From school drop-out and gang member to business owners – SLED at work

A GINA Feature by Macalia Santos

Anthony Seymore and Akeem Williams are school dropouts. It was a challenge for them to earn an income to provide for themself and family. Today, however, they have earned the respect of members of their community. They are now able to generate a regular income through support from the Sustainable Livelihood Development or SLED initiative.

SLED has not only transformed the lives of these youths but several others living across the country. It has done so by providing access to the training and resources they needed to develop and sustain productive livelihoods.

Pilot Coordinator of the SLED Initiative, Jason Fraser

Pilot Coordinator of the SLED Initiative, Jason Fraser

SLED, a Government of Guyana, Initiative

Since 2015, the Government of Guyana through the Ministry of Communities, has been implementing the SLED initiative. The community-based livelihood support programme helps communities to sustainably utilise available resources to boost their local economy.

Jason Fraser is the Pilot Coordinator of the SLED Initiative.  “Essentially, you have a Neighborhood Democratic Council (NDC), we want to know what resources are there, what type of infrastructure is there, what potential that NDC has in terms of human resources and natural resources and we say listen this is what you have at your disposal, now let us come up with a short to medium to long term plan, about how we are going to exploit

SKYE Chief of Party, Magda Fiona Williams being interviewed by GINA

SKYE Chief of Party, Magda Fiona Williams being interviewed by GINA

sustainably those resources to bring revenue to your region, your community.”

SLED works by distributing, interest-free cash grants, to registered groups and associations, needing the economic boost to improve their economic enterprises. SLED also works with non-profit organisations, like the Canadian funded Caribbean Local Economic Development Project (CARILED), to provide training and capacity building to beneficiaries of the grant, Fraser said.

“Given the fact that there are so many communities and there are only so many feet that we have on the ground,  we decided that it would be  better to find a cooperative or an organisation that is already out there, that have these resources already on the ground (to fund),” Fraser explained.

SLED and the Guyana Swine Producer Association

The Swine Producer Association is one of those registered groups that has benefitted from the SLED initiative.

At present, SLED is working with 32 farmers across the regions. Through the Swine Producer Association, training on proper husbandry practices is provided. Farmers are also provided with pens and quality livestock imported from Suriname.

Money was provided to the association and they in turn, provide the farmers with the pens and livestock. The Swine Producer Association also works with CARILED to train the farmers.

Chairman of the Swine Producer Association, Henry Anderson, says that the SLED investment could transform the pork industry in Guyana.

“For years the swine sector has faced many challenges, some which we felt we could have never surmount, but we recognised that one of things that could change that was to have quality breeding animals,” he said.

A few of the Toppig 40, pigs that were imported from Suriname for the Association

A few of the Toppig 40, pigs that were imported from Suriname for the Association

“The SLED project allow us to find what you call the “TopPig 40,” which is a high quality breeding animal, that would produce quality piglets, with large litters and allow the finishing part to be ready in 5 ½ months, yielding appropriately 200 pounds,” he explained.

Adding to the discourse, Secretary of the Association, Ovin McGarrel says this will allow for better management of the industry. He said that with proper management swine farmers should be able to do better than they were doing before.

“We need to get to a situation where we’re on par with our Caribbean neighbours as well as Suriname. Basically, in Guyana here, we wean between 22 to 24 piglets per year. We are looking with this new breed, to wean probably about 24 to 28 piglets per year and through this SLED intervention we should be able to get there,” McGarrel said.

The Women For Change

SLED has also supported the Women for Change of Hopetown, Region Five. For this mainly agro-processing enterprise of 22 women, SLED funding is making it possible for them to meet phyto-sanitary measures necessary to expand an already thriving enterprise.

The building that is being constructed for the Women For Change of Hopetown, Region Five

The building that is being constructed for the Women For Change of Hopetown, Region Five

Carrol Fraser explains how the construction of a building, with SLED funding of almost $3M, is making this possible. “We were not able to expand because we were not up to the food and drug standards, because one of the criteria we would have had to have a building to be certified and so in the next couple of weeks, we are hoping to complete this building (funded by SLED) and be certified,” she said.

Transforming lives

SLED is also working with the Skills and Knowledge for Youth Employment (SKYE), project to support at-risk youths. SKYE Chief of Party, Magda Fiona Williams, says SLED supports the, “Be your own Boss,” component of the agency’s work.

“That component is to ensure that youths living in points where employment is hard to come by. We work with them to assist them to start their own businesses, and that is where we want to really thank the Ministry of Communities under the SLED funding for the significant donations, to be able to help,” Wills said.

Akeem Williams with some of his honey products

Akeem Williams with some of his honey products

To date, with SLED funding, SKYE has been able to help 88 youths start their own businesses. Youths like Anthony Seymore, Akeem Williams, and Tiffany Peters.

Through SKYE, Anthony Seymore, Akeem Williams and Tiffany Peters received $200,000 each from SLED to start their own small business enterprises.  Seymore invested in a vulcanising shop.  “I was with my dad, helping in farm, helping around the yard, servicing bikes. The programme benefitted me in a lot of ways. In doing business I did not have no knowledge of that sort, after getting on to the course I gain a lot of knowledge… I would be glad if persons my age could get on to this programme and do something off their own,” Seymore says about the programme’s impact on his life.

Tiffany Peters being interviewed by GINA

Tiffany Peters being interviewed by GINA

Williams, who used the money he received through SLED to start his own honey production and retail enterprise, explained that he actually got the vision from working in a call centre. “Honey being around at the time in my house, it came to my mind, why shouldn’t I sell honey…I did the training, after being told by my uncle about it, and this is me now with a very nice product, that is very healthy, unique in design…and I here just looking to help people to go the healthy way,” he said.

And as to the programme impact on his life, he explained, “I was bad I would say in the eyes of many. I was doing a lot of bad things like a gang I was a part. I did a course in electrical installation that I did not get to follow through either. So SKYE and SLED actually give me the opportunity to earn a certificate

Anthony Seymore

Anthony Seymore

that actually has value in the eyes of people, so as to make a living,” Williams said.

“SLED and SKYE have provided me with the knowledge and the skills to be a better person…so I am grateful to them for that,” he added.

With the $200,000 support from SLED, Tiffany Peters, was able to successfully set up a broiler farm. Asked why poultry, “because that is what’s  on demand at the market, “she answered. “Almost everybody eats chicken on a regular basis,” she pointed out.  “Where I am living we do have persons, who sell on a large scale but what I am doing is mainly for persons, mainly who would want to buy a one or two chickens,” she explained. Being her own boss, Peters said, “ I feel that is the

Leon France

Leon France

best thing for any and every body… be your own boss and live up to your own standards,” she recommended.

To date SLED has invested $20M into SKYE for the “Be your own boss” project. This funding has allowed SKYE to also provide capacity building training to the youths, in skills and business administration.

It allowed for the agency to pair the youths with a life coach. “We work with the youths, we just do not release them on their own. The “Be your own boss” component really entails six months of follow up and continuous mentoring and checking in to ensure that all goes well,” SKYE, Life Coach, Alaric Wilder explained. He has been working with Seymore and Williams.

Additionally Leon France, another life coach, is responsible for working with youths on the East Bank of Demerara. He has been working with Tiffany Peters.  “We have had challenges, but she would have benefitted from our work readiness programme and on completion of that she would have had “Be your own Boss” training, and she was successful in doing up her own business plan and as a result she got her kit at the cost of

$200,000 and today she is the proud owner of Big P Poultry,” France said.

In 2015, the government allocated a total of $115M for the SLED initiative. Of that total, $74M went into projects, and another $15M into capacity building. These actions have transformed, for the better, the lives of several Guyanese.