Former Festival Queen Lanisia Rhoden’s passion meets purpose

3 years ago

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Lanisia Rhoden became one to watch when she broke onto the scene as reigning Festival Queen for Manchester in 2009. 

A fresh out of UTech, food service management grad at the time, her youthful exuberance and passion for building up her fellow young Jamaicans won the hearts of corporate companies and citizens alike. But more importantly, it was a pivotal start to her realizing her dream to leave a lasting impact on other young minds and to make a living while doing it.

“At the time, I was actually an instructor with the Heart Trust NTA, and I had quite a number of female students in my class who had encountered different challenges and didn’t have anyone to talk to or any guidance to achieve their career goals.” said Lanisia. 

Quick-witted with an already active presence in her community, Lanisia met the competition’s community service requirements by formalizing that organic mentorship experience into an NGO.

It was a rapidly successful initiative called Young Men and Women of Purpose – garnering corporate support and harking on the conscience of proud Jamaican professionals islandwide who joined on as volunteers. 

The competition’s community service project usually lasts a year however, Lanisia mused,

“because of the impact that the organization created, and the support that I was getting, we were able to grow and expand the programs that we were offering.” This experience helped her realize that offering young people career mentorship was her passion and she wanted to do it full time. 

But that required resources – time, funds, and other willingly brave souls who, like her, thought it was worth their time to invest in the development of other young Jamaicans. And finding these resources, especially the funds, would bring her many a challenge. Yet still, she felt compelled to go on. 

“I got the Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship to pursue a Masters in the UK in Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship. While studying there I was exposed to social enterprises and I actually ended up doing my research on how NGOs can become sustainable by creating social enterprises.” 

From there, the seed that had been planted sprouted even further. After doing her Masters in 2012, she and her group of dedicated volunteers put another 3 years into building a social enterprise out of Young Men and Women of Purpose. They wanted a sustainable way to career guidance and mentorship, using technology.

Lanisia was fiercely persistent through it all; the process becoming a whirlwind of travel, study, sacrifice and a dedication to seeking and seizing every opportunity afforded her

In 2015, in a fellowship program in Germany, she built out the business plan for the social enterprise. And after returning home, she sought out even more support, such as from the JN Foundation through their social enterprise boost initiative. 

“That really helped us to develop the first prototype to do some testing in schools through high school tours. Then last year we actually got the global innovator grant from Expo Live, as part of the Expo 2020, which has allowed us to get to this point of really upgrading what we had built and ready to launch it and put it out there.”

In 2021, she and her team finally did it. “Link Your Purpose” went live and it has been a merging of technology with the NGO young women and men of purpose. 

Years after the idea first emerged, it is now a fully operational career development website with key features like online mentorship, a uniquely developed “career quiz” to help broaden student’s scope of choices, and a built in career tracker populated with opportunities galore – scholarships, institutions and relevant courses, jobs and so on. The website targets high schoolers whom Lanisia believes are generally lacking in career guidance. She hopes to attract at the very least 10,000 users and grow into the Caribbean space in the future.

She was led down a strange if travelled path to exploring how to remain sustainable without totally depending on grant funding. It’s my passion and I wanted to do it full time and there were other volunteers who wanted to do this full time. 

As she reminisced on the journey, she pointed out that her own path to success has not been easy. From studying and initially working in hospitality to rapidly becoming disillusioned with that industry, she’d have been forced to try new things and to fumble along the way. 

And maybe she needed to travel the long road to success but she says that her hope for Link Your Purpose is to now make that journey a little bit better, a little bit clearer, a little bit faster for the generations of students to come.

She’s realized her two passions – entrepreneurship and pouring into the academic and personal wellbeing of other young Jamaicans – so she’ll continue exposing students to a world of career paths and how they can successfully get there with Link Your Purpose.