The YLAI (Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative) Network is a vibrant community of young entrepreneurs and change-makers from Latin America and the Caribbean – committed to fostering economic development and prosperity, security, human rights and good governance in the hemisphere.

Earlier this year YLAI – in collaboration ATLAS Corps, Entrepreneur Orgs and our very own Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship Caribbean – ran a regional workshop on entrepreneurship and leadership in the Caribbean. The opening panel discussion – Setting the stage: Entrepreneurship in the Caribbean context – discussed the unique challenges for entrepreneurship in the Caribbean and what the future has in store.

Patria-Kaye Aarons, CEO of Sweetie Confectionary and YLAI Alumni, and Chad Lettsome,  CEO of Ching Caribbean and Branson Centre Fellow, were both panellists for the discussion and have since shared with us their thoughts on business leadership and what’s needed for the future success of entrepreneurial business in the region. 

Virgin Unite, Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, Caribbean, YLAI

Tell us your thoughts on the state of leadership in the Caribbean

Patria-Kaye: I love that young people are stepping up to leadership roles in the Caribbean. There was an apathy a generation before that my generation is now shaking up – we see problems and aren't afraid to take ownership of finding solutions. Young business people now recognise that leadership doesn't only mean government. Everyday I meet young people making a big difference in their own small corners and I love that. It's the kind of approach I truly believe will make for a better Caribbean community. 

Chad: I think that leadership in the Caribbean is still lonely and that leaders are aware of each other in the community, but are not intimately united or meaningfully involved together with business. By becoming more involved with each other’s businesses and respective industries, leaders can help with innovation and support growth and scaling. This will strengthen the trade and global offerings of the region. I am noticing a slow shift across Caribbean mind-sets, towards more business transparency – instead of holding all business workings secret. There is so much to learn from other local leaders and all it takes is some transparency and external communication on our own accounts.           

Virgin Unite, Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, Caribbean, YLAI, Chad Lettsome

Have you seen the role of leaders within businesses across the Caribbean change much in recent years?

Chad: Yes! Leadership in the Caribbean increasingly resembles the culture of leadership that exists in the western first worlds. Having a more transparent position in business to foster innovation is occurring through more and more industry gatherings such as trade shows, conventions, conferences and business specific events. 

More small business incubators and accelerators are popping up and growing throughout the region, such as the Forge (BVI) and Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship (Jamaica). These programs are helping shape, model and support up-and-coming leaders. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are slowly providing better service and connectivity – enabling business communications and better connects leaders, local and abroad. Digicel and governments have been a huge positive impact to this regional deficiency.  Leadership in the Caribbean is changing style and approach and is learning from demonstrations by businesses on the global stage.

Patria-Kaye: I've noticed a changing approach to managing people. The most successful companies I've seen in the Caribbean have done away with micro-managing. They now hire stars – the brightest and the best people in their respective fields – and give them the freedom and latitude to shine. I find those companies to be more productive, employees take more pride in their work and feel more empowered and quite frankly, business owners are less stressed and can are more focused on strategic objectives. It works for everybody and the business. 

Virgin Unite, Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, Caribbean, YLAI, Patria-Kay Adams

Tell us one thing you know now about leadership that you wish you knew when you first became a leader

Chad: Leaders need to motivate and inspire the people and team around them to make things happen and execute. I wish that I knew to place more emphasis on polishing my motivation skills at a younger age, specifically public speaking. I think doing public speaking from a younger age gives you more time to practice it, and lots of practice cuts the edge off the nerves.

Patria-Kay: Worrying never helps. The time you spend worrying, will be better used strategising or doing something about the problem. A worried leader inspires no one and gets nothing accomplished. Great leaders don't worry – they take action. 

Richard Branson is a key supporter of the YLAI Network and the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship Caribbean a proud partner of the YLAI Professionals Fellows Program.