When given the chance to shine, SHINE! This is the lesson learnt from Abbigale Loncke’s recent adventures in the Americas. Hardworking, fun-loving and determined Abbigale Loncke was among four young Guyanese entrepreneurs selected to participate in the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI). The passion and determination exuded by Abbigale throughout the six-week exchange programme and during her hub’s pitch competition landed her a trip to Peru as a guest of then United States President, Barack Obama. That’s major, so imagine our excitement and honour to have her share her experience and snippets of her life with us at MAGLYFE.
Abbigale grew up in the Cinderella County, Essequibo with her mom, step-dad and siblings. At one point, the family moved to Monsterrat but eventually returned to Guyana. Her childhood and initial stages of interactions contributed significantly to the woman she is today.
“I grew up in a Christian household, with my two younger brothers. I had a good childhood, my parents worked hard to ensure that my brothers and I received the best that they could have afforded. I attended Anna Regina Primary School and Anna Regina Multilateral School and I did well at both schools. I grew up being a ‘tom-boy’, liking the outdoors more than doing girly things but like everyone knows, Essequibo is very quiet so there’s only so much I could have done. I wouldn’t change much about my childhood.”
This young woman, from humble beginnings is now on a mission to take care of Guyana’s most vulnerable individuals. Owning and operation a community healthcare service was the furthest thing from Abbigale’s mind whilst growing up. In her early years, she envisioned becoming a Judge. While she did commence the journey, she quickly realized that her calling was in a different area. She allowed herself some time to dabble in a few areas before arriving at her ultimate vocation.
“I loved Law and anything that had to do with it, but when I finished high school I attempted pre-law and then realized Law might not be kind to me. I honestly think I just got a bit distracted and fell in love with Tourism at the time instead, which I did study for a while. But overall my love of Psychology won.”
The journey to arriving at a profession that suits her was a rewarding one. We don’t always know what we want from the beginning and that’s okay. Abbigale’s journey was filled with a number of career changes, her interests would change and she would find herself doing something completely different from what she’d originally intended to pursue. Additionally, like many young people at that stage of existing, her focus was more on having a social life than thinking about the future. Gradually, as she matured her passions and interests changed, now she’s in control and ready to take over the world!
“Back then (growing up) I was really unfocused, I changed my career path a few time, my interest changed and I was more involved in having a social life as oppose to thinking about the future. Now my passions and interests are different, I believe that I’ve matured and want completely different things. My aim is seeking ways to help people as oppose to seeking people to help me.”
Abbigale stuck to Psychology, because she really saw her calling in helping people. In 2013, she started her first home care agency. She operated the business with her business partner until 2015. At the end of that same year they parted ways and Abbigale decided to branch out on her own. Her current business, Community Health Care started in January 2016; a year later and the business is still going strong. Abbigale is the epitome of a woman on a mission. As if one business is not demanding enough, she also runs Abbs Business Management – a company established to help small start-up businesses move from their initial business idea to revenue. The company helps small business owners to manage their day to day activities so that they can focus their attention on their services or the production side of the company.
“I have a small team that is attached to the company and each member has specific tasks they focus on, e.g. payroll, marketing, customer service, etc., while I focus on offering one-to-one support and mentoring to the business owner. When I started my company in 2013, a lot of the things I had to learn by trial and error and it took away time I needed to focus on our services. I want to take that burden from other start-up companies and because I have a team that helps, it makes it easy for me to manage the company.”
This brilliant young lady, who grew up with a desire for helping people exemplifies purpose and the will to constantly develop self, both personally and professionally. What started as responding to a simple ad on Facebook blossomed into the ultimate shout-out of her lifetime. Abbigale’s YLAI mission has been nothing short of empowering, for her and the many others following her journey.
“I saw the announcement on Facebook about YLAI, and thought it might be great for me, since I had to start a new company and needed more exposure for it. I also needed to learn more about entrepreneurship. I applied online through a lengthy process, over 4000 persons applied from Latin America and the Caribbean. When I heard about the number of applicants I felt that I stood a slim chance of getting through. Then I was selected to be a semi-finalist amongst 650 persons, we did a video interview and had little chances to make mistakes. From the semi-finalists they chose 250 persons to be a part of this programme. We were told that they were 75 individuals from Guyana who applied and only 4 were selected. The selection process was very tight, not only did your business have to be credible but they looked for leadership qualities in each individual.”
She describes her YLAI experience as simply amazing! The six-week programme was held in Dallas, Texas with 249 young leaders from 35 different countries.
“It was really overwhelming at first. There were so many different personalities, smart and accomplished individuals who are all doing incredible things in their countries. We spent one week in Dallas, had some really great sessions with guest speakers such as Nina Vaca and other well established entrepreneurs from the United States. We even had the opportunity to meet the Mayor of Dallas and were guests at a Rodeo which really is not my cup of tea, she joked.”
The YLAI aims to empower Latin America and Caribbean business and social entrepreneurs to transform their societies and contribute more fully to economic development and prosperity, security, human rights and good governance in the hemisphere. The programme includes an orientation session and placements at city hubs at various cities in the United States. Abbigale was selected to go to Huntsville, Alabama, whilst there she also served as the city hub’s ambassador (person in charge).
“I spent four weeks in Hunstville and I was placed with the best mentors. I spent the first part of the trip with Christian Women’s Job Corp and my mentor Mrs. Elaine Dickeson, they are a faith based non-profit organization that provides mentoring, education, work placement and additional support for women needing second chances. Then I was placed with Dr. Doimer, a lecturer at Oakwood University that trains Health Care Professions and Certified Nursing Assistants, to help modify my company’s training manual. After which I was placed with the Women’s Economic Development Counsel and my mentor there was Mrs. Beth Brooks. I also spent time at several Nursing Homes, Hospices and Home Care Agencies. So I came back to Guyana well rounded.”
The experience in Hunstville really helped her to mature as an entrepreneur; it also taught her the importance of working with women and the impact that can have on a community. At the end of the trip, the participants had to compete in a Business Pitch Competition in each city hub. Abbigale, first time business pitch contestant, successfully won the competition for her hub.
“I didn’t win the final competition but I was chosen among 60 other fellows to attend President Obama’s Youth Town Hall meeting in Peru, which would have been his final international speech as President. I went to Peru two days after we concluded the YLAI summit in Washington. In Peru we had another mini summit and a chance to explore some of Peru’s culture for six days. It was there during his speech that the President spoke about the work I am doing. The whole experience was surreal. I can hardly remember what I was thinking at the time when it happened. I had no idea he was going to speak about me, before he called my name he spoke of a Doctor from Haiti.”
“From this experience I’ve learnt that staying true to what you love and doing it regardless of how hard things might seem would benefit not just you but everyone else around you. At the beginning of 2016 I had to start over and reshuffle my life and by the end of 2016 the whole of Guyana knew who I was and what I am doing. It only happened because I was consistent, I loved the work I did and I had a great support system around me. This now has prepared me to take more risks in 2017, work smarter and enjoy the little moments in life.”
2016 was very fulfilling and Abbigale intends for 2017 to follow in the same stead. In April, she is scheduled to host a Leadership Conference for Women that would see the introduction of her mentoring programme for women in business. The goal of the Conference is to have women who have start-up companies connect with and acquire mentors who are female leading business owners in various fields. This year, she also intends to expand the services that Community Health Care offer and the reach of the establishment. She would like to be able to support more individuals outside of Georgetown.
Apart from juggling with work, Abbigale is a pretty cool person. When she’s not working she’s travelling around the Caribbean. She also volunteers with children and seniors, so her weekends are pretty booked months in advance.
“I love forensic psychology and so I spend a lot of my time reading up on it and watching documentaries. I also love spoken words poetry, ever so often I would sit and write a new piece. I’m great cook. I can just about cook anything. I think that’s my therapy (lol). Additionally, I would like to take up learning a few foreign languages. I love to travel and sometimes I am limited to where I can go because of the language barriers, so learning a few new languages would take away those barriers and leave the world open for me to enjoy.”
Running not one but two businesses is no easy undertaking; while self-care most times is the furthest thing from anybody’s mind, it is really important to set aside time for self if we’re to really harass our fullest potential. She was kind enough to tone things down a bit by shifting from of work to telling us just how she takes care of herself.
“I only noticed a few weeks back how much I actually worked. Self-care for me involves personal time away from work and any other distraction. Ever so often I would travel to Essequibo and relax there. I am also conscious about the food I eat and my diet.”
As a young entrepreneur in Guyana, Abbigale advises other young persons on how to excel at their calling:
“I realized early in my career that I would have to work for everything I wanted; nothing wasn’t going to be given to me. And so my advice has always been to young people to condition your mind to work “smarter” for what you want, don’t sit and wait for handouts but grab hold of your life and your future NOW and take risks, loads of risks.”
And finally as a young woman making moves, Abbigale dishes on how others ladies can make it work for them:
“Ladies we’ve all been through stuff, we’re strong. You’re stronger than you ever know. I’ve been through stuff; things that I expected to break me. I lost everything at one point in my life and that hasn’t stopped me. As a woman you have to condition your mind that not even if the world stops moving you would take your eyes off your goals, it is possible for you to have it all – work life, private life and family life. But it would only happen if you are focused and consistent.”
FIVE things you don’t know about Abbigale:
1. I’m a Sunday School teacher – I attend the Potters House Christian Fellowship Church
2. My two smaller siblings, one is a Professional Cricketer and the other is an Engineer/ Architect
3. One day I want to become the President of Guyana
4. In 2011 I was paralyzed from the neck down for three weeks, couldn’t feel, couldn’t move, and couldn’t do anything for myself.
5. I am trained counsellor, studied Psychology in the United Kingdom.