Interview with: Jessica Dias
Location: Espargos, Sal
Interviews and conversations I've had with different entrepreneurs from the two largest cities in Cape Verde, Praia and Mindelo, have shown we have an exciting and fast growing tech scene in the country. These two cities seem to be growing every day, with people from surrounding places and islands choosing to leave home for the opportuntites of the big city.
Think about students from Fogo and Maio, who decide to stay in Praia after finishing college. Or students from Santo Antão and São Nicolau who make the same choice after finishing school in the city of Mindelo. The beauty of the developments in tech is that the future can look very different. We're seeing a worldwide shift in how people work, with employees of small and very large companies working from home full time.
Different web- and mobile apps solve the problem of communication with both colleagues and customers. This means that the issue we see today where people have to leave their villages and towns for jobs in the big cities can become something of the past. The growth of Praia and Mindelo can be seen as positive for Cape Verde, but the stagnation of many different smaller communties of our country certainly are not.
The young tech scene in Cape Verde offers opportuntites for techhubs that can grow and develop anywhere, and can create an impulse for places where many young people have decided to leave in recent years. In my search for young entrepreneurs I've found that there's still a lot of places in our country where tech doesn't play a role of importance.
Although the Startup Weekend events are being held across the country, there aren't many projects that are truly able to put a product on the market. In my opinion this has to do with a lack of mentorship and investment. As I've said before, this is a huge challenge, but is also offers amazing opportunities.
The Sonvela Social Impact Investing project is not just about the tech & startup scene in Cabo Verde. That's why I'm very happy with todays interview with a young and multi-talented entrepreneur from Sal. Unlike other places in our country, Sal definitely does not have the issue of losing its population. The tourism sector has turned it into a destination for job seekers. But Covid-19 hit the island extremely hard, together with Boa Vista.
Jessica (26) was born and raised on the island of Sal, in Espargos. Like thousands of Cabo Verdeans, until a few months ago she worked at a hotel. When she lost her job, she had to be creative in her search for an income. The fact that she has different talents and her mentality have helped her trough this though time. Now she's working on setting up her own business.
Jessica, please tell us something about yourself and how you got started?
I've been working with clothes since I was 14 years old. I used to make my own shorts at home, bu using a needle and thread. I remember my mom hated my first creation, and threw it away the moment I showed it to her.
Since then I've always tried to be creative when it comes to what I wear. It's something that I've enjoyed doing from the the beginning. In all those years I kept working with needle and thread, but that is no problem. I started getting requests from friends and other people I know. I also did some work for the local carnival group. School was never my thing, no matter how hard I tried. So, when I was 17 I went to work in my father's store. After that I worked in a hotel.
You can imagine how hard Covid-19 hit the island. Like many others, I lost my job as well and I had to think of something fast. Besided working with clothes I use my creativity to work as a manucirist, pedicurist and also a make-up artist. Using these different skills have allowed me to get by in these last couple of months, despite the situation were facing.
I've always wanted a sewing machine to be able to work better and faster. A while back I saw on Facebook that the CSD Foundation had gifted a sewing machine to someone on the island of São Nicolau. I was able to get in touch with Noy, one of the founders of CSD. I showed her some of my work, and said that having a machine would make me very happy.
What plans do you have for the future?
I hope to start creating my own line of clothes some day, which I would present to the public by doing a beautiful fashion show. A dream I have is to one day open my own studio, where all my creations could come to life.
For now I'm focused on the jobs I can get here and there. I'm working on a job for the CSD Foundation at the moment, making 100 environmentally friendly bags which they can use while distributing food across the island. A great opportunity for me to show my skills.
I hope I can get a nice table for my machine soon, that would make it possible for me to work outside as well. Being a bit more 'visible' around town will probably bring in more jobs for me.
Covid-19 has shown us how fast things can change for large groups of people. Although thousands of Cabo Verdeans work in the tourism sector on the island of Sal and Boa Vista, we can all see how vulnerable the situation is when the focus for developing the nation is on one sector only.
There has been a lot of criticizm from different parts of our communities (both inside the country and abroad) when it comes to working conditions and other subjects, but the big question probably remains what our country would look like today without the huge investments and efforts of large foreign enterprises.
I've written about the interesting opportunity that exists especially around the most popular tourist destinations of Cabo Verde, where we could work to create a tech scene capable of solving (small) issues that I'm sure can be found within the industry.
Another important factor is that it would create options for a group of young people who now only have a job in tourism as a possibility. Accepting any type of working conditions is simply part of participating in a tight job market. The islands of Sal and Boa Vista are more than a tourist destination, and are also places where you'll find many talented and ambitious young people with dreams they want to achieve.
Until a few months ago Jessica did not have a sewing machine to work on, but now she's dreaming of making her own creations and one day opening her own studio. I truly believe we can work together to see thousands of Cabo Verdeans achieve the life of their dreams. We just need to use our imagination more than we do today.
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Sonvela Social Impact Investing