“God has given each of you a gift from His great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another (1 Peter 4:10)”

In a couple of days I would have completed, Deo Volente, three score and ten years on this planet. I practise good nutrition (most of the time), keep to a weekly exercise programme, and devise ways of maintaining a stress-free existence. I feel fine physically, apart from the occasional ache and pain. My doctors say to keep on doing whatever I’m doing.

However, last week, as I was walking to my Gate at Miami Airport, an oncoming individual, nodded to me and held out his hand in greeting and said, “Nice to see you, Mr. Walcott”. I said to him, “You got it wrong, Sir, my name is Springer.” And he said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you were the poet Derek Walcott”.  I said to myself …but Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott is more than a decade older than I am. That incident did a little temporary psychological damage to my psyche and I then realised that people need people to tell them that they look younger than they do.

At this time of the year, I am reminded of the anniversary of my weekly column which started in July 1993 after a visit to Singapore.  I returned to Barbados with a clarion call “Barbados – the Singapore of the Caribbean”. On this occasion, I am fresh out of a visit to Malaysia where development has taken place so rapidly in the last 25 years that I am tempted to make similar sentiments. Singapore’s mantra is “People are our greatest resource. We must develop them to the fullest.” Malaysia plans and executes in similar vein.

When we think of it many countries, in defence of their slow rate of development, hide behind the statistic of no natural resources. They often ignore the fact that all countries in the world have people as a resource and that the No. 1 order of business is to develop that resource. Singapore, indeed all of the Asian tigers, including Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong and now Malaysia, have progressed, through visionary leadership, to become world leaders within periods of 20-30 years because they have focused on the development of their people. Once the intellectual, emotional, physical and spiritual elements of people have been developed, they can make a collective contribution towards sustainable development of a country including its social, cultural, environmental and economic components.

It is one thing to have a sound educational mandate which may be reflective of the number of graduates per year or targets of number of graduates per household. It is another thing to ensure that these graduates have been trained in disciplines which are consistent with the need of the sectors which drive the economy. In Singapore, for example, they developed Universities to educate and through research create ideas; and Community Colleges to educate and train individuals in disciplines consistent with the manpower demand in the business sectors which drive the economy of the country.

It was interesting to observe developments in Malaysia. Two things stand out: the first is in the relatively new bio-technology sector, which is a field of applied biology that involves the use of living organisms and bioprocesses in engineering, technology, medicine and other fields requiring bio-products, in one of the companies we visited the average age was 29 years in an employee population of over 300. The CEO looked to be under 40 and the one person that looked over 40 happened to be a special advisor.

We in the Caribbean, therefore, need to sharpen our vision about the future, identify the sectors which will drive the economy, and then educate and train our people, within the limits of the funds available, to participate in the process of developing the economy.

The other observation was made by former Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, when he was addressing the Malaysia/Africa Business Forum. He advised that, if we want to benefit from the synergies of interaction of partnerships between countries, we have to move people between the countries. A Malaysian going to an African country may share technology with his/her African counterpart. He/she may identify areas of opportunity which were previously ignored in the African country and Africans may determine new applications of the Malaysian technology in their own space, which may have been missed as an opportunity by the Malaysians who were less familiar with the African environment; and, of course, vice versa.

This is a manifestation of why people need people. As is stated in the poem “Everyone Needs Someone” by Helen Steiner-Rice, “People need people and friends need friends and we all need love for a full life depends… Not on vast riches or great acclaim, not on success or on worldly fame, but just in knowing that someone cares and holds us close in their thoughts and prayers.”

People possess the brain power, right brain or left brain. People need people to stimulate their brains and hopefully we can get the appropriate combinations to express full love and harmony.  Let the psychologists have a field day in this arena, but let us get back to the basics and develop our human resources to the fullest so that we can play out the vision “Barbados – the #1 Entrepreneurial Hub in the world by 2020.”