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How a financial educator in Jamaica perseveres through adversity 
June 29, 2020

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By Jewelle Saunders

2018 YLAI Fellow Kenishia Mais, founder of ThrivingDollars, a financial education platform designed to empower young adults with the tools and resources they need to make smarter decisions, has had to face a lot of adversity on her path to financial success and entrepreneurship. Kenishia is working hard to inspire others to persevere and fight for the future that they want.

In celebration of Kenishia’s commitment to resilience, we asked her to answer a few questions about how she has found perseverance by overcoming challenges on the way to her success.

What are some challenges you’ve faced as an entrepreneur?

Building and running a business in a developing country comes with its fair share of challenges. Personally, my challenges have included the lack of, or limited access to, quality entrepreneurial tools and resources, and difficulty accessing business loans and capital, which has forced me to bootstrap my entrepreneurial ventures.

Can you expand on where you got your passion for entrepreneurship?

For as long as I can remember, all I wanted to be was an entrepreneur and to be financially secure. My very first foray into entrepreneurship was at 11 or 12 years old when I started an after-school manicure/pedicure business on my verandah, and began more side-hustles in school, selling candy and mobile credit.

I carried that discipline during my schooling and eventually taught myself how to properly budget my school money in order to hit my savings goals. I loved having the freedom and options that money provided and being highly organized and analytical by nature, I became obsessed with recording and keeping track of my money – every single dollar earned, saved and spent.

After leaving my first job at age 20, I attempted to start two small businesses, but both failed miserably before even getting off the ground because of the high costs of importing goods to Jamaica. I had no guidance at the time, so I didn’t know my ideas weren’t feasible and it was a very expensive lesson learned.

I put my ambitions of becoming an entrepreneur on pause for a couple of years until finally walking away from the corporate world in March 2014. I had no game plan and barely any money left in savings, but I was determined to take another chance on myself.

Read more on Kenishia’s journey to entrepreneurship here

What issues in your community drove you to create ThrivingDollars?

I was exposed to domestic abuse in and around my community and eventually started to recognize some patterns. The women at the hands of the abuse would often not leave their relationship because they could not afford to, and familial financial support trumped action against abusers.

Having experienced that level of trauma firsthand, and realizing how widespread and rampant this can be across Jamaican society, I made a commitment early on to find ways to empower women to walk away from relationships and situations they were financially trapped in and be financially literate and secure on their own. Though ThrivingDollars serves both men and women, we mainly take a women-centric approach to financial education, which has resulted in our audience now being 82% female.

What is it like to be a female entrepreneur in your community?

Being a female entrepreneur in Jamaica means having to work twice as hard to achieve just as much as, and sometimes even less than, my male counterparts.

I have found that access to certain spaces is either limited or restricted altogether. Being a woman in leadership is a never-ending uphill battle — one that I continue to persevere through.

What is your approach when facing adversity?

When I am dealing with adversity, my method is this: pivot. When things start falling apart or simply not going as planned, I repeat the phrase: “Pivot: What’s my next best step?” to myself over and over.

Doing this is a sort of mental exercise that prevents me from panicking and instead allows me to think of potential solutions. Not a perfect or even the right one, just the next best one that will help me to continue moving forward and maintain momentum. If I can keep moving, I can maintain control. Missteps make for great lessons in learning how to thrive.


The views and opinions expressed here belong to the author or interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of the YLAI Network or the U.S. government.

Este artículo está disponible en español.