Martin Klôwè- Bordeaux
Okera Duncan is a young Trinidadien student entrepreneur of 21 years old.
Engaged into an International and Sustainable business bachelors at the University of the West Indies, Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business he has created his own company- Sapienza Educational Service- in march 2019.
He described himself as a courageous and creative, passionate by languages and travels. Okera is also president of the student society CGMT initiative (Caribbean Global Multicultural Task Force Initiative) which promoted culturs and languages by their practice.
What is Sapienza Educational Services? And what inspired you to create it?
I came up with the idea in 2018. I started out by doing crash courses and exam prep sessions for students who were doing CAPE Spanish and French exams. I reflected on the experience later that year and thought about pursuing this business type further. With advancements in technology increasing every day, it only made sense that my business involved moving in this direction. One of the things that Sapienza does is to provide online Spanish classes with Native Speakers from various Latin American countries.
My business is still in its early stages and as of the moment of this interview, I am redesigning the course to make it more efficient and beneficial for both students and teachers. I would also like to create more electronic resources as well as other come up with new ways to provide in-person immersive learning experiences. I also want to help equip business owners with resources and skills to be able to market their products to non-English speakers as well as to appeal to the Caribbean at large and Latin America. The population of Venezuelans in Trinidad is increasing and I think it is important for more Trinidadians to become bilingual. It is also important for me to deepen ties with the French Speaking West Indies as I have a special preference for the French language.
What does the ‘sustainable’ part of your degree mean? How many people are there in this programme? Is this programme open to international students?
It signifies creating businesses which will be viable in the future and that would take all aspects of society (environment, legal and political structure etc.) into consideration. Climate change is real and we are feeling its effects. It is the duty of the younger generations now to rewrite the ills of our predecessors and take our natural environment much more seriously. It is a new programme that started in September 2018 and we are the first set of students who are studying it thus far. It is mostly made up of students from Trinidad and some from Tobago and there are approximately forty of us. It is expected to double in size in the upcoming year. Regional and International students I presume can definitely join the programme but of course it is taught completely in English.
How did you manage to learn a foreign language and why were you interested in this?
I studied both French and Spanish from 1st to 6th form, however it was in 6th form that I really became proficient. I think solely studying foreign languages at university can limit a person if it is not paired with some other study such as international relations, global studies, or any other field, etc. I had no previous knowledge in business because I did not study it at the secondary level. However, studying business for the first time now is fun and exciting and I’m using my knowledge to create opportunities in the field of foreign languages and culture which is a passion of mine.
In Trinidad and Tobago, many students who study a foreign language believe they will be able to work for the United Nations (UN) but it is not so simple. Careers at the UN require you to be proficient in much more areas such as economics, politics and history. I eventually want to create exciting employment opportunities for students who leave university with a foreign language degree so that with added skills they can lead some exciting careers using their language/s as assets.
I am aware that other languages exist in Trinidad such as a local Hindi, English-based creole and even French-based creole. Is that where you gained your interest in languages?
I think it just came naturally to me. It’s just something that I’m good at. In Trinidad, we call our French-based creole ‘Patois’ however, it is a dying language. Last year, I took a course on it where I was able to learn the basics of the language. I found it very fascinating and generally I am interested in languages of Caribbean origin like Papiamento, Haitian Creole and Sranan Tongo. I do not know much about the Hindi dialect, except that it did exist and could possibly still exist among older generations.
So, a person would not be able to hear local Hindi spoken in the street?
No, definitely not. Even in the case of the French-based creole, which used to be more widely spoken. A person would have to go to specific parts of the island in order to hear certain languages. There is a town called Paramin which predominantly spoke French creole and there are still a few Patois Speakers there today. There is an old couple in their nineties that I know who speak Patois fluently but aside from them, the speakers are few. Most young people don’t even know about the Patois and if they do, have very little interest in learning it.
How did you get the network started? You previously mentioned working with native Spanish speakers, how did you manage that?
I went online and created adverts in various Facebook groups. I started by recruiting people who wanted to teach Spanish. They filled out an online registration form as well as submitted short videos in Spanish introducing themselves. After this, persons were chosen based on their competences and experience and hired.
How is Sapienza financed? Are the tutors paid for their services?
Yes, my tutors are definitely paid. I start by offering a free thirty-minute trial so students will be able to have an idea of what the class entails before they decide. However, the tutors are paid and I receive a service charge.
Do you receive funding from the government or any other organisations to help with your business?
No but this is something that I may want to work on in the future. There are initiatives on campus to offer advice as to how a person can improve and finance their business and I am trying to take advantage of all the support so that when I’m ready to take that step, I’ll be well informed. I have started informally making partnerships for my business however by exploring and seeking out like-minded individuals and organizations.
Why did you choose to call your business Sapienza Educational Services? How much does each session cost?
The name Sapienza is Italian and I found it while I was studying a bit of the language. It is the name of a university in Italy and it signifies wisdom or knowledge. I think it is quite fitting in relation to the theme of education and will definitely be my brand name.
I currently charge an hourly rate of USD $14.00 per hour for one on one Spanish Sessions with my tutors which includes all course materials and exams which are taken as part of the course as well. Students get a full package and immersive experience that is sure to kick start and improve their Spanish Proficiency.
What were the difficulties in creating a company? How does a person create a company in Trinidad and Tobago? What is the process?
The process of creating a business is quite simple and the type I registered is the most basic one. I created a ‘Sole Trader’ business which means I am legally responsible for the business. Firstly, a bit of research is done to find out if the name chosen for the business is already taken. After its been established that the name is unique, it can be reserved and obtained followed by registering the business. The client may then fill in all the necessary information: a summary of the business and the location after which, a fee is paid. After receiving a date, the client returns for the business registration.
The option of a partnership is also available where two or more persons may create a business and jointly share legal responsibilities. There is also a “Limited Liability Company” (LLC) which is the structure a lot of businesses take after having reached a particular level. This is a system where there are directors and people can have shares in the company. It is also the type of business structure where the people involved would not be legally responsible for the business itself. For example, if the business should declare bankruptcy, the bank would not seize any possessions from the directors or shareholders but the enterprise and its assets would be responsible for all of the costs and expenses.
Submitting others documents like articles of incorporation etc for an LLC is required but in theory it should not be a difficult process.
A little more about the Caribbean aspect. You mentioned that you are a part of a Caribbean society. Why do you believe we should strengthen integration? And why do you think it is important to lessen the language barrier?
I think the Caribbean has so much potential. We are diverse and we have so much history, I also think we are very talented. I don’t think this potential is being used to its fullest extent. As for the language Barrier, here in Trinidad and Tobago, we don’t know much about the French-speaking Caribbean. We know that it exists but we don’t know much about the culture etc. and this is mainly because of the language barrier. I assume the situation is similar in those countries. It is also the same for the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. The situation has improved; however, it is still new for Trinidadians to really be acquainted.
I think our cultures are similar and I remember in my secondary school, Queen’s Royal College, we had an week-long exchange programme between Trinidad and Martinique where some students at a popular “lycee” in Martinique came to visit. The Martinican students fit in so well with their host families, the only difference was that they spoke French and we spoke English. It was it this point that I realised that culturally, the martinican youths were just like us trinis in terms of their interests, social media usage, fashion, music, etc. The only difference between us, was language. If we could lessen the language barrier, there would be more opportunities for collaboration.
Back to the Caribbean society that you mentioned that you were a part of. Can you give us the name and explain the aim of it?
Okay, so it is called the Caribbean Global Multicultural Task Force Initiative or C.G.M.T Initiative. It promotes the study and practice of Caribbean culture in addition to studying other global cultures. It is a new society and an objective is to learn as much as possible about Caribbean countries as well as Latin America as well as strengthen our identity as Caribbean people. We intend to study the foreign and creole-based languages in the region as well as music, dance, art, food, fashion, drama and all other cultural art forms.
We all have different passions and gifts and talents. Whatever yours may be, it is important to follow it. The transition to university is quite turbulent for a lot of people because of uncertainty and pressure from parents. However, I think it is important to choose something fulfilling. I also believe, despite a person’s field of study, you can turn anything into a business. Anything can become an entrepreneurial opportunity. Choosing a degree that you are not passionate about offers no real reward in the end.