Caribbean change maker

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“Do a Google search for the term ‘Caribbean business’. I dare you.”

Daphne Ewing-Chow and I are having a conversation about Caribbean global “presence”. She is trying to get across the point that the English-speaking Caribbean is marginalized in global discourse about pertinent issues. I oblige her and do a search. The hits on the entire first page are of a Puerto Rican publishing company.

It is important to note that Daphne not only chose to be Barbadian, but she chose to identify as Caribbean. Both her mother’s and father’s sides of the family originate from Eastern Europe, and her father was a Holocaust survivor. Her parents and their families moved to Israel in their teens and migrated to the Caribbean later in life—Puerto Rico to be exact—where Daphne and her sister were born. The family would relocate to Barbados when she was four. The rest is history as she claims, “my nomadic heart finally found its home.”

“I remember when I was a little girl playing with Barbies and I’d take pieces of folder paper and fold them back and forth till they became little miniature Barbie-sized books and newspapers— and not just any books and newspapers— Barbie wrote these. That’s where it all began,” says Daphne about her “journey to writer”.

As a little girl, Daphne’s love for writing manifested itself in poetry anthologies that would later evolve into commentaries inspired by historical and cultural trends. But it was during her tertiary education that she really became aware and interested in what she says “was going on” around her.

“As an undergrad at University of Michigan, I became really conscious of how different I was…this white girl from the Caribbean in what to me appeared to be a very racially segregated academic setting. I was fascinated by the dynamics of people in the Diaspora, mostly from Africa and the Caribbean, and how they responded to various social and economic challenges.”

Daphne majored in African Studies and Sociology and went on to get a Master’s in International Affairs, from Columbia University in New York, specializing in International Economics with a focus on the unique issues of developing countries.

“After grad school, I bounced around in the finance sector—banking, consulting and venture capital,” she explains. “I had to go through an intense learning curve and I was hungry for knowledge….In my futile attempt to attain statistics and information on major developments in the Caribbean region, I began to notice that our countries and our people had been marginalized in mainstream discussions. Whenever I came across articles about us, they were either about our struggles or about our beaches, the sun, the sand—the Caribbean that the world likes to see. Most serious business articles about the Caribbean were locally-penned advertorials, begging outsiders to invest their money here. This is where my frustration was born.”

And, so, she began to write. “I wrote about everything and everyone that moved me. First it was the newspapers, then I wrote for local and regional magazines. MPeople was a major outlet for me, and the team there will always be family. Then I bought Living Barbados Magazine and started getting my work into the international market, writing for publications such as Elite Daily, Just Luxe, Elephant Journal and the Sunday Times of London. I had found my calling and I was so hungry to grow.”

“I knew I had to leave my day job,” Daphne continues. “I was heading up a venture capital fund and worked between Barbados and San Francisco. When the opportunity to move on presented itself, I never looked back. Today, because I took that leap and followed my passion, I am exponentially happier and earning more in a sector which is perceived to be dying but shows no signs of it from where I sit.”

Daphne’s writing would take her to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, where she served as the Communications Manager for CC4FISH, Climate Change Adaptation in the Eastern Caribbean Fisheries Sector project, an initiative funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

“Although my writing was already heavily influenced by environmental issues in the region, I really began to narrow my focus to food systems and sustainability, with all of the exposure that I was getting at the FAO,” she explains.

It was during this time that Daphne was contacted by an editor at Forbes who had seen her work. “He wanted to know whether I would be interested in becoming a contributor in the area of food, agriculture and sustainability, and for me it was just surreal. I didn’t believe it until I had the contract in my hands.”

Today, Daphne sits on the advisory board for the Caribbean American Maritime Foundation and is a trustee of not-for-profit, Dance4life. She also gives her time to a number of environmental charities and groups. This month, she will participate in the adjudication of a $3 million sustainability competition based in the United Arab Emirates, alongside Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin; Helen Munday, Chief of the Food & Drink Federation; H.E. Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, former President of the Republic of Iceland; and Dr Andreas Jacobs, Chairman of international business school INSEAD, among others. She was also selected as part of the Island Voices Journalism Campaign to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York, which takes place next month.

In early September she will be visiting Anaa, a tiny, coral-fringed, South Pacific atoll located in the Tuamoto archipelago that has been suffering from a struggling economy and declining local fish stocks. She will be learning how permaculture-based coral atoll agriculture processes and eco-tourism initiatives can help to resuscitate an ailing small island economy and will be reporting her findings via Food Tank, a US-based food think tank and the IMF magazine, Finance and Development.

“I’ve been given this amazing platform to share the stories of Caribbean entrepreneurs and change makers, to put us on the map and have us finally be seen for the talented, amazing, world-class leaders that we are,” she explains. “I don’t take that lightly.”

Follow Daphne on Forbes at www.forbes.com/sites/daphneewingchow

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