pool and are too under-motivated to transform their thinking and thus, themselves. Sadly, many do have the potential to do well, but have yielded to the culture of mediocrity where employees do just enough to avoid being fired.  More time is wasted on social media than is spent even on the appropriate use of information technology to advance their skills and improve their job productivity. This mindset must change if our country is to grow.  I encourage all our youth to turn their potential into performance, for their personal advantage, as well as for the benefit of their families and to the nation as a whole.

More young people ought to look beyond themselves, their wants and needs and follow the example of others who voluntarily contribute to improving the quality of life of others.  You who are volunteers in the JAJ know the value of volunteerism and I encourage you to lead others by your example.  I am so convinced of the importance of volunteerism that under the “I Believe” Initiative, I recently launched the Summer of Service Competition which links youth volunteerism with the prospect of prizes of university scholarships and educational grants.  My hope is that this competition will help to foster a culture of volunteerism among our youth.

You who are the declared Champions tonight are already doing your part in forging Jamaica’s transformation.  I congratulate you on having been honoured, but even more, I commend the service that you are giving to Jamaica.  You are part of what is right with Jamaica as you contribute to the achievement of our destiny to increase in beauty, fellowship and prosperity and play (our) part in advancing the welfare of the whole human race”.

Thank you!