Creating Innovative Waves of Opportunity for Jamaican Youth

Speeches Shim

Monday, January 11, 2021
Meet Kristofferson Nunes, innovator and creator of University College Ambassadors (UCA) Jamaica, a youth marketing and job placement agency connecting university and vocational students with corporate Jamaica.
Courtesy of Kristofferson Nunes

Even as a child, Kristofferson Nunes knew he looked at the world differently — a trait his father encouraged.

“My dad told me to follow my heart,” says the now 26-year-old. “I was always considered the weird one, out of the bunch of my friends. While my friends wanted to be lawyers and doctors, I never felt led to follow that traditional path.”

Being a free spirit, however, comes with challenges. Kristofferson initially struggled to find a career path at university. After failing his first year of computer science classes, he knew it was time for a change. “I was drifting,” he admitted.

After seeking guidance from one of his professors, Kristofferson realized his true passion pointed him in the direction of the business sector. He changed his major to focus on economics, his grades improved, and, in his final year of university, Kristofferson had his “aha” moment that would eventually lead him to USAID.

While many of his fellow students and peers were having trouble finding jobs, he saw a different path. “I recognized that there was a gap in the market for students who wanted to work while on campus, but could not readily find the jobs,” said Kristofferson.

The answer? Kristofferson started his company, University College Ambassadors (UCA) Jamaica. His concept: a youth marketing and job placement agency connecting university and vocational students with corporate Jamaica. “I created this online community as a central platform where both students and organizations were able to find the right match, and the students become Ambassadors for the organizations they were working for,” he explained.

Kristofferson focused on social media and organic press coverage to recruit more than 95 percent of his talent pool of “Ambassadors,” who he then marketed to corporate businesses in Jamaica looking for part-time and full-time employees.

Through successful recruiting, news coverage, and professional referrals, UCA Jamaica began to steadily grow. However, Kristofferson knew that in order to evolve — both himself and his company — he needed additional support.

Collaboration and Expansion

During a conversation with Kadeem Petgrave, CEO of EducaToursJA, and another young entrepreneur beneficiary of the USAID program, Kristofferson learned about the USAID-supported Social Enterprise Boost Initiative (SEBI), implemented by the JN Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Jamaica National Group. The SEBI program helps microenterprises increase employment, investment, and revenue within target communities across Jamaica in a socially responsible manner.

Through the SEBI business accelerator program, Kristofferson was able to visit and learn from American innovators based in Silicon Valley.

“It was an eye opener for me, as a lot of my questions were answered. But what stood out the most was their methodology of collaborating, rather than competing against one another,” said Kristofferson. “They were very transparent and keen on sharing their resources. I even had the opportunity to visit Google headquarters, and to this day, I carry around the book they gave me, How Google Works, and apply it to my own business.”

Following his partnership with USAID, Kristofferson was able to apply the knowledge he learned through the project to grow his business exponentially. UCA Jamaica expanded its services beyond Jamaica, where it had already gathered a strong talent pool of 2,000 students, to reach 6,000 youth from across the Caribbean — including from Trinidad & Tobago, Barbados and Guyana — and even some from the United States.

What is the key to Kristofferson’s success? Adaptability and innovation. In 2020, he had to use both of these elements when dealing with the unforeseen economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

With Every Challenge Comes Opportunity

At first, the outlook was bleak. “COVID-19 had completely wiped out 80 percent of our revenue stream, which was from face-to-face events. So we had to rethink our innovation, go back to the drawing board, and think about what new skills we can offer people,” Kristofferson explained.

However, he soon learned that his success and reputation as a reliable recruiting resource for skilled workers would prove to be the clutch during COVID-19.

Shortly after the pandemic began, companies began reaching out to Kristofferson, requesting students with specific skill sets that could be performed remotely. “People came to us asking for researchers, data analytics, project managers, jobs that could be done regardless of location. Our satellite database could track the students, match them to the jobs as well as mobilize them. We tweaked our platform to fit the current situation more focused on a youth data center,” he said.

While COVID-19 has been challenging, it has also prompted UCA Jamaica to diversify its portfolio. The firm now offers training and development under its new partnership with Lasco Jamaica, a local food and beverage organization. The aim is to train young people to become e-commerce/digital entrepreneurs.

Kristofferson is proud of the impact he’s having on Jamaica youth.

Student Nicholas Dowd, who has received work through UCA Jamaica, called the experience “a game changer.” In fact, he has started his own business venture called D3 Draping, an event decor and set up company.

“I started … to earn a little extra money while going to school,” he said, “…but instead I learned some of the most important lessons in life. I’ve learned how to network, how to market myself and my business, and I’ve also met a lot of business gurus who have been beneficial to my development.”


About the Author

Kimberley Weller is the Senior Development and Outreach Communications Specialist for USAID’s Mission in Jamaica.