“Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong.” – 1 Corinthians 16:13
The Caribbean has the potential to be a unique attractive region of the world not only for its residents but also as a tourist destination and an investment haven for diverse legal business activities. Yet, there is growing evidence that there is a challenge in realising this full potential. Only this last week it was brought to my attention that the Trinidad Express Newspapers published an article on June 18, 2013 by Dr. Rolph Balgobin, an Independent Senator in the Trinidadian Parliament, entitled “The Gathering Storm”. The article concluded that “there is something dangerous rising in our midst that demands our attention. If we do not act now to address the threat, it will soon confront us”.
Even though the above observation arose from experiences in Trinidad and Tobago, I dare say that they are evident to some extent throughout the Caribbean. The issues include: living above our means, the creation of a wealth divide, escalation of crime at all levels of the society, growing drug culture, armed criminals, declining performance in the schools both in terms of behaviour and educational achievement, egos getting in the way, corruption, indiscipline, poor maintenance of infrastructure, declining value systems, weak economic growth, escalating food imports, failure to put limited agricultural land into production, need for political reform, disregard for the rule of law, indifference to the value of life, threat to democracy, failure to effectively police our laws, failure to exploit renewable energy resources, increasing incidents of improper road behaviour and road rage. Above all, poor leadership!
The Caribbean must strive to realise this potential. We must get back to basics and recognise the need to focus on establishing and sustaining high levels of the spiritual, social, cultural, economic, political and physical environments. If we do not change with the changing environment, if we keep doing the same things over and over, we cannot expect to get better results. We will experience an escalating decay in quality of life.
Spiritually, we must recognise that we are all spiritual beings having a human experience and that each Life stands under a beam of Light which draws its energy from an infinite pool of Love. Socially, we would do well to recognise the following advice from the Dalai Lama XIV: “We human beings are social beings. We come into the world as the result of others’ actions. We survive here in dependence on others. Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.”
Culturally, the Caribbean is richly endowed with artistic, musical, literary, culinary and film making skills. Also, there is a special Caribbean brand of cricketing skills which saw the West Indian team lead the world from the late 70s throughout the 80s.
Economically, we have flattered to deceive. We have had pockets of success in mobilising our capital but have not been able to take this to a higher level on a sustained basis. Politically, we have enjoyed great political leadership by individuals who have taken us from the grasp of our colonial masters to enjoy the freedom to determine our own destiny. This leadership has not been sustained. Now, we have an inefficient political system where the limited leadership resources often fight internally to achieve personal power and there is the traditional first past the polls election process every five years between political parties, instead of embracing all limited resources in the interest of uniting these resources in a single force to take each country full speed ahead. Physically, we have land, water, sun, wind and minerals which we have only partially exploited and protected.
Therein lies the potential. How do we achieve it? The answer is to embrace change but this involves strong leadership which will “keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong”.
Here are some recommended strategies for change aimed at achieving success for each country and hence success for the region: (1) change parliamentary system; (2) government to focus on regulatory and service functions; (2) private sector to “do business” with Government incentives, where necessary; (3) mobilise local private sector funding, Foreign Direct Investment and Diaspora funding; (4) follow the example of Williams Industries Inc. (congratulations on your 42nd anniversary!) who have an employees’ share option plan; (5) establish a quick response private sector equity fund with Shepherding as collateral to fuel the entrepreneurship industry; (6) offer incentives to establish a private sector crowdfunding arrangement to fund enterprises by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet; (7) “privatise” the operations of productive sector-related statutory boards; (8) enhance incentives to expand the use of renewable energy; (9) our people are our greatest asset, we must develop them to the fullest; (10) mount an aggressive programme to steer laid off employees in the direction of enterprise development; (11) invite international companies to establish their global headquarters in the Caribbean; and (12) encourage more private sector smart partnerships between territories.
Let us step out with faith and achieve our highest potential. In order to live life to its fullest, we must be willing to occasionally embrace the unknown. This requires courage, pressing on even when fearful. Yet we have more than just courage; we have faith. Faith is steady, grounded, and filled with assurance.
(Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. – CBET – Columns are archived at www.cbetmodel.org).