Jerome Cowans: "Continue the change"
Jerome Cowans: "Continue the change"
Jerome Cowans has been an activist for half his life and was personally praised by Barack Obama. After his year as a Queen’s Young Leader, he is spreading the learning from the Leading Change course and using his new skills to advise his government.
At 13 years of age, Jerome Cowans co-founded Leaders Endeavouring for Adolescent Development (LEAD), which provides personal development opportunities for young people.
By 2014, LEAD had expanded to Columbia. Jerome had won several awards and been widely recognised. But, he values the Queen’s Young Leaders Award above all these because “it has helped me develop personally.”
Jerome decided to replicate the first module with the LEAD Youth Group, and chose seven of his team to form a mentorship group. It was a mixed group, all under 25, including two girls who were still in high school. He personally mentored each member of the group, but they all met together on Saturdays in the town hall.
“I did all the activities from the first session. I literally had the Queen’s Young Leaders banner up and left it in the town hall. We just did the same thing – watched the same videos.”
This created a bond between Jerome and the individuals in the mentorship group. “If you can effectively change ten persons, those ten persons continue the change.”
This idea was reinforced when Jerome met his mentor, Graham Ruddick, who told him to “create about seven to ten Jeromes”.
Over the year he was a Queen’s Young Leader, Jerome won a Chevening Scholarship to study at Birmingham University, in the UK, for an MSc in Management. Of course he was delighted, but he was also concerned that leaving Jamaica for a year would make it difficult to maintain contact with LEAD.
"We want peace!" Image credit: Tyrone Simms
While he was completing his MSc in Birmingham, he continued to mentor the “ten Jeromes”.
“I had ten persons that I was just skyping, helping with school work. There was a point where I was even able to help financially.” When he returned to Jamaica, Jerome was delighted to find them “still very much on track” running LEAD.
“If they need like fundraising tips or if they need a special contact with sponsors, I get on board,” he says, “But outside of that, they’re running the clubs. They’re increasing membership and they’re just doing a fantastic job.”
LEAD is also working in partnership with Rise Life Management Services where Jerome has secured a job as a junior manager. “So I still oversee the youth group but now from a more structured role.”
After starting the new job on 1 November, Jerome is working on a European Union funded project to identify ten community based organisations (CBOs) that are trying social entrepreneurship. The selected projects will receive training from January 2017, at the end of which two will get a grant from the EU.
As part of his role, he is also organising a youth empowerment and parenting conference with a big budget, called Man Up. It focuses especially on getting men to play a more active role in parenting and youth development. “I’ve gotten a couple of million dollars to spend. It’s a huge responsibility – I feel really honoured,” says Jerome.
Queen’s Young Leaders Advisory Panel
Jerome was invited to join the Queen’s Young Leaders Advisory Panel in 2016. He says that this experience was very valuable and fed into his new role at Rise Life Management Services – particularly in selecting CBOs.
“You have to ensure that these issues are met, these donors are satisfied. There’s a balance as relates to sexes. There’s a balance of issues.” He adds that while in the UK taking part in the Advisory Panel, he took plenty of notes which he brought back to Jamaica.
Advising the Jamaican government
The Jamaican government recently started a new Youth Advisory Board and has selected 16 youth leaders from across the island, including Jerome, for the two-year initiative.
“We’re going to each be assigned to one ministry,” Jerome explains. “Our role is to ensure that the youth issues are represented in huge meetings. So for example we’ll be going into meetings with investors from China.”
Jerome Cowans with the Jamaican Prime Minister, the Most Honourable Andrew Michael Holness, ON, MP
The inauguration ceremony for the Youth Advisory Board took place on 22 November 2016. Jerome has been assigned to the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information for the first year and to the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce for the second.
“This council is one of the very few things all of Jamaica can agree on,” says Jerome. “Many feel it is a big step forward for youth development in the country and I am so humbled to be a part of it.”