At age 25, Vishal Joseph can be seen as an old head, as while this trainee doctor has youth on his side, his outlook on life is far beyond his age and he is action-oriented as well.
He has started three businesses, has been working in politics and youth advocacy and is in his final year of medical studies. Then there is his volunteerism; he has formed Bookworm, an organisation through which he seeks to have children ‘eat’ books through ardent reading.
In a sit down with the Sunday Stabroek, the Caricom Youth Ambassador shared his passions (and they are many) but what most was intriguing about him is the fact that he cares for his country and shows this through his actions.
“While I am a sciences man at heart, in my mind is all business and politics,” he laughed. But it is not only about politics for this future president (he said this) as he pointed out that he believes politicians think just about the next five years while a statesman leaves a legacy “and that is where I am looking to.”
Joseph has been seen by a few as radical, since, according to him, in Guyana “we have this thing called respectable politics where we are expected to wholly take things on politics that previous generations tell us. If you don’t hold a majority view you are seen as an unpopular person…”
He thinks big and his idea is to bring about a change in Guyana where people vote on issues and technical capacity as opposed to association with a political party.
“We need to move to a system of consultative democracy which is instead of having a set of people in one area defining what the outlook of the country should be, we should have consultation with everyone, regardless of which racial or political enclave they come from.”
He gave the example of Lethem where he worked in 2015. In that community, according to him, one would believe it is an entirely different country. “The social outlook in terms of their national identity is more of a Brazilian identity as opposed to Guyanese and that is because we don’t make them a part of the greater national interest,” the aspiring doctor said.
Along with his sister Jo-Ann, he had started JJV Cellars but because of his hectic academic schedule which has taken up a lot of his time and the fact that making wine is time-intensive, this business is not currently operational.
He explained that starting the business was just much like continuing a family hobby as they would brew wine and share among their friends. “I decided to commercialize the idea. It was very profitable. I got quite a response with that business and because it was so intensive I had to let it go eventually because I had to focus on one thing and that was my medical studies.”
He explained that making wine is not just about putting it down and leaving it, but managing temperature and fermentation to make sure one gets the perfect alcohol level and taste.
Recently, in collaboration with others, he started up two new businesses though he was quick to point out that they are nothing fancy and he has not started making money from them as yet.
The businesses are Southwind Properties and Southwinds Consultancy and Advisory Services. In the first business, they envision taking someone’s idea for a home and walking them through the process of owning it. This will include house plan, building and even plumbing and electricity. They already have one client.
Joseph said the second business is expected to provide legal advice to persons who are importing pharmaceuticals but do not understand the regulations of the industry. The company has someone with international experience to provide this service. The company will also assist persons to make wills, formation of companies, get business registrations and also in divorce and adoption matters.
He is the Chief Executive Officer of both businesses and he said they were born out of the fact he has seen a lot of people going out there and getting private contractors and being ripped off.
“I have decided to do the first based on my experiences. I decided to assist others in getting peace of mind in the entire process. I have been ripped off… I paid someone to get some work done and the work was never done, part was done and it took a long time and retrieving the money was a hell of an experience but I got it back,” he shared.
Turning to his political journey this far, the young man said people who know him know he walks the “political midline” and he explained that he has had a lot on his mind in the past about accountability.
In the lead up to 2015 elections, he worked with the USAID Leadership and Democracy Project and a lot of his work placed him in the field to educate Guyanese youths about governance and how to hold their governments accountable.
“And for them to understand the workings of civil activism. From that I have won a few friends and lost a few because people expected me to choose a side. I didn’t choose a side and at the end of the day many come back and say, ‘I see the purpose of what you are doing,’” he stated.
He made it clear that he is not affiliated with any political party and he still thinks he has a lot to learn in terms of the working of the state and so it has been a process of teaching others and learning from others as “we work to teach young people how to transform Guyana and eliminate the current status quo.
“I have a lot to learn. I am reading of the experiences of leaders across the world. There is a strategy and of course it is not a one-man show and there are times when colleagues would advise on alternative approaches. The idea is that we want to build a legacy that lasts at least beyond the next five years which basically means I am not looking to have a party of politicians but a party of statesmen or a movement of statesmen,” he said.
As regards medical school, Joseph shared that when he was younger he was always fascinated by the sciences, more so biology, and life and death. In secondary school representatives from the Guyana Red Cross Society had approached his school (Queen’s College) to recruit volunteers and he took up the opportunity. It was during that process he experienced how it felt caring for others and he fell in love with it.
“I love helping someone to better their physical and mental conditions,” he posited.
It was there and then he decided to become a medical doctor and it was always his aim to get into medical school, business and politics aside.
Between the time of graduating and getting into medical school he worked for the Red Cross as a first aid volunteer as well with their Caribbean Community Resilience to Disaster Risk programme. Specifically, he taught first aid to community response teams so that they would be able to manage their community settings in the face of disaster. He was also the youngest person involved in Red Cross’s response to the national disaster plan.
From there, Joseph moved on and he volunteered with the Guyana National Youth Council in its finance committee and also with some other organisations.
He is careful, however, as he pointed out that he has learnt that when one is a jack of all trades they must have a focus and his is on human rights, education and health. In terms of his approach to education he founded Bookworm, through which he receives donation of books and educational material from civil society and redistributes to communities encouraging children to read more.
The young man has also worked with the government of Guyana Department of Youth in eco-tourism, health education and culture. Over the years he has had informal engagements with youth; people would invite him to speak to children in gatherings or even in home settings.
In January this year, Joseph was appointed Caricom’s Youth Ambassador but prior to this he worked with regional bodies like PANCAP and others and has represented Guyana both locally and regionally.
He is also part of the Caribbean Regional Youth Council. He sits on the members and partnership committee and it was based on those engagements that he was appointed youth ambassador. He has since expanded his portfolio of work to involve other regional organisations. Last August, he was the chairperson for the Caribbean Forum on Youth and Population Development which was funded by the Caribbean Development Bank.
“I have done a whole lot of other things in between,” he said. And some of these include him organising a day of cancer screening in Region One in collaboration with the Regional Health Services of the region and the Georgetown Public Hospital. He got donations of equipment and other supplies and doctors from the hospital and they moved into Port Kaituma. There, he said, they reached 500 persons. He was on the medical coordinator for GTT’s Pinktober activities and he worked along with a team of others in coordinating the emergency response managed by young medical students and doctors.
Joseph grew up in Campbellville, but he has spent significant time in rural areas and he can jump into a canoe and operate a chainsaw as fast as he can drive a car. He is also a major ‘socaholic’ and he knows how to manage work, school and play.