The enterprise and imagination of Bahamian millennials

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December 02, 2015

The demographic parameters of the so-called Millennial Generation, though imprecise, are generally consistent, with millennials born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s, stretching in age approximately from 35 or so and younger.

Millennials are the last generation born in the 20th century and grew into young adulthood in the 21st. They share defining characteristics, including tremendous comfort with and easy reliance on communications technologies such as computers and the internet. There are precious few millennials unable to use a computer.

The internet age and the advent and sophistication of smart devices offer ubiquitous 24-7 communication, both of which millennials relish. Many of their parents often find tiresome such constant communication. The platforms for communication are multifold and, importantly, include audio, visual and text. Millennials understand and are often far more readily comfortable with the internet as a business and social medium than preceding generations.

A friend's daughter then in her mid-20s left her mobile device at a girlfriend's home and wanted her dad to travel some distance to collect the smartphone. When her father demurred because of the distance, he asked: "It's almost that being without your phone is like being without your arm!" She replied, "Oh, Daddy, it's worse than that!"

The relatively inexpensive, ubiquitous and always connected nature of modern communications is changing how we communicate and how we use communication technologies and devices. This was seen most vividly in how millennials used myriad communications platforms in the aftermath of Hurricane Joaquin for everything from managing supply chains for disaster relief to connecting loved ones through Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media.

One observer noted the impressive response of millennials in the relief effort: "They led the charge, coordinating flights, recruiting volunteers, overseeing the distribution of medical supplies, recruiting and deploying volunteers. They employed technology to the challenges of organization."

Marketing, advertising and political communications which fail to grasp and to respond to how millennials communicate through social media will be considerably less effective in communicating values, messages and brands. Interactivity rather than static and unidirectional communication is key. The instantaneous nature of communication and the ability to broadcast one's images and thoughts to the world easily and quickly, often lead to a lack of restraint and narcissism by some millennials as well as various others.

The largest cohort of voters in The Bahamas is millennials who, as a percentage of the electorate, dominate the voting public. While traditional political communications are still essential, the role of social media continues to grow in importance and outreach. Of course, Bahamian millennials like a good political rally as much as any group. But they will help to change how rallies are organized and produced.

The technical ability to communicate to millennials is only a beginning. More essential, as has been the case in earlier times, one must have clear values and a message to communicate, all incorporated into one's brand. Without a narrative, a story, an underlying message, even well-honed ads or communications that may be tech-savvy, glossy and graphically well produced, will fall flat and prove to be empty, leaving the viewer perhaps briefly entertained, but not moved or inspired. The role of the storyteller and the message developer, through words, images and music is essential still. Getting the message right comes first and foremost. This is as true from Greek Theater to Shakespeare to modern communications.

At home, millennials sit astride a time when their lives and prospects were much better economically. For many of them there now seems to be an intractably poor economy in The Bahamas. The prospect of relentless growth of the Bahamian economy to provide for them and their families has dimmed and the country is confronted with what appears to be a permanent recession or permanent sluggish growth. In search of opportunity, many millennials have permanently relocated, mostly to the United States and Canada, feeling relieved to have left The Bahamas behind. Some who returned home have left again, stymied by the slow pace of change and often feeling a lack of a sense of inclusion or purpose.

A number of young women are turned off by the inability of the country to pass constitutional reforms ensuring gender equality, an issue that might affect them personally.

Another mark of millennials is the celebration of diversity, with most of this cohort comfortable with difference in terms of race, gender, sexuality and ethnicity. For their generation old social prejudices are dying quickly. With our population quite small, the loss of talented millennials in various fields - as capable as talent anywhere in the world - is a tremendous blow. There is a world of Bahamian talent overseas, growing significantly because of the thousands of Bahamian millennials choosing to live abroad.

There are of course, many thousands of millennials at home, quite a number of whom are leaders in various fields. Many of them are promoting positive change with new ideas and enterprises.

One such millennial, at the height of his field, enthuses: "Many of the leaders in this group [millennials] were educated in the best private schools here in multicultural environments. They then went to foreign universities in the developed world doing well in classes with people from all over the world.  Some have worked abroad.

"This generation has no fear of 'the other'. They have lived in the developed world and think that if those people could create orderly, peaceful societies there, so can we here."

Today, many millennials have a more global and cosmopolitan outlook than previous generations.  Many of them are daring and bold. They are taking risks in capturing markets and business in enterprising and imaginative ways, often blending traditional concepts with new ideas. With young Bahamian males frequently lagging behind females in terms of education and professional accomplishment, there are many millennial men achieving success in many fields.

Latrell Strachan, in his early 30s, is a fashion designer of male and female apparel, and a stylist, whose designs are influenced by his artistic background. His designs are mostly European in style, though eclectic, and are often accentuated by Caribbean accents. Strachan's novel designs include everyday wear and couture.

Johnathan Forbes, 26, the co-founder of Tasty Teas is helping to put Bahamian bush medicine and fruits on the international market in the forms of ice-teas and drinks ranging from soursop and sapodilla to 11 teas including 21 gun salute. His presentation and packaging are first-rate and he produces filtered tea bags and whole leaf teas.

Many Bahamian millennials are discovering the dual advantage of living and working in The Bahamas with proximity to North American markets. Their potential market is not the population of The Bahamas alone but also millions in North America.

Increasing numbers of Bahamians including millennials move back and forth between the countries doing business in the same way that frequent business travellers to The Bahamas have done for years. Perhaps for reasons of perceived economic opportunities, it is rare to see many of them focusing on countries in the wider Caribbean.

Millennial artists recognize that their prospective clients are across the globe and not necessarily in The Bahamas alone even if much of their subject matter is what might be regarded as rooted in The Bahamas. This trend was precipitated by the development of a broader world view and comfort with the possibilities manifest in the internet and communications technologies. Two outstanding artists of this generation are Jeffrey Meris and Lavar Munroe.

Meris, still in his early twenties, is one of the country's most popular emerging artists who promises to be a leading artist of his generation, and perhaps one of the more notable artists of the modern Bahamas.

The highly creative and eclectic Munroe, 33, is, according to Wikipedia, "an interdisciplinary artist whose work encompasses painting, drawing, sculpture, installation art and a hybrid medium that straddle the line between sculpture and painting."

Another characteristic of millennials is that they are more politically independent than previous generations. They greatly desire good governance and results-orientated government. Their almost unanimous disdain for the policies and governance of the PLP is partly based on the concern that because the Bahamas economy has long been tied to the performance of the U.S. economy, why are the unemployment levels in The Bahamas and the United States moving in opposite directions?

Millennials generally loath Perry Christie and the PLP, including many of the personalities who want to succeed Christie. FNM Leader Dr. Hubert Minnis is seen by the vast majority of millennials as inept, uninspiring, boring and unattractive as a leader. The leader of choice for the vast majority of millennials, who constitute the bulk of the electorate, is Loretta Butler-Turner, whose intelligence, articulateness, vision and personality appeal to their sense of enterprise and imagination.

Bahamian millennials at home and abroad are a reservoir of tremendous talent, whose enterprise, imagination and boundless energy are one of The Bahamas' prime resources for a better today and tomorrow.


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News date : 12/02/2015    Category : Opinion, Nassau Guardian Stories

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