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UPG members meet in Rotterdam to discuss E-learning on Sint Maarten

During September, the UPG team met with the Deputy Minister Plenipotentiary of Sint Maarten Michael Somersal, kicking-off a project that the Unleashed Potential Group Foundation is currently working on.

The kick-off was held by The Groothandelsgebouw in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The founder of OCDLab Maheep Gupta facilitated it.

This project is part of a platform that has recently been developed to facilitate cooperation between Sint Maarteners living on the island and living in the Netherlands. The idea behind this platform is the triple helix model of innovation in which academia, industry, organisations, companies and the Government of Sint Maarten work together, to foster economic and social development.

This platform is called Platform 721.

Members of Platform 721 created a list of areas that can best benefit from the triple helix model of innovation. UPG decided to work on the challenge of “exploring partnerships and avenues to promote e-learning on Sint Maarten.”

During the kick-off meeting, the Deputy Minister Plenipotentiary of Sint Maarten Michael Somersal explained to us the issues that Sint Maarten is facing when it comes to developing our educational system. He also gave us points to take into consideration if we want to have an impact in the field of education. Members of UPG spoke about how an e-learning system can be used to provide people the opportunity to study alongside their jobs and in doing so to obtain better jobs. Our angle is that people want to keep climbing to get the job and live of their dreams. If you provide them with the opportunity to go forward, people go forward.  Maheep Gupta of OCDLab encouraged us to get in touch with the people whom we want to reach. If you want a system that works you have to make sure your solving a actual problem people has, not just something in our heads.

Our next step will be to find out the different parties that would be interested in contributing to such a platform.

The end goal is to create a concrete proposal to expand e-learning opportunities on Sint Maarten. This proposal will then be presented to to the Government of Sint Maarten and educational institutions on the island.

After our kick-off meeting, UPG also met with other members of the Platform 721 and informed them of our findings. During this meeting, we understood that other partners of Platform 721 are working on areas that relate to what we want to do. We believe that we get more done by working together with our people so we will certainly get in contact with these members. We will keep you informed as things develop.

In the picture from left to right: Maheep Gupta (OCD Labs), Carlvin Brooks (Chairman of UPG), Jason James (Educational Policy and Research Officer), Deputy Minister Plenipotentiary of Sint Maarten Michael Somersal, Jennifer Hodge, Embrice de Weever, Carlton Brooks & Mechellin Hodge (Secretary of the Board & Social Media & Marketing Specialist).

What makes a good product – Part 2 of 2

In the previous article, we discussed what we could do to help our islands improve their “weak” points and enhance their strengths.

We’ll continue this article by focussing on investing your time and determining the true product.

Second point: Invest time

Invest time in understanding how unique your situation of being a local living abroad is. You can see the island as a tourist, but it goes deeper; you are a local living abroad and want your island to succeed. 

What you will need to accept is that there are things that you envision for your island, and the reality is, no one ever thought of it. But if they did and never got the ball rolling, if you don’t do it, it will never happen. This is a good thing, though. People who are on the islands have their own challenges. They might have had the same idea, but because of local situations, they might have different priorities. It’s essential to understand this, because your island wants and needs you to help it progress.

You have lived in the Netherlands (or another country), that’s why you think differently. You tend to see things from an international perspective. You will also notice that when you communicate with people on your island, they talk about local subjects. The islands need both aspects to go forward. For us, who are living in the Netherlands, we should look for ways to apply our international experience to local matters. To add to this, finding ways to help out our islands from the Netherlands, helps you to create a network and relationships with people who can get you a job and help you return home.

Third point: You are a product

So, you know what makes a person a “good product”. This also means that you can ask yourself “Why would I buy this product?” and answer it honestly. You have to sit down with a pen and a piece of paper and get to know yourself. List your strong points. List the things that you want to improve about yourself and then go out and do something with them.
Some things you will be able to do on your own and other things you will need help with. Having an inventory of what you are good at and what needs to be improved will help you make decisions that match who you are. Having a personal opinion of what is a “good product” will help you meet the people that match you. You will either understand what makes the product that their company is selling is good, or you will know what needs to be done to improve it. In both cases, you will be able to stand behind your decision and understand why you are doing what you are doing. 

Some of us have settled with living in the Netherlands, which makes wanting to go back home a big decision. The financial consequences of doing so also play a significant role. You need to find work at a company that you can rely on, especially during your settling period when you return home. So understanding good products allows you not to underestimate what a good company is. Companies who don’t have a good product fail.

But how do you know if the product isn’t “good”?

First of all, if the employees don’t believe in what the company is doing, you can bet that customers won’t find the product good. Some companies sell products just to make money; they don’t care about the person buying the product. These are the companies that you want to avoid. How will you know if a company is this way? 

You can tell by the way how people talk about it. If one person says something bad about a company, it can be due to a personal situation, but when groups begin to say the same things, then you know something is wrong. 

Businesses that have a good product make it! These companies have employees that believe in the product that they are creating. The products that these companies create deal with the customer’s needs. These companies make money while helping people, rather than abusing them.

To reiterate, those who have experienced living in the Netherlands see many things that can improve on the island. “To get it done, you need to just do it”.

The urgent need to update the laws relating to anti-money laundering and terrorist financing on Sint Maarten

Sint Maarten is a young country learning to stand on its own. The date that we celebrate as 10-10-10 gave us a new position of autonomy within the Dutch Kingdom. Sint Maarten now has a greater level of independence compared to the situation before 10-10-10. At the same time, this autonomy comes with new responsibilities. Now more than ever, Sint Maarten is seen as a major international player in the Caribbean. Although we as locals are very critical of Sint Maarten, Sint Maarten has been developing at an exponential rate. This, in itself, is a significant development. This rate of growth also means that the international community expects that St. Maarten maintains high standards, including having a financial sector that manages the risk of a growing economy. This article is meant to give you insight into St. Maarten’s new responsibilities regarding an up to code financial system. With the focus being on the urgent need for updated laws relating to anti-money laundering and terrorism financing.

What are anti-money laundering and terrorist financing measures?
Worldwide many institutions create, implement or monitor measures to prevent money laundering and terrorism financing such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the European Union. And locally, regional organizations such as the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force, the Central Bank of Curaçao and Sint Maarten, the Ministry of Justice of Sint Maarten and the local financial institutions such as banks.

But what do these parties actually do and why is this important?

These organizations define what kind of financial activities contribute to crime and what can be done to combat this. 

Let’s begin with understanding what this means in regards to money laundering & terrorism financing.
Generally, measures to combat money laundering and terrorism financing make it difficult for criminals to make use of the financial sector to benefit from or further their illegal activities.

Money laundering
If someone is involved in criminal activities and make money from it and in turn, they use that money to purchase property, this act is called money launderingUsually, when we hear the word property, we think of real estate; however, it is much broader than this. The term property refers to goods and property rights. Goods are the physical objects susceptible to human control, whereas property rights are abstract, such as owning a share in a limited liability company (Naamloze Vennootschap or N.V.).

“When money laundering laws are being put in place, we have to consider that people are smart and will look for ways to get around the law, resulting in rules that are useless.”
Carlvin Brooks

Known methods that are applied to launder money are: 
– Assisting transactions in which it is clear that the origin of money is from illegal activities.
– Concealing the true nature, source or location of funds gathered from criminal activities and using it to purchase a property.
– Purchasing property on behalf of someone else who is involved in criminal
activities.
– Creating companies to create the appearance of legal activities while funding the activities of this company with funds that originated from illegal activities.

Terrorist financing
Let us begin with first understanding the seriousness of an act of terrorism.

An intentional act aimed to causing extensive destruction to a Government or public facility or an information system that is likely to endanger human life or result in major economic loss, is defined as a terrorist act. Terrorist act also include: attacks upon a person’s life which may cause death; attacks upon the physical integrity of a person or kidnapping or hostage taking.
“See articles 1 to 4 of Council Framework Decision 2002/475/JHA, https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=OJ:L:2002:164:FULL&from=EN

Sint Maarten is fortunate not to have been a victim to a major terrorist act as is seen daily in many countries in the world. However, there is a significant risk that terrorist organizations can make use of St. Maarten’s financial sector to finance terrorist activities in other countries. This risk then makes Sint Maarten liable (albeit indirectly) for facilitating their activities.

The common methods that are applied to launder money are also used to finance terrorism (see above).

This means that Sint Maarten, as an autonomous country within the Kingdom, has the responsibility of putting safeguards in place to prevent that the island is used to facilitate terrorist financing.

Measures to combat money laundering and terrorist financing
Above the simple and in many cases easy to monitor methods of money laundering and terrorist funding are listed. However it’s a lot more difficult to understand how this work. The people who create laws try to explain what measures should be taken and ends in rules that are hard to understand. This has as a result that, even if a financial institution wants to comply with the law they can not be sure if they are really following the law. This also creates room to willingly not apply the law. This grey area  is what needs to be further defined with updated laws, because this is the area where activities of criminals tend to be centered.

The international community takes this seriously. They will not wait on Sint Maarten to update their laws. With every passing day, money can be laundered, which could be used to finance terrorism by making use of the weaknesses in Sint Maarten’s financial sector.

What these international organizations do is what is referred to as de-risking. This means that they put Sint Maarten on a blacklist and advise financial institutions to make use of other countries for payment transactions.

These institutions will advise Sint Maarten on what to do, but they will not force Sint Maarten to do what needs to be done and work around Sint Maarten

The result of being placed on an international blacklist is that it becomes difficult for Sint Maarten to access the global financial markets. This results in a higher cost for every transaction on the island. Making it difficult to attract investors, which becomes difficult for the Government of Sint Maarten to make international financial agreements or for non-public companies to make agreements with the international community.

For the person on the road who is trying to make a living, it means that it becomes hard to get a loan and loans become more expensive. So for example, if you want to get a mortgage, it’s harder for you to qualify because international investors also fund banks and these investors will be reluctant to do business with Sint Maarten. It can also mean that credit card companies can make it difficult for tourists to use their credit cards on Sint Maarten. Which would result in loss of business.

So where do we go from here?
Sint Maarten needs to update its laws relating to anti-money laundering and terrorist financing as soon as possible or run the risk of being blacklisted by the international financial community.
It is impossible to outline the urgent need for updated laws relating to anti-money laundering and terrorist financing, in one article. So the Unleashed Potential Group Foundation will be releasing a series of articles that are meant to inform you about this complicated topic.

We will be addressing topics such as the importance of customer due diligence, (also known as “Know Your Customer” rules), onboarding of clients procedures, transaction monitoring and de-risking: The withdrawal of correspondent banking services.

This article was written by LLM. Carlvin Brooks

  • He is the Chairman of the Unleashed Potential Group
  • He has a master’s degree in Financial Law from the University of Leiden in the Netherlands.
  • He is a law teacher for the department of AD. Accountancy by the Rotterdam Academy (Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences).
  • He specializes in complex payment systems.
  • Born and raised on the island of Sint Maarten.

Carlvin Brooks was assisted by the following UPG members in the creation of this article:

Ms. Mechillen Hodge – Member of the Board of Directors and Secretary of UPG,
Ms. Solange Wilson – Communications Officer within UPG &
Ms. Jennifer Hodge – Customer Services Consultant within UPG.

 

What makes a good product – Part 1 of 2

Introduction

At UPG, we believe that (young) professionals want to return home after they have completed their studies. But returning home and knowing what steps to take are two different things. As (young) professionals, you had to learn how to live your life in someone else’s country and get used to its culture. For some of you, when you look at where you came from, you have no idea how you will fit back in when you return home.
At UPG, we want you to understand that the confusing feelings that you have are perfectly normal. For this reason, UPG is spending time finding ways to help you understand and overcome the barriers that are stopping you from going home. 

In our previous articles, we explained that we are putting our focus on companies because one of the top reasons why you don’t return home is because you don’t know where you will work. And if you can’t work, you won’t have the money to “live your best life” on the islands. So, we want to help you choose a company where you will feel at home. We first started by giving you an overview of what makes a good company. We then headed into, what makes excellent service, and now we are going to go deeper and jump into “What makes a good product?”.

What does my island have going for it?

Your island is a product. To make a difference, it begins with understanding what strengths your island has. We all came from the islands. In many cases, we know what needs to be improved because we see its issues and believe in the potential to enhance them. Now that we are living abroad, we see the islands from a different perspective. You are in an excellent position to see the island where you came from an outsiders view. It’s time for us to use that to our advantage. You are like a tourist and can see why tourists are attracted to your island. 

Why is this important? 

Because Caribbean islands make most of their money from tourism. The reality of this is, companies on the island cater directly or indirectly to the tourism industry. The islands have a desire to diversify their economies and are making steps in that direction, but at the moment, they are dependant on tourism, mainly from tourists on the island itself. Subconsciously, they think they don’t have another choice. If you look for a company that makes products for tourists, you are most likely going to find a company with lots of potential, and this is where you can make a difference.

How can you, as a young professional, make an impact?

Seeing that companies cater directly or indirectly to the tourism industry, means that there are many open doors when you want to return home. Many businesses need new ideas, for instance, to get them online to sell products via the Internet. Helping companies sell online will allow them to sell products to tourists before they even get to the islands. It also allows a tourist that loves a local product to order it online while they are in their respective countries.

A good example is Sint Maarten has Guavaberry liqueur. If you are living in the Netherlands and would like to purchase a bottle of Guavaberry, you will notice how hard it is to do so when you Google “Guavaberry kopen”. In my case, Google redirected me to a company in Belgium that exports Guavaberry liqueur to the Netherlands. On the one hand, I’m happy I can get my hands on Guavaberry, but on the other, it feels strange not getting that product directly from a company on Sint Maarten.

First point: What can I do?

The first step is understanding what your island’s strengths are. Getting an understanding means that you have to take the time out to attend events where people from your island are active. The more you keep in touch with people from your island, the easier it will be to keep up to date with developments. Being up to date will also help you to see opportunities, and most importantly, it will help you keep in touch with your network at home. So building a network is essential. 

At UPG, we spend time on helping our members find out what their passions are. For example, one of our members has an interest in products relating to the environment and sustainability. A better environment and sustainable development contribute to many things, including a better tourism product. These are ideas that are now under construction. So, we will look into ways to helping this member build a network of companies and organisations with similar interests.

We also have other members who see lots of potential in the restaurant industry on the islands, one who has experience in setting up webshops, another who sees things that can be improved in the area of healthcare, another who finds products that connect people with each other and another who sees potential with Sint Maarten developing its own financial products.

The different areas that were listed will help Sint Maarten develop. We encourage you to survey the island to see if someone is already active with an idea that is similar to yours. This way, you look for ways to improve the product that they have, and we can build on each other. There are many more areas that were not listed; these are the areas where you can contribute. We believe that if you create a network of people from our islands, we will keep up to date with what the islands’ strengths are and what they are doing to improve other areas. But remember, nothing happens if you don’t put in the work to do it.

When you have a great idea, it’s your responsibility to make sure it happens.


In part 2, we will discuss the second and third points: investmenting time and realizing what the main product is. Stay tuned!

What makes good ‘customer’ service?

 

Richard Branson once said, ‘If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers’. How often do we work for a company that has the opposite approach?

Some companies think in reverse. These companies have sayings such as: “The customer is always right”. Companies define customers as people who purchase goods or services from them. Although the customer is important, the biggest mistake a company can make is to put their entire focus on people on the outside.

The purpose of this article is to help companies prioritize and focus on the most important assets of their company. The first customers of a company are the employees. After all, if employees do not believe in a company, it will be foolish to think anyone else will. So this article will focus on true‘customer’ service.

One of the factors that discourage (young) professionals from returning to the island is not knowing where their next paycheck will come from. For the most, this feeling derives from not having job security. So, taking the time to study and highlight the important elements of companies, helps (young) professionals understand what they should look for and increases the chance of them returning. So, on one hand, we want to give them insight into the traits of good companies and on the other hand, we want to make it clear what kind companies UPG is willing to work with.

Below is a list of what makes good customer service. Companies who do one or more of these things have more satisfied employees and a good reputation. So, if you want to know if your future employer is providing good ‘customer’ service, read on!

Know your customer

Good service begins with knowing your employee base. Some employees feel invisible. They feel as if they are a replaceable piece of the puzzle. As if they can be replaced at any given moment. This happens when companies don’t invest time in getting to know their employees. Employees are people who have to deal with personal as well as professional challenges. Getting to know them and assisting them with these challenges will show them that you appreciate them. So, it pays off when companies get to know the skill-sets of their workers.

When it comes to strengths, there are different types:

Professional skills: This is the skill set that is needed to handle the job correctly. These are also known as hard skills.

Social skills: This is the ability to navigate social environments and build relationships with others.

Emotional skills: This refers to being able to handle pressure, to control your emotions and the ability to handle situations with empathy.

Helping employees develop their skills helps them function better and increases the value of your company. Companies need to remember that employees are not machines, they are human beings.

Think long term

A customer is for life. Developing your employees in a way that guarantees them a career within your company will keep them loyal. Not only loyal, but happy customers talk about your company to others which is always good. Because they feel appreciated, they will also show this in their interactions with their colleagues as well as the customers. Happy employees are also less likely to use passive moves like faking sickness to show dissatisfaction with their employers. In other words, happy employees are reliable employees.

Customer relationships

Have you ever called a company, explained your problem to them and then got transferred to someone else and had to do it again? How did that make you feel?

Most people find this irritating. Some hang up and never call back. This isn’t good for business!

A similar thing happens when an employee quits. The relationships that were created with that employee come to an end and needs to be continued by someone else.

If this happens frequently enough, the company will find itself losing its internal as external customers rapidly. But if you focus on making sure your employees are comfortable, they are less likely to leave, and your company will be able to benefit from their work experience and there will be a good work environment with positive energy. You need reliable employees to build reliable relationships.

Go the extra mile

First of all, it’s always important to do what you said you will do. This is the foundation for the services that are being offered. So, if you promise your employee a pay raise, then you should raise their salary if they did their part.

The companies that stand out, are the ones that keep their word and do more than what is expected of them. These are the companies that ask an employee for feedback and when they get it, create a new job description based on the employee’s feedback. These companies take the initiative and anticipate the next moves of their customers. Imagine working for a company that looks for ways to give you a promotion instead of making you beg for one? Would you want to work there?

Clear communication skills

Companies need to communicate clearly with their customers. Above, an example was given about giving an employee a raise in salary.

Good customer service means that the employer will be clear about the requirements to receive the raise.

  1. The company will take the initiative to set up a meeting with the ‘customer’.
  2. The goal of the meeting is to understand what the company can do better from the angle of the employee.
  3. The employer will then explain what the company can do to help the employee.
  4. The employer will also explain what the new salary will be based on the input of the employee. Small actions equal small pay increase. Innovate or creative actions equal a larger pay increase.

The goal of clearly communicating is to manage expectations. The employee has the freedom to adjust their job description. They will also have an understanding of what this means for their salary. If they are of the opinion that their efforts are not worth the pay raise, they can decide to remain doing their job. However, if they want more, they will know exactly what to do and what they will get in return.

Professionals (especially young professionals) living abroad have a lot to offer to their islands of origin. And it is also clear that they are not all returning. However, their views and thoughts change when they get help with choosing a company to work for, that wants them for what they are bringing to the table, and is also willing to invest in their ideas. These companies make a difference because they say “we don’t have the money to do something, but there is a way to get it done”. These are the types of companies who (young) professionals should look for. As for the (young) professionals, they can also use the list mentioned above to find a good company to work for. What we want to mention, is that not all companies do this, but by uniting as a group you will influence the business community.

The companies who are looking for good workers can use the tips mentioned above to help profile themselves. Companies who fail to adapt sooner or later, find themselves bankrupt. The companies who make a difference keep attracting the right ‘customers’.

So, as Richard Branson once said, ‘If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers’. Your employees are your first customers, so treat them right.