Paula Forrest - Nurturing Wealth

Paula Forrest - Nurturing Wealth


Monday, January 25, 2021

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PAULA Forrest is one of the many roses that have grown from the concrete of Jamaica's inner-city communities, and she has spent almost 25 years ensuring that other ambitious and hard-working people can grow with her. As one who is passionate about development, Forrest has used her green thumb to nurture many small businesses from being side hustles into successful enterprises. She decided to venture down this career path after watching her entrepreneural parents take on various ventures to support the family while she was growing up in Seaview Gardens.

“We were poor but it didn't feel that way at all. My mother and father were both present in the home, and they both worked to take care of us as children,” Forrest, who is a small & medium enterprise (SME) resource centre officer at JMMB Group, shared with All Woman. “When my mother lost her job after her workplace closed down, she took the final pay cheque and bought some stuff and went to Falmouth market and downtown to sell.”

She also watched as her father, who had a full-time job as a supervisor at a furnishing store, took on shifts on construction sites on his days off, to help put his six children through school. “From an early age I saw that the people around me were natural entrepreneurs, but they didn't really know how to make what they were doing into thriving businesses. They were just hustling to put food on the table,” she said in retrospect.

When she graduated from the Merle Grove High School, Forrest found herself at a crossroads. She had dreams of pursuing law, but could not afford to do so immediately. Her mother, who was adamant that Forrest would someday work in a bank, encouraged her to participate in the HEART Trust/NTA's (now NSTA) School Leavers' Training Opportunities Programme, which saw her being placed at the Workers Bank in a data entry role for a year. “After the year they put me on staff in the credit card centre,” Forrest recalled.

The Workers Bank proved to be the perfect environment for germination, because when she left for Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago (RBTT, now Sagicor) five years later, Forrest had set down her roots as a banking clerk. At RBTT she sprouted branches, and over seven years she grew from being a customer service representative into a senior customer service officer in their Credit Card Centre.

She blossomed as a business development officer at First Global Bank, before moving to the Development Bank of Jamaica as an account executive in 2016. As one of the founding specialists at JMMB's SME Resource Centre, Forrest is now in full bloom.

“I reach out to SMEs and help to put them on a path of growth,” she said, beaming with pride. “Wherever they are in their business life cycle, whether they are just starting or somewhere on the growth scale, my mandate is to nurture them to grow their business. Once I do a full assessment and find out what they need to move to their next stage of growth, I will hold their hands and take them on that path.”

Forrest banks on the values and ambitions she absorbed from her ambitious family members to water her clients' businesses from seedlings to harvest.

“I grew up with the drive to know that once I was willing to work hard, I would achieve something, so now when I see people come to me with their hustles and ideas, and they want to move to the next stage, once they have the drive to move it from the micro to the small stage, and they're willing to do the work, I am willing to work with them,” she said passionately.

The mother of two pours her effort into these businesses because she knows that support is the fertiliser that makes all things grow beautifully.

“My daughter Zoya is 11 and son Toussaint is five, and I'm eternally grateful for the help of my family in nurturing them so far,” she said, explaining that the women in her family, especially, have been supportive stakes since her children were newborns. “If it wasn't for my aunt, my mom, and my sister when she was in Jamaica, I don't know how I would have survived the long days and commute back and forth. I could always count on my family to help.”

The gentle woman is also a gardener, and she uses her hours that are not spent nurturing businesses or children to tend to her beautiful plants, or water her soul in (virtual) church. She reckons that even with all she has accomplished so far, there is always more room to grow.

“I am looking forward to completing my Master's Degree in Business Administration Management with Suffolk University in the UK by the end of this year,” the beneficiary of a UNICAF scholarship said brightly. “Ultimately, my goal is to make a difference. By the end of this journey, I want to be able to say that I have made an impact on the SME economy in Jamaica.”

It is only right, she believes, that after having benefited from opportunities to grow and flourish, she now helps to sow positive seeds for the next generation.

“Coming from where I am coming from, if JMMB could have seen something in me based on my experience, and take a chance on me, then it doesn't matter what stage the SMEs are,” she said. “If they are willing to work, I am ready to help them to grow.”

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