Jo-Ann is the Founder of Rare Birds, an online magazine and lifestyle platform, which celebrates women entrepreneurs in developing economies. She was born and raised in St. Croix, Virgin Islands to parents from St. Kitts and Nevis. She self identifies as a West Indian. Jo-Ann is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., Cass Business School in London and Kingston University also in London. Her professional and cultural experiences span continents, having worked in North America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.
Prior to founding RareBirds, she worked in the corporate world in the property and construction industry for a decade. Alongside having a full time career in the above mentioned, she worked as a freelance writer and later as an independent consultant to social enterprises. She is currently teaching and guest lecturing at various academic institutions around the globe. Additionally, she acts as a mentor, advisor and champion to various global communities and women entrepreneurs around the world.
Some of these communities include the United Nations Women (UN Women) Empower Women community based in NYC, the ALL Ladies League and Women’s Economic Forum, both based in India and the Fabulous Fempreneurship community based in Canada.
Jo-Ann is an avid cyclist and runner, dedicate hiker and nature lover, sustainability enthusiast, faithful writer, aspiring yogi, ardent traveler and burgeoning gardener. She’s been a vegan for 24 years and counting, so when she’s not engaged in the aforementioned you can find her in the kitchen, experimenting with vegan dishes!
We are not intended as a transactional species, we are intended to be more. We are builders, creators, motivators and allies in creating better living for all, in any way we can. An empowered person understands this.
For me women empowerment is knowing who you are, knowing what you want, understanding your purpose and your strengths and bringing it all together to contribute to creating a better you and impacting those around you. An empowered woman first and foremost understands her position in the world and lives from a place of depth driven by an unwavering commitment to uplift herself and those around her.
The work I am involved with now happen to me and I really believe for me as it came to me at a time when I needed change. I always say this life chose me and I am pleased it did because it has changed me and I really believe it is one of the things I was put on earth to do. I remember being at work one day thinking about everything but work, as I found myself doing often. I was imagining another life, with me running my own business and really pursuing what I wanted to do. I started reaching out and attending various events and I always felt left out. That was the impetus for Rare Birds. It all began with me and my desire to without sounding cliché spread my wings. After not being able to identify a community that worked for me, I felt compelled to start my own. This was in July 2014 and there has been no turning back since then. I quit my entire corporate career in December 2014 and here we are now three years later going from impact to impact! The biggest risk I took was investing and believing in myself by creating Rare Birds (formerly SecretBirds). It has completely transformed my life and set the foundation for many more projects.
I think there are definitely some key traits that an empowered individual has. And I want to stress that these are not inherent to an individual, they can be developed and shaped. I begin by saying, at times we often wonder why some people succeed and some don’t. We wonder why others always seem to be in a place where good things are happening to them. It is all about mindset. I believe an empowered person has a mindset, which is growth oriented. Said person wants to be developed, they want to know and learn and more importantly evolve, they want to be challenged, they want to feel uncomfortable. They do not shy away from pain, they accept it, grow within it and become better because of it. I also believe that other key traits are the ability to take risks, identify opportunities, feel fear but not let it hinder and as I mentioned above, have a strong sense of who they are. It is really difficult to feel empowered if you do not know who you are!
It is very easy to want to empower, when we are not empowered ourselves. Leaders and individuals in positions of power need to continuously be questioning themselves and their own capabilities. They need to be held accountable and be pushed in their own way. We can’t lead anyone if we are not leading in our own lives. It is also very important that when we speak of empowerment we not impose our own ideals on others. We have to allow others to become the empowered persons they want to be and define it on their own terms. The job of the leader is to facilitate that by creating space with opportunities for the individual to do that.
I am not one for advice because I think we all have to live our own path and what works for me, may not necessarily be what works for others. We all need to find our own way. That said, listen to your intuition. There is always a voice inside whispering and so many of us have not been taught how to pay attention. All of the answers come from this place. Every level of empowerment needed is inside of us. We can be surrounded by 100 empowered individuals telling us how great we are and creating opportunities for us but until we take that first step by believing we are, then it is pointless. That first step involves retrospection. It means having those long discussions with ourselves, it involves being alone and figuring out who we are. I think this is the first step, once we do this, things begin to surface and point us in the right direction. Then all of a sudden the right opportunities and people come in and changes begin. It all begins with the self, it truly is an inside job!