Shanoy Coombs: Balancing remotely – business, books, and baby

Shanoy Coombs: Balancing remotely – business, books, and baby

CANDIECE KNIGHT

Monday, May 25, 2020

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IT was a bittersweet moment for Shanoy Coombs last year when it was announced that she was among the 19 Jamaicans who were awarded Chevening scholarships to pursue a one-year taught master's degree programme in the United Kingdom. While she was very excited to further her studies, Coombs was also overcome with anxiety at the thought of leaving her daughter and her new business behind for an entire year. Still she took the leap of faith, never imagining that a few months later she would be in a country with over a quarter million COVID-19 cases trying to balance books, business, and a baby remotely.

“Here I had everything I wanted — I had this amazing opportunity to further my studies, I had my own business, and even my daughter was launching her own business. I just did not anticipate that all of those things would have come at the same time, and in a way I felt like I was not prepared to deal with it,” she shared with All Woman.

Most of all, Coombs felt as if she was betraying her daughter by leaving. She had always wanted to further her studies, but had decided to wait until her daughter was old enough to cope with her absence. By this time Kailee was 10 years old, but Coombs, who had given up her last job and started a business partly so that she could spend more time with her daughter, worried that it was still not a good time.

“It was actually my mother who said to me, 'If you do not go you will never forgive yourself' and she explained to me that children are way more resilient than we give them credit for,”she recalled. “And another thing happened. My daughter cried a lot at first, but then she said, 'Mommy, you have to go because I really don't want you to get old and not do something that you really wanted to do'. To hear her say that to me at that age, I knew I really had to go.”

Before moving to Sheffield to read for a master's in intercultural communication and international development, Coombs had to get her affairs in order at home. Her own business, Infinity IMC, would take a hit, but she retained a good percentage of her clientèle as they were confident in her ability to manage their communication needs remotely while studying.

“I had to say, what are the variables that I can control, and what can I truly manage from a distance?” she said.

Her daughter's sanitary kit start-up venture, Kai Kits, was also launched just before her departure, and uncertainty loomed about its viability. They could not have anticipated that a few months later they would not be able to keep up with the demand for certain products in the kit, such as hand soap and sanitiser.

“It's ironic,” Coombs mused. “We launched in August with a kit, but then COVID-19 happened and it moved from selling a kit to selling sanitisers and hand soaps more than anything.”

But while Kailee's Kits were selling like hot bread due to COVID-19, the pandemic was affecting the little entrepreneur's psyche negatively.

“She was affected big time. She is home with her dad, but she was having nightmares, and she couldn't see her grandparents as much, and when you think about it, it is really frightening to know that your mother is in a country where hundreds of people are dying everyday.”

Coombs has had to ensure that she makes time to communicate with her daughter daily; meet and exceed the needs of her clients in their time; and still find the time to beat the books. She also has to keep herself grounded, focused, and sane, despite the chaos around her.

“Someone once said to me that the thing you fear the most is the thing that you have to pursue,” she said evenly. “That thought keeps me going. I just have to trust that I'm going to emerge from this better. With all the experience that I have, this qualification is just going to add a new dimension. COVID has just compounded that.”

This 'new dimension' will be added to the others that Coombs has developed in her years as a communications specialist with local, regional, and international expertise.

Prior to founding her business, Coombs worked in a number of roles where she was able to use her communication skills to aid in development. She served international bodies such as the European Union and the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization for Jamaica, The Bahamas, and Belize. She has also worked on projects funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, the Caribbean Development Bank and Grand Challenges Canada. She has also provided marketing intervention, communications and event management support for several private sector companies.

Her primary goal is to use her abilities to impact the lives of those around her, positively, just as she grew up seeing her own mother doing in the rural community of Riversdale, St Catherine.

“My mother was a community mother,” she recalled affectionately. “She was a teacher, and so she was like a stand-in mother to other people's children. Though we had a large family, there were always other children in my home. My mother functioned as a guidance counsellor, so my house was where everybody came.”

While Coombs is anxious to return to her daughter, relatives, friends and warm Jamaican weather, she is keen on remaining calm until she is able to return home safely. She is excited to use her new-found knowledge from this venture to help transform her homeland.

“I am very excited about using culture to our advantage,” she said excitedly. “To harmonise and to celebrate the diversity; because even in our 'out of many' we have different cultures. I'm really looking forward to taking all that I am learning now into that space — to really come full circle with using communication effectively by having a better understanding of the many cultures of our people, and all of the things they are influenced by.”


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