Unimaginable Gratitude: The JEDI Challenge

As we approach Thanksgiving week and the 2021 holiday season, The Parker Avery Group wrapped up what may be the most important project in our firm’s almost 15 years. It wasn’t for a multibillion-dollar global retailer. It wasn’t a strategic supply chain software implementation spanning multiple time zones. Nor was it an advanced analytics project with artificial intelligence.

It was much more important.

Over the course of the last few months, several Parker Avery team members devoted their time, skills, enthusiasm, and energy to a project that will directly impact the lives of six young Jamaican entrepreneurs and the community of Chapelton, Jamaica. Sparked by Parker Avery’s relationship with the Retail Orphan Initiative (RetailROI), our team built and delivered an intensive, five-week course to teach these six enterprising businesspeople how to develop and present a full business plan. We aspiringly named this effort the “JEDI Challenge” (Jamaican Entrepreneurs Delivering Innovation).

The JEDIs ranged from ages 17 to early 20’s, and their businesses included a social shopping platform, a poultry farm, a cosmetics company, a bakery, a children’s home, and a lip balm company. As we went through the course, the diversity of businesses and personalities among the JEDIs was truly enjoyable to watch unfold. Further, their collective attention to the course material and homework requirements was impressive. But even more impressive was the resilience these six young people exhibited to persevere through constant connectivity issues, house fires, and electricity blackouts (among other issues that would make many young people want to just give up).

As I mentioned, the course was intense. We met twice a week at night for five straight weeks (remotely), and we gave them a lot of homework. And we weren’t easy on the JEDIs. Our team of instructors (the “JEDI Council”) gave them honest, constructive criticism, which the JEDIs took with grace, and we encouraged each of these young entrepreneurs to speak up during class.

The class culminated in the sixth week, where each JEDI was given 45 minutes to present their business plan to a panel of judges, which included Greg Buzek, founder of RetailROI, along with members of the Parker Avery team. We patterned the format of these presentations after the show “Shark Tank,” but eliminated the equity stake (and the snarky commentary), and we simply awarded funding to help start or grow the businesses.

After scoring the JEDIs based on pre-defined criteria and discussing the results—very similar to our approach to system selection projects—the judges determined the first place JEDI: a once shy, insecure teenager who developed her own skincare line in the spirit of boosting the confidence of individuals while promoting self-love and the appreciation for natural beauty. Not only did this 18-year-old complete every homework assignment on time and completely, but her confidence and energy during her final presentation was absolutely captivating.

It would be an understatement to say the Parker Avery JEDI Council is grateful for the opportunity to get to know these six young entrepreneurs. There were several moments throughout the final presentations where I am certain there was not a dry eye behind any screen.  I am personally grateful to work for a company that not only supported this initiative financially, but also had a team of consultants who worked as tirelessly on this volunteer initiative as they would on a client project.  The effort and enthusiasm that our JEDI Council put forward to make this project a success was nothing short of awesome, and I couldn’t be prouder and more appreciative of this firm.

So, thank you, RetailROI for the partnership and striking the match last January when we initially sponsored SuperFriday and began the conversations that led to this highly successful conclusion. Thank you, Fergus Simpson Foundation for being our ambassadors and Jamaican liaison before and throughout the JEDI Challenge. Thank you, Parker Avery leadership, for being a firm I am blessed and so grateful to work for.

And most of all, thank you to our first class of JEDIs, who gave us all far more than we taught you over six weeks. You will be a tough act to follow when we launch JEDI 2.0 next year.