Chandra Offringa: Profile of a young entrepreneur

POSTED: 10/8/13 11:15 AM

St. Maarten / By Jason Lista – Amidst the current political turmoil gripping St. Maarten, with its integrity in doubt and its image as a morally bankrupt place hardening in the minds of many observers, life still goes on. There are other stories besides politics, other stories which are far from gloomy or pessimistic, stories of individuals making their way as best they can.

A clean morning breeze greeted the young professional woman as she walked into the lounge near the sea. The harbor was quiet, no ships in town. She smiled as she sat down, ready to briefly sketch her life so far.

Though Chandra Offringa was born in Curacao and lived in the Netherlands for a time as a child, her heart is in St. Maarten and she considers herself a St. Maartener. “I love it,” was the cheerfully sincere reply when asked why she returned from studying and living abroad. She is one of the daughters of pediatrician Dr. Offringa and she has established her own event management company, C G Offringa Consultancy.

“I always wanted to manage my own company,” she said, as she sipped on some cool water and stared out at the sea, perhaps reflecting on some early dream. Offringa grew up on St. Maarten, having moved with her family here when she was 7. She later attended Milton Peters College at the VWO level and left, like many young St. Maarteners, for university in the cold, northern climate of the Netherlands.

She initially studied law, but found it “too boring. There was no social life attached. Just me and my books!” She later transferred to Stenden University in Leeuwaarden where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in tourism management. As part of her minor studies, Offringa recalled an interesting semester spent abroad on the eastern cape of South Africa learning about wildlife and lodge management.

“It was great. I would love to go back,” she fondly recalled. “I chose South Africa. I’m crazy about animals and the whole wildlife thing.” Asked if she saw any of the more famous animals of the African wilderness and she enthusiastically replied, “Oh yeah. I saw them all,” from lions to elephants. There was the scary moment of an angry male elephant threatening to charge the vehicle her family was in, and the driver, whose eyes, Offringa said, opened as wide as saucers at the prospect of being slammed by a furious 5,000 kg animal.

She later returned to Europe, this time in London, England, where she received a Master’s degree in events marketing and management from the London Metropolitan University.

She worked through the 2012 Summer Olympics for Proctor and Gamble, who had acquired the catering company she worked for in the city and gained valuable experience in one of the biggest and most dynamic metropolises in the world. “I got my high point,” she recalled, and said that after that she wanted to return home.

But it wasn’t always sunshine for the young professional. Like many who return to St. Maarten after studying abroad, the job prospects are slim, often with limited potential for personal growth. “It got frustrating,” she said. Her love of St. Maarten kept her from heading elsewhere, though, despite the lack of decent jobs. “That’s why I didn’t leave yet.”

She’s resourceful, however, and capitalized on her experience in the events management and catering industry, especially from her time in England, where she learned the hard way: from the bottom up. She started her own freelance consultancy firm earlier this year, including creating a website recently that helps local businesses receive and handle online bookings and reservations, St. Maarten Bookings.

Offringa explained that many businesses on the island don’t always have the opportunity to advertise because they are small. The website helps. “It’s an information portal,” she said. Smaller car rental companies, for instance, have shown a lot of interest.

“For now, I’ve been working with event companies,” Offringa said of her consultancy work. And she recently helped organize a mega flea market at Soggy Dollar bar at the La Palapa Marina. “Marcy from Marcy’s gym was there. Carib swim team was there providing information.” It was, she said, and eclectic bunch of sellers. But “there was a good turnout. Better than last year. Customers were leaving with bags full.” It’s an annual thing that will hopefully be bigger and better next year. There were even the proverbial kids selling lemonade at a stand.

“There is enough to do,” Offringa said of the market on the island for events and catering management. “There are things to organize for locals.” She envisions her own hospitality training center that hires out properly trained catering staff on a temporary basis for ad hoc events and receptions.

Offringa is among a new breed of St. Maarteners returning from years abroad, where they both studied and a gained valuable work experience in often competitive environments. Faced with the sometimes daunting task of finding a job back here on St. Maarten, they, like Offringa, have struck out on their own, offering added value to the economy in the meantime by providing services that are either in demand or completely new ones altogether.

To lose such a bright mind and talent like Offringa’s would be a shame for any country, let alone one as small and fragile as St. Maarten. Thankfully, her love for the island compels Chandra Offringa to stay.



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