When I walk through the door of the meeting room to greet Ester, I see that she has a smile that lights up the room. After only a few minutes, she tells me about her childhood, her family, her ambitions, and the road to success, quickly putting me at ease with her beaming smile. I discover soon enough, however, that Ester's cheerfulness is her coping mechanism – concealing insecurities and misfortunes.
Ester Williams is the winner of the 2014 ISO/DIN essay contest for young standardizers in developing countries. Her essay and video on the theme of “Sustainable energy future”, according to Dr. Torsten Bahke, Director of DIN, captured the urgency of our current situation as well as eloquently describing the situation in Jamaica and how standards truly can have a positive impact.
From humble beginnings
She is clever and charismatic, of course – the kind of young woman you assume had it easy. Then you hear her story. Born in a Jamaican community riddled with violence, at only three-months old, she saw her father abandon the family. She grew up in an environment where there was a lot of quarrelling, with little or no money to support the extended 16-person family – or, as the Jamaicans call it, “the big yard”.
She admits that it was incredibly hard for her mom to raise her with little support from the father. But it was even harder to have her father return after a long absence. I ask Ester how it felt to have her dad back after more than ten years, and to discover that her mother was pregnant with her youngest sister. With no hesitation, she replies, “I was depressed, and heart-broken. I left home crying, went to work crying, came home crying – thinking to myself 'another child'.”
She doesn’t hold any grudges, though, against her parents. “At first I felt hurt, but after a while I accepted my reality, changed my mindset and focused on how I can give back.”
A self-motivated woman
At school, Ester majored in finance and minored in international business, hoping one day to secure a position in the banking and finance industry. When I ask her why she later decided to pursue business, she clasps her hands and laughs, “to travel the world and make history!”
She affirms she’s not all about triumph over adversity: “I like to be busy. I like to learn. I want to enjoy work – feel fulfilled and challenged!” And yet Ester forms an “against all odds” arc to rival any. Which bring us on to teenage Ester, a time she admits “was harder than most”. “Money was scarce – virtually non-existent. I watched my parents toil through the weekends with a pan jerk chicken business to support us.”
Adult Ester, of course, started to enjoy a different experience. At the young age of 22, she got her big break at the Bureau of Standards Jamaica (BSJ) as a cashier. But rather than spending her hard-earned cash, the young woman started to save. Two years later, with 320 000 Jamaican dollars (JAD) down, she bought a JAD 3.2 million house for her family. “For me to buy our family home was the best present. I knew it was going to be rough, but I knew I had to do it. It is a homey-feeling house. I love it! Felt so grown up!”
When asked about her accomplishments and impact on her family, Ester says that it was only normal. This experience gave her impetus to work harder. After only a few years at BSJ, she decided to go back to school to pursue her master’s degree. Juggling classes and a career was not easy, but it paid off when she was transferred and promoted to the Standards Division in 2010. “Being a fast learner and eager to work, I learned the ropes on how to manage meetings, write minutes, as well as take charge.”
Ester has grown not only to develop standards but to promote their importance and benefits. Today, she is a Standards Development & Certification Officer – quite a step up from her time as a cashier. But that’s not all. Her self-motivating trait has unearthed her passion to write short stories and create videos to proclaim BSJ’s vision and mission. Just a few months ago, she was awarded second place to the BSJ Employee of the Year 2013-2014.
A committed activist, Ester has long campaigned for higher education and young people. In the future, it is her ultimate goal for people to once again appreciate the “Art of Standardization”, especially in developing countries like Jamaica. “With the rapid development of technology, young people especially are lacking in interest. It is therefore my mission – locally and globally – to break the 'silence' until the world realizes that standards are all around us – we use them every day!!!”
And what about her future plans? “I’m very open-minded about my career,” says Ester. “I would like to cement my career in standardization. I have the experience, so why not further it. Maybe an international career is just around the corner,” she laughs.
And the work shows no sign of letting up. The young professional is on another crusade – or maybe Ester is just the same old Ester – she has her eyes set on another Master’s Degree in Standardization, Social Regulation and Sustainable Development at the University of Geneva, a challenge she says “will only make me stronger”.
Beyond getting by
As we conclude our discussion, often spattered with dreams of the future, the 30-year-old Ester is passionate and proud – about her family and her country – without a trace of bitterness from her childhood hardships. At least that’s what I think; for her part, she insists she’s “just getting by”.
As we say goodbye, Ester hands me a keychain with the Jamaican flag and the expression “hey mon” on it, and gives me the widest and brightest smile ever. I smile back for the first time realizing that, for Ester, no hardship is too immense and no challenge too ambitious.
When I get back to my desk, my colleagues ask me if she is as warm and bubbly in person as she is in her winning video. Yes, I say, probably the most charming young woman I have ever met. And is she smart, they ask. The truth? Ester Williams is beyond smart; she’s even stronger than she looks.