Updated: Nov 22, 2021
If the Turks and Caicos Islands begin to foster entrepreneurship in their schools’ curriculum from the kindergarten level, it probably will not be too long before the territory becomes the entrepreneurial hub of the Caribbean.
This sentiment was expressed by 25-year-old social entrepreneur, Gabriel Saunders, during an interview on FLOW in the Morning’s Wednesday show, ‘Bourne to Lead’, with Leo Lightbourne on Radio Turks and Caicos.
Saunders, son of Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance, Trade and Investment, Hon. E. Jay Saunders, said it is important to teach entrepreneurial thinking in schools, so children would gather ways of not only identifying problems, but also discovering opportunities and creating solutions as well.
“I think that [restructuring the education system] is definitely the case… There are so many different things that we need to add to our education system. And I think integrating entrepreneurship - even from kindergarten - is something that would be crucial to transforming Turks and Caicos into the entrepreneurship hub of the Caribbean,” Saunders asserted.
While he had the ambitions of creating his own business from a tender age, Saunders believes that those who are not naturally entrepreneurially-inclined can refine their entrepreneurial skill sets and mindset through education.
“A lot of people tend to look and say, ‘can you teach entrepreneurship? I think that it is something people are born with…the skills that they are born with’.”
“The Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business (which he attended) begs to differ, [and] so do I. I think that a lot of the skill sets can be taught. Of course, just like with sports, you have some people that are naturally gifted, but you can also train yourself,” he argued.
“I was always interested in entrepreneurship; I was always interested in creating my own business. But [my entrepreneurial spirit and mindset] really became nurtured when I joined the Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business, which is at the University of Waterloo. And I don’t just mean when I did my master’s, but also when I did my minor in entrepreneurship with them,” Saunders added.
He noted that the BET 100 course - while tedious - taught him how to identify opportunities, adding that since taking it, he’s been able to more easily identify problems and develop solutions for them.
Saunders alluded that a lot of people agree with the restructuring of the education system to allow it to fit for purpose, especially as it pertains to incorporating entrepreneurship.
“And we don’t have to label it ‘entrepreneurship’, for kids in kindergarten, for instance. But it's integrating into their courses ways for them to identify opportunities,” he pointed out.
Explaining ‘social entrepreneur’, Saunders said, “The term ‘social entrepreneur’ became more familiar to me when I was at the University of Waterloo. I took a class called ‘BET 420’, which is social entrepreneurship. It was all about entrepreneurship that has a true impact, so we were looking at social enterprises...and that’s where we learned that you can create businesses that positively impact the communities around you. They have a social mission at their core, and that’s what a social enterprise is all about.”
Saunders pointed out that one becomes a social entrepreneur the same way one becomes a traditional entrepreneur.
“You look around for opportunities. But for social entrepreneurs, you look specifically for opportunities that you can capitalize on that can benefit communities around you. This can be in so many different ways. You can look and say, as a person of colour we face these specific issues. How am I going to tackle that? It could be something within the environment…how am I going to tackle that?” he reasoned.
He agreed with host Leo Lightbourne that social entrepreneurship not only allows one to tackle certain issues facing humanity, but also provides an opportunity to make money.
“A social enterprise’s business model is meant to be sustainable. While running your business, you are improving [life] for a specific community or a specific set of people…Entrepreneurship is an amazing way to provide value to the world.”
“Activism has its place, but how long are you going to go around with your little billboards or your posters complaining about an issue? Your complaints are going on deaf ears sometimes. Sometimes you need to be that change you want to see. And it is not simply just saying, ‘oh, there is a problem, there is a problem’. But it is actually using the research that you have done to provide those facts, to say that there is an issue, and saying how can I utilize those facts, and use my knowledge, and the expertise that I have, to create a solution, to actually tackle the problem,” he emphasized.
Although social entrepreneurship involves a great deal of work, Saunders believes it is worth it every step of the way, because a social entrepreneur can have such a positive impact all over the world.
He believes that the Turks and Caicos Islands has social entrepreneurs in the making, noting that while at the Turks and Caicos Islands Film Festival (where he was a Keynote Speaker and the recipient of the 2021 TCIFF Environmental Change Leader Award), which culminated last weekend, that he was speaking with a resident who is deeply involved in caring for the environment. He said they discussed the possibility of monetizing the resident’s efforts.
He also pointed out that his dad is a full-fledged social entrepreneur, who has founded a company called Domus Semo Sancus that is helping to ‘bank the unbanked'.
Saunders stated that his passion for the environment was ignited at age 11 when he conversed with Former US Vice President Al Gore while at an environmental conference in Provo, about how a child like himself could help save the environment in the Turks and Caicos.
He mentioned that after Al Gore gave his answer, Gore proclaimed that he was ‘counting on’ the young Saunders.
Because of his interests, the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) reached out to the then 11-year-old Saunders, asking that he starred in one of their plastic-waste reduction campaigns. And though he was nervous to take on such a task, he approached it with boldness and a sense of purpose. The commercial made rounds on former local cable news station WIV4, for over a year.
Saunders pointed out that his interest in saving the environment at age 12, led him to meet world-renowned Canadian environmentalist, Dr. David Suzuki, at another environmental conference.
“All of those instances, as a young person, at 11 and 12 years old, really helped shape me into who I am today,” he said.