“The human spirit is the lamp of the Lord, searching every innermost part” – Proverbs 20:27”
We have been lurking in the dark in the quest for sustainable economic growth in the emerging small state economies in the Caribbean. We recognise that economic growth can only take place one successful enterprise after another. We have traditional economic sectors such as mining, tourism, manufacturing, agriculture, financial services and emerging sectors such as renewable energy and the creative industries (music, fashion, graphic art, fine art, culinary art, film, drama, spoken word). Each business idea (and its associated innovation) requires three other components to catalyse sustainable success i.e. business management systems, shepherding and timely access to appropriate finance.
The Caribbean Centre for Competitiveness (CCfC) has been recently established at the St. Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) to increase the institutional capacity of the region to generate and share world-class and Caribbean specific knowledge products on private sector development and competitiveness; and upgrade the technical capacity of academics as well as public and private sector officials on cutting edge approaches to competitiveness.
In order to address the interrelationships of Knowledge, Innovation, Quality Standards, Productivity and Competitiveness and Sustainable Economic Growth, the CCfC mounted its first Regional Competitiveness Forum on Monday 05 and Tuesday 06 November, 2012 at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain with a varied and exciting programme. The theme of the Forum was “A Solutions Agenda to Key Competitiveness Challenges”. The expectation of the Forum was that the glow of the flames of several candles that were lit would brighten the path on the journey to sustainable development.
For stakeholders who were unable to attend, I now share with you the two day programme and to offer some suggestions as to the structure of a post-Forum “solutions” agenda.
The programme began with formal greetings from the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, the Campus, the UWI, the International sponsors (who were instrumental in providing initial support for the CCfC) and the CCfC itself. Each of the two days featured a Keynote address which was followed by two thematic sessions (one in the morning and one in the afternoon) with plenary and interactive roundtable format.
On Day 1 the Keynote was by Professor Amitav Rath (International Consultant on Innovation, Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship) on ‘The Macro Dimensions of Innovation Competitiveness and Entrepreneurship’.
The first Thematic Session “Building Innovation Driven Competitiveness Models in The Caribbean” comprised of presentations by three panelists on: (1) Policy Prescription for Improving the International Competitiveness of the Trinidad and Tobago Economy – Dr. R. Hosein; (2) Turning the Titanic Around: Lessons from Jamaican Organisations – Dr. Anne P Crick; and (3) Building a Culture of Innovative Entrepreneurship: The Barbados Model – Dr. Paul Pounder).
The second Thematic Session “Solution Spaces for SMEs in New Growth Areas: Addressing Constraints to Going Global” comprised of presentations by three panelists on: (1) Creating International Entrepreneurs of Caribbean SMEs: Exploratory Findings – Dr. Densil Williams; (2) SME Business Challenge – Noelville Ltd. (Grenada) – Mr. Denis Noel; (3) Arts and Craft (OECS) – Lesley-Ann Noel and Alicia Charles.
On Day 2 the Keynote was by Mr. Alex Pratt (UK Entrepreneurial Success Story who is the author of the book ‘Austerity Business’) on “Tools for Building an Internationally Competitive Business under Austerity Conditions”.
The third thematic session “Unlocking Access to Financing: Finding Solutions Around the Constraints” comprised of presentations by five panelists on: (1) Compete Caribbean – Ms. Claudia Stevenson; (2) Building an enabling Venture Capital Model for the Region: A Best Practices Approach – Ms. Judith Mark; (3) A Template for Preparing SMEs to become Investment Ready for Commercial and Alternative Financing – Mr. Wayne Dass; (4) Moving beyond Collateralized Financing: Alternative Models based on Case Studies for the Region’s Private Financial Sector – Mr. Ram Ramesh; and (5) the CBET Shepherding Model™ – Dr. Basil Springer.
The fourth Thematic Session “Internationalisation of SMEs – Business Tools and Mechanisms” comprised of three panelists on: (1) Reaching International Customers through Global Networks – Mrs. Vidia Persad-Doonath (Angostura); (2) Technology and Innovation – Mr. Alex Pratt (Serious Brands, UK); and (3) The Salada Food (Jamaica) Bernadette Wong.
The panelists engaged in lively discussion with participants, under the guidance of a moderator, after the presentations Roundtable Clinics were also conducted to engage the participants in innovative interactive dialogue on each theme.
The two days were extremely interesting and informative and would have provided the CCfC with a veritable fountain of information on which to draw as it develops its post-Forum Action Plan towards the sustainability of CCfC as an organization in itself.
I propose the following recommendations to Mrs. Indera Sagewan-Alli, CCfC’s Executive director and her team: (1) Corporate governance of CCfC, although within the UWI environment, should be expanded to include other stakeholders to facilitate a positive impact of competitiveness on regional economic growth; (2) Based on the pool of information exchanged at the Forum, delineate the fee-based services which can be meaningfully offered by CCfC to meet the needs of the public and private sectors; (3) Aggressively market these services to generate revenue and make CCfC financially self-sustaining; (4) Deliver the services so as to minimise recurrent expenditure; (5) Engage in virtual operation of the CCfC to effect optimal use of human resources; and (6) Make effective economic cost/benefit proposals to international funding agencies for funding to provide a financial bridge for CCfC until such time as the financially self-sustaining plan takes over.