World record hope

A team of Jamaicans is now awaiting confirmation that they broke the Guinness World record for having the most people present in an online web development hangout, after successfully helping more than 1,000 entrepreneurs to develop online stores for their businesses yesterday via Zoom.

The project was led by Jamaican online payment processing company WiPay, and WiShops, the Caribbean’s first zero-code e-commerce website builder. In addition to attempting to break the world record, the organisers of the project also set out to give free e-commerce websites and hosting to 1,000 micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in the Caribbean.

WiPay Jamaica Country Manager Kibwe McGann says the idea of Project 1000 came about shortly after the Jamaican Government rolled out the E-commerce National Delivery System (ENDS) pilot project earlier this year.

“When the prime minister spoke about getting involved in the digital economy and building lives and livelihoods, we took that as an inspiration,” McGann said. “After ENDS was launched, we were literally overwhelmed by MSME owners calling about how they can get a solution. When we make it that easy to make a website with WiShops, and then to accept payments to bank accounts through WiPay, then of course everybody started bombarding us. So the thought was ‘Why not give away 1,000 free e-commerce websites for free, with the WiPay plugin?’ From there the idea of the Guinness record came in.”

McGann said the team had reached out to the London-based World Record keepers and found out that the existing record for the most people in an online web development hangout was 500 a number that he was confident they surpassed yesterday, because although participants fluctuated throughout the course of the Zoom conference, he saw spikes of over 1,200 participants logged in simultaneously.

The event, which was also streamed live on Facebook, was hosted by WiShops General Manager Christabelle Brown, who guided attendees through setting up their online stores on wishopscaribbean.com, and connecting them to WiPay to be able to accept payments from customers directly to their bank accounts.

“We’re thinking about an entire 360 solution. We’ve seen so many people with Instagram businesses and other businesses, and now, especially with the pandemic, they’re thinking about how to get paid online,” Brown explained to the Jamaica Observer. “The pandemic has brought about a major change in how we do business in the Caribbean, and both WiPay and WiShops are working in tandem to ensure that businesses whether micro, small or medium get online.”

The project was broadcast from the Hope Road, St Andrew offices of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), and in addition to WiPay and WiShops, was sponsored by Mastercard, the Jamaica Observer, and First Global Bank.

McGann added that after launching Project 1000 in Jamaica, they started receiving calls from business owners in other Caribbean territories who wanted to be a part of the initiative.

“And it now became [a question of] ‘How do we transform this into a movement regionally?’ If we can empower thousands of people regionally to take advantage of this, can you imagine what it does for the GDPs of individual economies?”

McGann noted that the Jamaica launch of Project 1000 is only the beginning, as they plan to expand into other Caribbean territories soon. He added that even with sponsorship, the venture is costly to WiPay, but it is a cost they are willing to absorb for the development of the region.

“We’re actually playing the long game, because in the end, the more people we bring back and the more people we assist coming out of COVID-19, the better for all of us,” he reasoned. “So it was more out of a corporate good to create a solution and bring people to this digital space. When we thought about that money multiplier effect and how it would affect different people and their families, we said, ‘Yes, this is where we want to be’.”

He said now that the project is launched with an indelible footprint in the Jamaica business landscape, the focus will be on strengthening the platform in other parts of the Caribbean.

“Over the next six months we are going to be pushing Project 1000 across different islands, so we really are focused on getting the region e-commerce-ready and prepared for the new normal that is going to come after COVID-19,” McGann said.

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