“I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you” – Psalm 32:8
The phrase “Clarity of Vision” would normally be used metaphorically, rather than as a description of a person whose eyes are working well. To have clarity of vision is to understand things well. I am often in the company of others who question the low growth rate of the Caribbean economies.
I offer the opinion that it could be much greater were it not for the conservative posture of some of our public and private sector leaders. “Where has it been done before”? They would ask, whereas I would be prefer if they were to exhibit some clarity of vision and adopt a much more positive approach embracing innovative strategies which would lead to the proverbial pot of gold. “You cannot get growth without risk” is a mantra which I support.
The Central Bank of Barbados mounted the 37th Sir Winston Scott Memorial Lecture last Monday. It was presented by Dr. William Darity renowned Professor of Public Policy Studies, African and African and American Studies at Duke University in the USA on the topic High Unemployment: Global and Local. I shall always remember his closing statement which left us with a clear vision in terms of a strategy for tackling the unemployment situation “shall it be Unemployment Insurance or Employment Assurance”.
Dr Grenville Phillips has just published his book “Venture Capital and SME Financing in less developed Countries and Small Island States”. I have had the privilege of working with Grenville over the last 12 years in the field of Enterprise Development and indeed he devotes a chapter entitled “A public/private sector initiative” to the intricacies in structuring the Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. (CBET) an initiative with which I am intimately involved.
As I perused his book I was attracted by the Epilogue entitled “A Time for Action” and received his permission to devote the rest of this column to these words of wisdom.
“What kind of future do we want? Do we want a country of community where we work together to build and advance shared opportunity, shared responsibility and achieve shared prosperity? Or are we indifferent to the emergence of a society where powerful and connected interest groups take all until it is all gone and the SME sector languishes in despair!
If we envisage a country of shared prosperity where the middle class is growing and poverty is declining then we need bold and imaginative strategies. We need smart proactive governments, robust private sectors, strategic business clusters, timely dispute resolution procedures and shared public/private sector partnerships to be able to compete in a highly competitive world in order to achieve our aspirations; but those initiatives must start now.
By whatever name it is called, business and commerce must be encouraged to flourish and every effort must be made to grow the SME sector. At the policy level we need to move away from the ‘old talk’ syndrome, ideological dogma, posturing, and the predisposition to inertia in the public sector. We need, rather, to vigorously pursue national strategies that are required and are applicable to the moment of our need, while at the business enterprise level we need to embrace a culture of creative cooperation.
What are our competitive advantages? How can we apply technology to many of our low tech enterprises so as to increase their output and competitiveness?
What is our vision for the development of strategic business clusters that will create much needed jobs and provide quality exportable goods and services to earn the required foreign exchange on which our societies depend? And how can we provide the capital which SMEs and those clusters require?
Former President Clinton of the USA observed that success in the 21st century world requires Americans to be “curious enough to learn from countries that are doing important things better than Americans are, humble enough to listen and learn from people who disagree with us and smart enough to recognise that shared prosperity is a better formula for success and happiness than a ‘you are on your own’ mentality”.
I think that there is also a lesson in that message for us who live in LDCs and small island states.
The hypocritical ‘demonization’ of business and ‘profits’ so often encountered in small communities with a colonial past must cease and government must engage in an honest dialogue with the electorate – making it clear that society’ prosperity and government’s ability to continue to provide the social services which enhance the quality of life enjoyed by citizens is intricately linked to and dependent in no small measure on the vibrancy of a broad based diversified business sector.
It is not going to be easy to create a prosperous environment in every small state because conditions and resources vary greatly, but failing to try is not an option.
We must continue to dream and muster the confidence, commonsense and creative imagination in search of solutions to grow the economies of small island states and engender in our respective communities a spirit of shared prosperity and societies that are more egalitarian.
It is hoped that this book will make a contribution to the solutions we desperately seek for financing small and medium sized enterprises in less developed countries and small island states.”
Dr Phillips has contributed to articulating the Vision, now it is our turn to convert the Vision into Action for “Vision without Action is mere fantasy”.