First-Ever Caribbean Trek 2003

Thirty-nine students descended on Jamaica during the first week of January to participate in the first-ever Caribbean Trek. The purpose of Caribbean Trek, a joint initiative between Harvard Business School and the Wharton School of Business, was to increase the awareness of investment and business opportunities in the Caribbean as well as to experience its cultural and social side.

During its seminal year, Caribbean Trek visited Kingston and Negril, Jamaica. While in Kingston, trek participants were wined and dined by prominent business leaders many of whom were HBS and Wharton alums. One participant commented, “They rolled out the red carpet for us in Jamaica.”

The Trek was kicked off with a screening of ‘Life and Debt’, a documentary that contrasts the experiences that foreigners have when they visit Jamaica as tourists versus when they visit Jamaicans or live there on a permanent basis. After viewing this film, participants realized the unique opportunity before them to experience Kingston as ‘locals’. The first evening culminated with an address by Dr. Omar Davies, the Minister of Finance.

Companies visited spanned multiple industries including consumer products, private equity, media & entertainment (Chris Blackwell and Island Post responsible for making Bob Marley into a star/legend), beverage production, and banking and insurance. Highlights of this part of the trip included: a tour of Red Stripe (the Jamaican beer) facilities; luncheon and dinner addresses by HBS alums who run the largest Caribbean conglomerate (Grace Kennedy & Company), largest commercial and investment bank (National Commercial Bank), and the only private equity firm in the Caribbean (Caribbean Equity Partners); visit to the Jamaica Stock Exchange and Investment Promotions Agency (JAMPRO).

Other events included economic development and entrepreneurial panels. These forums provided good ideas for people looking to invest without actually living in Jamaica. Many contacts and business cards were exchanged as well as partnerships/relationships formed. Participants also attended local theatre and dance, a cocktail party hosted by the HBS alumni association in Jamaica (of which there are 25 members), and the nightclubs.

For the first time ever, there was an admissions information reception in Jamaica hosted by the Trek’s participants. Fifty students were in attendance and the purpose was primarily to dispel myths about applying to HBS (Wharton gets many more applications) and offer resources to shepherd potential applicants through the process. Caribbean Trek organizers hope to see the number of applications and students from the Caribbean increase in the coming years.

On a lighter note, participants traveled to Negril for the weekend to enjoy the assets for which Jamaica is best known: sand, sun and sea. Some dove off the 45-foot cliff at famous Rick’s Caf‚, while others chose to mellow out at the beach. Nightlife in Negril was a bit more on the ‘wild side’ but for the purposes of this article we will not elaborate (you will have to ask our participants!).

The destination for next year’s Caribbean Trek is still being discussed but Trek organizers expect to have just as fantastic a time as this year! The chances are good that students will get to experience all aspects of the Caribbean island – business, social and cultural, as well as meet the country’s ‘movers and shakers’ in such a concentrated period of time. See you next year!