Cecile Watson — Supporting women entrepreneurs

By KIMBERLEY HIBBERT

Monday, July 16, 2018

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CECILE Watson spent most of her formative years around women, being one of five girls in her family, and a student at an all-girls' high school. As a result she was moulded into a woman who exuded confidence and did not allow stereotypes to derail her progress.

After leaving secondary school, Watson, who was born and raised Barbados, attended the University of the West Indies, St Augustine, where she became the first Barbadian to graduate with a first class honours in electrical engineering, out of a class of eight women and 200 men.

Shortly after she moved to Canada where she pursued an MBA in finance at the University of Western Ontario.

On completion she returned to Barbados, then again to Canada where she joined CIBC, then journeyed to Jamaica as CIBC's operations manager. She was then moved back to Barbados where she headed the operations for the regional office which saw her leading the re-engineering of the banking system in Barbados. When that was established she moved back to Jamaica to head up retail and made the country her home.

Watson, though a successful banker, eventually left the industry and went into consulting where she “took things easy”. But on the admonition of her friends to do something more service-oriented, she joined the National Housing Trust (NHT) as managing director in 2010.

“It became another training ground. It was now training to go the distance and training for life. I saw personalities I never saw before — the good, the bad, and the ugly came into the mix. But while there the tremendous needs of our people really touched me, and solidified for me my insatiable desire to make a difference for our Caribbean communities,” she said.

Subsequently, Watson began researching crowdfunding as a model that could possibly provide income to make housing more affordable and designed Pitch&Choose to be especially relevant to our Caribbean market. Though the model was not implemented at NHT as her contract ended, Watson still uses the site to raise funds for the less fortunate or those who have fallen on hard times when the need arises.

From there she did crowdfunding training for a number of countries and became part of a World Bank project that wanted to give funding for women entrepreneurs.

“I got drawn into that as I wanted the connections to support the crowdfunding I wanted to do. I got drawn in and became a certified infoDev World Bank facilitator to do this training for women entrepreneurs to foster the growth and scaling of their businesses. I was one of 15 women across the Caribbean who did the training and 14 were certified. I was given the opportunity to lead the WINC (Women Innovators Network of the Caribbean) acceleration programme in Jamaica,” she said.

Watson fell in love with this and started thinking how the corporate world she knew could meet the world of entrepreneurs.

“As I worked I got more opportunities and as I grew in my profession I saw certain things I knew women were being excluded from because of gender. We are not overtly excluded but there is that systemic exclusion because we're not one of the boys. I realised, through my daughter, that I was a feminist but also that feminism was not one seeking to put women's rights over men's rights, rather it's just seeking equality for women and seeking to make sure that as a woman we advocate for the needs of other women so that we can be seen, heard, and our voices can count,” Watson said.

She added: “I married those two and got really interested in supporting women entrepreneurs. I became a member of the National Business Incubation Association in the USA, and upgraded my skills on understanding what the entrepreneurial ecosystem was all about.”

From there, Watson got invited to the State Department's Friends of Global Entrepreneurs event, where she was invited to serve as the ambassador for Jamaica for Women's Entrepreneurship Day (WED). In this role Watson recruited women entrepreneurs across the region pulling from the WINC group and moved on to become the regional leader for WED.

While doing that she was invited to serve on the board of the Development Bank of Jamaica as chair of venture capital, became part of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica's gender committee, and served on the board of the National Health Fund (NHF) as chair of the audit and governance committee. With the NHF, she led the institution to become the winner of public sector and governance awards.

But Watson wanted to leverage her skills, knowledge and connections and again ventured into business, this time with ShredWIZ, a document destruction company.

“I went looking for something that was matched with who I was. I started looking at e-waste technology. I stumbled upon document destruction and information security. We had to do a better job at protecting the private information of people we serve. When you discard of it as though it is waste and you're not securely handling it, you're allowing yourself to be open to potential attacks such as identity theft and people getting information about your organisation that can breach your security,” she said.

“We have positioned ourselves to be ahead of the curve before the data protection act gets legislated as there are serious consequences for how we treat with people's information. We are risk mitigators and from my various careers I know how to build procedures, establish policies, and put systems in place to have the best oversight over these activities.”

Overall, Watson said she is about changing the world by empowering women to be great and showing their best authentic selves.

“Dare to be you. You have to reflect and see what's coming out from the inside. We have to connect to our inner selves and measure it to some standard we hold. We also have to modify our behaviour to be in alignment to what we hold dear,” she said.

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