Junior Achievement (JA) Biztown Jamaica

Interview with Alphie Mullings-Aiken, President

Alphie Mullings-Aiken, President

Junior Achievement (JA) Jamaica, a chapter of JA Worldwide, is dedicated to educating students in the areas of entrepreneurship, financial literacy and work readiness through experiential and hands‐on learning.

Ever since operations began in 2008, the corporate sector has been an integral part of JA’s development. General Electric, CIBC FirstCaribbean, Trelawny Chamber of Commerce and JA Worldwide supported the pilot program implemented at the William Knibb Memorial High School in Trelawny where 500 students participated in JA Success Skills and JA Careers With A Purpose.

JA Jamaica continued to grow, and by 2014, it launched JA Biztown, a multi-million dollar model business town facility in Caenwood, St.Andrew. This historic event was only made possible through strong local and international alliances and partnerships with the private sector, the Rotary Club, the United States Agency for Aid (USAID) and the Government of Jamaica. The JA Biztown and JA Company programs are now part of the school curricula in Jamaica.

Alphie Mullings-Aiken established the JA chapter in Jamaica when she returned home from the United States. Alphie, the first President of JA Jamaica is known for her drive and commitment to youth development. She was instrumental in setting up JA Biztown against the odds. ApaNa Magazine discusses her role, partnering, volunteering, JA Biztown as the evolution and future of JA Jamaica.

Tell us about Junior Achievement.

Junior Achievement is an international non-profit organisation operating in over 115 countries. We inspire and prepare young people to succeed in our global economy. Globally, we have 400,000 private sector volunteers to help us reach 12 million students each year.

How has Junior Achievement Jamaica evolved since its founding in terms of resources, reach and results?

Junior Achievement began as an after-school program. Today, we reach over 30,000 students in 347 schools and run eight programs, two of which are now part of the school curricula. All grade five and nine students now take JA Biztown and JA Company or Entrepreneur programmes respectively.

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For me, this is a major success as students are embracing entrepreneurship as a core subject area and they will have the experience of running a business and building on the entrepreneurial mindset.

Since 2014, JA Biztown has transformed 50,000+ primary school students combine business management and financial literacy learning with hands-experience in Jamaica. How does it work and what makes it unique?

Grade 5 students participate in classroom learning for six weeks in school and then they come to our facility and learn to run a business for a day. We have about twelve different companies at Biztown and they get to run all of them. They could apply to anyone ranging from a chief executive officer to a marketing representative to a guard or customer service agent. They work in a hotel, newspaper, bank etc. They may conduct interviews at our TV studio or radio station or publish a newspaper. Biztown money (fake money) is used – they get paid for the work they are doing. This unique experience is a great way for them to connect all that they have learned into a business.

Describe the inspiration and motivation behind the founding of JA Biztown. When did you first have the idea of setting up JA Biztown?

I had volunteered for JA for thirteen years in New York and Connecticut with my employer prior to moving back to Jamaica. When we made the decision to start JA in Jamaica, I went to JA’s US headquarters for training. It was there that I learnt about Biztown. I remember saying, ‘Oh, I want that for Jamaica”. They told me that I should not think about it for the first ten years as it is very expensive to set up.

That same year, I pitched the idea to the current Prime Minister of Jamaica when he was the Minister of Education. Well, happily, five years later, actually, JA Biztown was launched. The inspiration behind Biztown comes from one thing: a different type of enhanced learning experience for students, so they can see and appreciate work, and understand the benefits of getting paid and positively play a role in their nation’s growth.

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How did you raise the capital to build JA Biztown?

Even before we started Junior Achievement in Jamaica, we started pitching Biztown to the Minister of Education and senior staff. We were always looking for ways to implement it but we knew how expensive. Allison Piert, our board member from Ernst and Young, helped to champion the initial seed funding to build the facility. The Ministry of Education contributed the use of a building and land to construct additional buildings; all of which the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) outfitted. Private companies sponsored the storefronts and got Biztown running.

What kind of support do you receive from corporate sponsors?

At Biztown, different companies sponsor the program. There are eleven 180-square foot stores surrounding a courtyard. We lease the storefront to private companies. These corporate sponsors outfit and brand the stores to replicate their storefronts so that they look real. Sponsorship enables us to support up to 10,000 students each year and the Ministry of Education supports an additional 10,000 students. The use of funds includes training teachers and a workbook for every child.

You rely on volunteers for your programs. How do you attract them?

We attract volunteers in a number of ways. For example, we have employees from our partner organisations who volunteer their time. We also engage other individuals from the private sector. For Biztown, we ask schools to identify parents to accompany their children on the field trip to the facility. We place them in a store (not the same as their child) to provide guidance and support to the students.

As JA Jamaica continues to expand, paint for a moment a portrait of the organization's position -- as you wish it would be -- five years down the road.

In five years, I see another JA Biztown on the north coast near Montego Bay so that more students can enjoy learning. I also see a financially sustainable organisation that is valued for the proven contribution being made to nation-building by all.

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