From Dominica to Vogue: Big dreams on a small island

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Small island developing States (SIDS) often benefit from good weather, sandy beaches and lush countryside, attracting large numbers of tourists, particularly from the United States and Europe, seeking to escape the gloomy winter months.

But, growing up in these countries can be hard: opportunities are few and far between, and youth unemployment is high, with more than half of young people out of work in some countries, according to recent studies.

Robert Tonge, Digital Economy Coordinator for the Government of Dominica, said that life in the country has been tough in recent years.

“After COVID-19, many people lost their jobs, and they had no way to support their families,” he said. “The pandemic came off the back of Hurricane Maria just a few years before, during which a large proportion of the population lost their livelihoods, but the effects of COVID-19 lasted longer, especially from a business standpoint. A lot of companies closed, and many Dominicans decided to leave the country.”

Josiah Johnson has benefited from Work Online Dominica, a Government programme supported by the UN.

Josiah Johnson has benefited from Work Online Dominica, a Government programme supported by the UN.

The leaders of SIDS have recognised that new and emerging technologies, if used effectively, can be a way to help their youth to look beyond national borders to find work online, earning more money without having to physically leave home.

In Dominica, the government has been working with the UN and other partners to develop Work Online Dominica for jobseekers aged between 18 and 40. Over 12 weeks, trainers teach students business management and how to present themselves online in a way that enables them to compete better in the online marketplace.

“Many young people have a tonne of skills, but they’re not sure how to harness them and, more importantly, sell them outside of the country,” Mr. Tonge explained. “This programme helps people to harness and improve the skills that they already have and offer the services not only in Dominica, but across the Caribbean and throughout the world.”

Mr. Johnson, who was brought up in a very poor, marginalised part of Dominica, took part in the programme, and he told UN News that it has made a big difference to his career prospects while allowing him to stay close to his family and friends.

“The Work Online programme was very informative, and I learned a lot,” he said. “The trainers explained how to find jobs online, how to make our applications as strong as possible and compete with all of the other applicants. They gave us lots of useful tips. For example, to apply for jobs very soon after they are posted and be first in line, even though that might mean getting up in the middle of the night. And, they said that we shouldn’t just apply for one job and wait, but apply for several at one time.”

Fashion shoot by Dominican photographer Josiah Johnson

Fashion shoot by Dominican photographer Josiah Johnson

The programme has led to myriad opportunities, from virtual assistance services to translations, data entry to call centre work in countries including the United States, Australia and Canada. Very soon after graduating, Mr. Johnson found work online, working in customer service for a Canadian company, but he continues to pursue his dream of working as a professional photographer.

“Photography has been my passion since I was young,” he said. “I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of capturing a moment in time. Even in high school, I always had a phone or a camera with me, taking pictures of everyone around me. Since then, I have found my inspiration from photographer friends in Dominica and some of the big names who work for international magazines, particularly Vogue, who mix together art and photography”.

Eventually, Mr. Johnson began to get hired as a photographer thanks to the training, both in Dominica and in other Caribbean countries. He also met a lot of people during that time, building up a good network and finding a lot of opportunities.

Mr. Tonge said the programme’s graduates come out with far more skills.

“They are also a lot more independent and positive in their thinking,” he said. “Many of the individuals involved are able to earn far more now, and they’re really happy that they took part. They have been getting work that they wouldn’t have had otherwise, and some have even been able to employ other Dominicans.”

Mr. Johnson agrees that many of the people he trained with have benefited, realising that they don’t have to leave Dominica in order to further their careers.

“I hardly see some of them anymore because they’re indoors, working online. But, now they can do a lot of the things that many Dominican people aren’t able to do, like going on vacation and having spending money, rather than struggling to pay their bills.”



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