Jo-Ann Hamilton

Jo-Ann Hamilton is the Founder, of SecretBirds, an online magazine, which celebrates early stage women entrepreneurs in developing economies. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., Cass Business School in London and Kingston University also in London. Her professional and cultural experiences span continents, having worked in North America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.

Jo-Ann is currently teaching and guest lecturing at various academic institutions around the globe. Additionally, she acts as a mentor, and champion to various global communities. Some of these communities include the United Nations Women (UN Women) Empower Women community based in NYC, the ALL Ladies League and Women’s Economic Forum, both based in India and the Fabulous Fempreneurship community based in Canada.

Please tell us about your early years

I was born and raised in St. Croix, Virgin Islands to immigrant parents from St. Kitts and Nevis. I grew up in a quintessential Caribbean household and lived a typical Caribbean lifestyle filled with love, laughter, food, music, religion, strict rules, copious amounts of structure, order and discipline. I have very fond memories skipping rocks, riding my bike, running around barefoot, hiding in the garden, climbing trees, building sand castles on the beach, playing on the veranda and just being a free and wild child. I had an amazing childhood and I am really grateful for it, especially now that I am an adult.  I felt loved by extended family and friends and was very spirited. I grew up on this very tiny, insignificant island but it was my world and a beautiful one at

Life outside of my house, was just an extension of home life, whether that be at school, Church (as I am Christian) or elsewhere. We were all close and took care of each other, it was and still is a tight knit community. Families knew other families and as in the case of small tight knit communities we all either knew each other or knew someone that connected us.

I believe that Caribbean women because of our history have always been empowered. Just as an example we have three women in the Virgin Islands, we call the Three Queens who led a successful 1878 insurrection against the Danish Government demanding improved working and living conditions throughout the island. This was due to the fact that after slavery was abolished working conditions were still very much like during the days of slavery. The three queens led a rebellion known as the Fireburn, which was a fierce revolt to burn down the island if conditions did not change. These women were involved in multiple riots throughout this period. This is just one of many examples of strong women, not just in the Virgin Islands but throughout the entire Caribbean region. Women have always played a strong role in challenging and reshaping the fabric of Caribbean society.  I would say Caribbean women have always been and will always continue to be empowered because we have no choice. I honestly think it is a matter of life for us, as our societies continue to change and grow we are at the forefront. It is not taught but it is intrinsically embedded in who and what we are as Caribbean women.

I think what we are seeing now in the region are the different generations going about empowerment in their own way. As the saying goes each generation has its cross to bear!

Why did you leave St. Croix?

I decided to emigrate because I wanted to see the bigger world. I wanted opportunity and challenges outside of my 84-square mile island. I was hungry to do, think and experience. Since migrating I have been educated, lived, traveled and worked around the globe and it has been a life altering experience for me. The woman I am now is grounded in the Caribbean. She was cultivated there, her roots, pride and sense of self are all Caribbean but her evolution as a human being has and continues to be global.

You worked in a male dominated field how did you maintain your assertiveness without compromising your femininity?

I worked in the property and construction industry for ten years. Like you mentioned completely male dominated and I struggled often to find myself in this environment. I was often sent mixed messages. I would be rewarded for operating in my masculine, but then chastised for operating in my feminine.


I do not think I ever found any balance in this world. I think I was always a different person at work because I often felt like I could not be my true self.  Being assertive, particularly as a black woman in the West (I worked in the UK, Europe and US), also came with its own challenges and burdens. I think in the end, I always stayed committed to my personal values. At times, this meant I would be left out of the inner circle or be passed over for certain opportunities but my personal values were always more important to me than a job and albeit needing financial stability, at the end of the day, I knew how much and how far  I could and needed to go.

This is why in the end I left the corporate world. I am glad I had the experience working in corporations but I was also very happy to move on with the job of being Jo-Ann.

You are a champion to various global communities what prompted this?

The idea of SecretBirds came to me in July 2014 and then in December of that same year I left the corporate world. In January 2015 I started working on SB full time and since then a wonderful world of opportunities started coming my way. As cliché as this sounds, I believe once you start following your heart and your purpose, you really find your way. For a long time I was living this life that was not me. Doing things that I felt I needed to do, being a person that I thought I needed to be. I think like so many, I was taught that these are the things I need to do to be successful.

I just swam through life hitting one target after another but I was not being or living, I was merely existing in this bubble. One day that bubbled popped and I awakened. Since then, I have never looked back! Doors start opening, people start coming and somehow God makes everything right. In terms of why I am involved, I am passionate about entrepreneurship and sustainability, therefore I am always happy to work on projects that involve these two areas.

What are you currently doing?

I am a teacher, writer, entrepreneur, traveler and budding photographer.

In the day I am teaching my students at an international school in China.

Using literature as the tool we read, write and understand the world through many lenses. I love cultivating knowledge and albeit never seeing myself as a formal teacher, here I am teaching and I thoroughly enjoy it. I write daily about many things and hope to one day start publishing and sharing my work. I am a traveler, so every opportunity I get I am either exploring the vast nation that is China or I am traveling to another country. I am curious, I like learning, seeing, experiencing and making sense of things. A part of me feels more and more complete when I travel.

It is not something I am very good at articulating but it feeds my soul in an unreal way. I am always with my camera, pretending (tongue-in-cheek) to be a photographer, capturing nature and architecture mostly, but generally things I love and which inspire beauty in me and others. And lastly, I run SecretBirds (soon to be called Rare Birds) an online magazine which celebrates early stage women entrepreneurs from developing economies. I write, interview and share stories via  this platform and it is incredibly exciting and fulfilling for me. Teaching, writing, photographing, traveling and building SecretBirds are all somehow a part of this new journey I am on, which I believe has been waiting for me on the other side for a long time. They enrich my soul, they make me feel complete, they give me a strong sense of purpose, and they make the disquiet and frivolous things in life slide away and open me up to be the person I was intended to be. I believe we were all put on earth to serve, therefore my destiny is enhanced because I am constantly in service when I am doing these things.

What inspired you to start rare birds?

It all started when I realised it was time to move on from the corporate world and I could not find a community that I was seeking out. I was at a place in my life where I felt like I was running on empty and nothing was working out. I felt uneasy and I knew I needed radical change. The entrepreneur and risk taker has always been in me, but she needed some help and I could not find that help anywhere. They say be the change you want to see and as I could not find what I needed to implement changes in my life, I decided to start it. It was to be honest not calculated or well thought through. My intuition said do it and I did! It felt good, it felt right and
I jumped straight in and worried about everything else later on. It was the first time in my life I felt so comfortable and at ease with such a life altering decision. Prior to that time, it was all about plans and goals, etc. Not because I am that kind of person but that is what I was constantly told I need to do and be.  It was soul crushing living life on a clock, I am not functional that way, at all! I actually have an aversion for clocks and do not wear a watch. The thought of being on anyone’s time, really bothers me. I think we can become slaves to the clock and really drive ourselves nuts. Outside of the norms of what society dictates, I try my best to avoid timing! I believe starting SB was the beginning of my awakening and perhaps this seed was planted in me so that I could recognise what I am here to do. The story continues to unfold and I am excited to see what will come next.

How do you support women globally other than through the different avenues you are involved in?

Honestly, I think as women just navigating this world on a daily basis with our struggles and coming out sane on the other side is enough to support and champion each other. I am a friend and supporter too many women who I meet along the way, to women who randomly email me, connect with me online, etc. Through simple endeavours like having coffee, saying something encouraging or just being a listening ear. Supporting women is very sexy these days but as women since time immemorial we have always supported each other and I do not think that will every change. I believe we are wired this way and it is a special gift we have with our capacity to love unconditionally, create and support life in a multitude of ways and generally just doing all that we do. I am also who I am because of all the women who support me. I would not be who I am today without the support of other women, so it is web of support and everyone encouraging each other along the way.

I often hear women say that they do not always feel supported by other women, and I understand this and have been on the receiving end of malice myself but we must also recognise when other women are just not in the right place in their own lives and are not able to give us the support we need. We have many struggles as women and there is often a lot going on behind the scenes that we are not always privy to.  Or as I like to say, people know our names but they do not know our stories. There are however, many happy, encouraging women out there and the key is to seek them out or just by simply being your happy self you will also attract them!  We also need to give what we want, I have seen some really bruised people break down just through simple acts of kindness and reciprocate that kindness in return.

What drives you?

Purpose and passion drive me. I know who I am and what I want and I do what I like as often as possible, which makes me very happy. I have my off days like everyone else, after all I am just a mere mortal but I live 100% intuitively. My style is not for everybody as I am someone who literally lives breath to breath. I think life changes with each breath and as we inhale and exhale we never know what will come in or out as we flow along. I like being in that present moment, because this is where I am at my best.

I flow like water, moving seamlessly not resisting but at the same time knowing that every step I take is going to lead me exactly where I need to be.

What do you do to relax and unwind?

To relax and unwind, I go into nature. It always calms me! It could be as simple as taking my shoes off and standing barefoot in the grass or something more adventurous like going on a hike, cycling and the like.

What’s next for you?

I have no idea, I am living breath to breath and let’ see what unravels next!

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