BY: Yolanda Pawar

“Now more than ever, Eleuthera, The Bahamas and the region needs the ‘OEFs’ of the world – organizations that are willing to disrupt the status quo and partner with like-minded individuals and institutions to tackle some of the toughest challenges facing people, communities, and the planet. Now, and in the coming years, we anticipate our campus and organization evolving, not only as a key part of Eleuthera’s economic development but also as a hub where some of the best minds gather to solve our country’s biggest problems.” Shaun Ingraham, President and CEO, One Eleuthera Foundation (OEF) and Centre for Training and Innovation (CTI)

Reflecting on 2022, one of the most significant milestones for One Eleuthera Foundation (OEF) was our organization’s 10th Anniversary, celebrated on April 22nd (Earth Day.) A decade ago, OEF set out to champion sustainable development, invest in people, stimulate economic growth, and leverage resources to help build self-sufficient thriving communities. As OEF’s scope and impact grew, so did the opportunities to serve, and achieve these goals. One critical aspect of this expansion was the 2016 acquisition of the historic, Rock Sound Club property. This has become OEF’s headquarters and the student training mecca for South Eleuthera. Through the Centre for Training and Innovation (CTI) – OEF’s education and training arm – the CTI campus is being utilized to foster entrepreneurship and help vulnerable youth gain employment and secure improved opportunities through technical and vocational training.

But just six years ago, the Rock Sound campus was a far cry from the luxury boutique resort that once catered to the world’s elite, business tycoons, aristocrats, and Hollywood trendsetters like Frank Sinatra, and Sammie Davis Jr., during an era when South Eleuthera was booming with tourism and international investment. Many years of neglect, ownership changes, dormancy, and economic downturn had reduced the once illustrious Rock Sound Club to shambles.  It was the first cohort of CTI students and staff who used their skills and sweat equity to transform the dilapidated property into the attractive and fully renovated student training campus we enjoy today. From renovating and refurbishing buildings, rebuilding roofs, laying tiles, pouring concrete walkways, building hotel furniture, painting and beautifully landscaping the grounds, students and staff proudly led this effort.

Over the years, the OEF/CTI training campus has seen tremendous growth. The property’s training facilities now include a farm and state-of-the-art, 1.1-acre automated Grow House, a 16-room hotel, a farm-to-table restaurant and a newly added apiary and honey harvesting plant. Our vision is to continue developing the campus into the premier, practical, and innovative training facility for vocational and technical training on Eleuthera and eventually the region. One of OEF’s major goals is to create economic empowerment and local ownership. Here are just a few ways that the CTI training campus will remain pivotal in increasing economic growth, promoting entrepreneurship, and strengthening the local economy in 2023 and beyond.

Driving economic opportunities for locals by developing emerging industries and strategic partnerships.

On December 2nd the solar powered “Honey Shack” at CTI was officially commissioned. Outfitted with the tools and equipment needed to process honey, the facility provides a dedicated space for local beekeepers to extract, bottle and prepare their honey at no cost. The build-out of the Honey Shack was completed in partnership with the GEF Small Grants Programme. It was part of a larger project to bring critical awareness to saving bee populations through the establishment of an apiary, and the provision of beekeeper training on Eleuthera. In addition to protecting local bees, this partnership is paving the way for new economic opportunities for beekeepers. There is a local and worldwide demand for this super-food. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a special article on the U.S. honey market, “record-setting consumption of honey and made-with-honey products totaled 618 million pounds in 2021,” and continues to increase. The beauty, self-care and pharmaceutical industries utilize honey as well as honeybee byproducts including beeswax, and propolis which creates additional revenue streams for beekeepers. In the last two years, CTI has trained twenty-two beekeepers and partnered with the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) to provide further training and professional development. This is one example of how successful partnerships are helping CTI to drive local economic opportunities.

Providing access to new economic opportunities on campus through collaborative community events

As in years past we anticipate our campus returning to a bustling activity centre and community “social hub” that plays a key role in Eleuthera’s economic development. We are constantly incubating new ideas and partnerships to benefit our community and provide access to economic opportunities. On January 28th, CTI will join forces with the Ministry of Tourism’s Eleuthera office to host the Annual Food & Craft Festival from 10am to 10pm. Celebrating all things Bahamian, this exhilarating event will showcase and create valuable exposure and sales for local craft and souvenir producers, and food vendors. Headlining the event will be Anishka Lewis, and the New Vision Band. Guests can also look forward to live fire dancing performances, games and family entertainment.  Throughout the year we will seek out festival organizers and similar partnerships to facilitate events that promote culture and help to boost our local economy. Additionally, spaces on the CTI Campus will be available to entrepreneurs for destination wedding rentals, curated events and cultural celebrations. Our signature, monthly Farmers Market will also return in January, revitalized and expanded to accommodate additional farmers, artisans and local producers of authentic Bahamian products.

Building local Eco-tourism and Agri-tourism activities to diversify our offering and support sustainable development

As cited on the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations website, “agritourism, ecotourism, and other forms of landscape-based tourism serve as important drivers of socio-economic growth. It increases and diversifies household incomes, enhances job opportunities, increases the resilience of livelihoods, and helps conserve natural and cultural heritage, and pristine biodiversity across landscapes.” Capitalizing on our campus’ natural resources and existing partnerships, we will further develop this aspect of our tour experience and guest offering. Through ongoing partnerships with local and international nonprofits such as the Bahamas National Trust and American Bird Conservancy, we will continue hosting workshops and local guide training, as well as research on indigenous and migratory species that can be found at CTI, most notably the Kirtland’s Warbler, one of the rarest songbirds in North America. We envision that our pioneering work in agriculture and farming will also add to our appeal and attract visiting groups to the island to tour, learn and simultaneously bolster the local economy.

Continuation of the “Learn and Earn” Program

The “Learn and Earn” program will remain in place to help financially sustain students while they study and learn experientially in real-world environments like our Farmer’s Table restaurant and Retreat Hotel. This training model has been proven to increase the confidence and employability of our students while accelerating their growth and personal earning potential. OEF/CTI will continue to expand our NAECOB-approved courses and professional certificate workshops to prepare students for greater economic and business opportunities.

In closing, we will continue to invest in strategic local and international partnerships, and our campus’ infrastructure to introduce new training and economic growth opportunities in 2023. Through enhanced guest amenities that both complement and connect the different aspects of OEF/CTI and our physical campus, we aim to invite locals and visitors to get involved and enjoy a truly unique, educational and immersive experience.