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Letter to Editor: No time to play with Trinidad and Tobago’s future, Mr PM… Innovate!

“You, sir, are in the sunset of your career; you are in a position to set the stage for the greatest show on earth. Not Carnival but an island of innovation.

“Dr [Keith] Rowley, we are in a lot of trouble and we need you to become the leader you promised to be. You are playing games with our nation’s future. Our competitive advantage cannot be wholly dependent on fossil fuel, Carnival or tourism.”

The following Letter to the Editor reacting to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley’s controversial statement on domestic abuse in Maloney Gardens on 6 February 2017 was submitted by Keita Demming:

keith-rowley-caribbeannewsservice-ftr

Dear Prime Minister,

I think we need to have a serious heart-to-heart. A man-to-man. It would seem that your first “Conversations” event did not go that well. The media have interpreted your comments to imply that you think women need to choose better men.

You see, choice is a funny, abstract thing; it is limited by the perceived options in front of us. For example, I think voters need to choose better leaders but here is the catch. Last election we had to choose between yourself and Ms Kamla Persad-Bissessar. Before that, we had to make a choice between the now late Patrick Manning and Kamla Persad-Bissessar.

My point, sir, is that sometimes you don’t have a choice because your options are imperfect or limited. Hypothetically, if I were to agree with you that women were to blame for their poor choices, I would argue that our society provides poor options at many levels.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, a French poet and author, once wrote, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

What we have been doing for far too long is drumming up people to collect wood.

When Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream,” he was setting the vision for a day when people of colour could be judged by the content of their character and not the colour of their skin.

Photo: Late US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. (Courtesy Mankindheroes)
Photo: Late US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
(Courtesy Mankindheroes)

Ted Levitt, the American economist, is quoted as saying, “The future belongs to people who see possibilities before they become obvious.”

Once things become obvious, we are no longer at the forefront of innovation and technology. If Levitt was correct in his assertion, then the future does not belong to us.

Here is the reality. Over the course of a weekend, companies like Google, Uber, and Facebook can spend more to acquire a new business than our entire GDP. In comparison to the purchasing power of these companies, our country is but a speck of dust.

Renewable energy is going to crush the fossil fuel industry. The world is moving towards autonomous driving cars and artificial intelligence.

The World Economic Forum has reported that 35% of the skills needed today will not be needed in five years. So while we sit and have conversations, the world is forging ahead.

Politicians think in timelines informed by election cycles. Rarely do we see politicians put strategies in place that extend beyond a four or five-year horizon.

Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with her successor, Dr Keith Rowley, en route to Nelson Mandela's funeral in South Africa. (Courtesy News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Then Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar (left) shakes hands with her successor, Dr Keith Rowley, en route to Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

Lately, we are lucky if we see any plan at all. You, sir, are in the sunset of your career; you are in a position to set the stage for the greatest show on earth. Not Carnival but an island of innovation.

Dr Rowley, we are in a lot of trouble and we need you to become the leader you promised to be. You are playing games with our nation’s future.

Our competitive advantage cannot be wholly dependent on fossil fuel, Carnival or tourism. We need to re-tool and re-imagine ourselves if we are to come up with viable strategies that address our most pressing challenges.

Your leadership thus far has left me with little faith in your administration. Now more than ever we need you to up your game. Set the stage for us to build the ships we need to sail the seas.

For six years, we have hosted TEDxPortofSpain, and one of the many lessons it has taught us is that our country has an incredible capacity and potential but very little supporting infrastructure. We have examples of ordinary people doing extraordinary things with few resources.

Photo: A speaker offers "the speech of his life" at TedX Port of Spain.
Photo: A speaker offers “the speech of his life” at TedX Port of Spain.

When Earle Rahaman-Noronha gave his talk at TEDxPortofSpain, he demonstrated that it was possible to transform a once struggling farm into a lush, thriving oasis. Vernelle Noel showed us how she was using the skills of wire-bending in architecture. Imagine that; she was using wire- bending to build buildings. Arvinda Rampersad demonstrated that the global south could be a rich problem set for the development and implementation of technologies like bitcoin and blockchain.

We are still struggling to get PayPal to work with our financial institutions. Kheston Walkins showed us how he is using artificial intelligence to find more efficient ways of detecting and diagnosing cancer. Gareth Jenkins demonstrated how design could be used to transform our everyday experiences.

Someone you know very well, Margaret Rose, a woman who was once your lawyer, demonstrated how procurement could be a powerful force for change and innovation. We have more than sixty talks that prove the great capacity and possibilities of our island.

On the TEDxPortofSpain stage, we have demonstrated that people in our country have the ability to do daring things. Our nation is punching below our weight class. When our nationals live abroad, they excel. We need to consider why.

We do not need our government officials to spout platitudes or blame women for domestic violence. We need you to set up the infrastructure so that we can transform the country ourselves.

Photo: A protestor displays a slogan outside the house of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on 11 February 2017.
Photo: A protestor displays a slogan outside the house of Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley on 11 February 2017.

One of the best advantages we have is that although we may vote along geographical and racial lines, we still get along. People who support opposite parties can be best friends or even married.

In our country, our latent capacity to unite is far greater than in Trump or Brexit country. It would be easier with your help but, if you are not up for the task, we are ready, willing and able. If the government does not do it, we are going to have to do it ourselves.

Later this month, the world will come to our shores for Carnival. But what if the world came to us to employ the best designers? What if the world came to us for cyber security? What if the world came to us for data visualization and/or data analysis?

The Economist recently reported that, over the past five years, the demand for data analysts has increased by 372% while the demand for data visualization professionals has grown by 2,574%.

We can diversify the economy with relatively small investments, and the payoff could be enormous. In 1990, the market capitalization of the top three car manufacturers in Detroit was US$36 billion. These three manufacturers employed 1.2 million people.

Compare that with 2014. The top three tech firms in Silicon Valley employed 137,000 people and had a market capitalization valued of US$1 trillion. The opportunity is enormous.

Photo: Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg.
Photo: Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg.

Now is not the time to be shy or timid; it’s the time to be daring. Many of us supported your candidacy, not because we believed in you but because, given the ‘choices’ available, we could not stomach the alternative. Our bipartisan group is launching an initiative called 868CHANGE, and we challenge others to start their own projects.

At our most recent TEDx event, Diana Mahabir-Wyatt proposed that democracy was a myth. When we have a situation where we have no viable options for governance, then I fear the experiment that we call democracy is failing us, just as it is failing the United Kingdom and the United States.

The one thing we know for certain is that change is both possible and inevitable. The question is, will we be leading the charge or playing catch up?

The start of 2017 has been difficult to swallow. Many people are calling for the government to deal with our crime situation and we most certainly need to address the problem. But what we need more than anything is a North Star. We do not need to do more wood collecting. We need people to yearn to wander the seas.

Mr Prime Minister, give us the north star. Take the lead, focus on putting infrastructure in place and stop blaming our nation’s women for problems that are largely systemic.

You have a more important job in front of you. Step up.

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley. (Copyright News.Gov.TT)
Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley.
(Copyright News.Gov.TT)

About Keita Demming

Keita Demming
Keita Demming holds a PhD from the University of Toronto. His podcast Disruptive Conversations is an effort to unpack how people who are working to disrupt a sector or system think. Dr Demming has worked internationally and in a variety of sectors within the field of social innovation. He also holds the license for TEDxPortofSpain.

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25 comments

  1. You did not say the Party must go.

  2. The ONLY WAY that Dr Rowley could PROVE any sort of ” leadership ” at this time is to RESIGN !!!

  3. A curious irony in our sweet country is that many of the Permanent Secretaries and top civil servants are competent and visionary but are often stalled and sabotaged by the political class.

  4. If the PP was in office, this post would’ve 100+ comments already

  5. Dr Rowley you have lots of advisers. It is a pity some of the advice is so mundane repetitive and shallow. Continue to work with the serious people you are working with and leave the rabble rousers to do what they do best. You have a country to run. We are playing global. This is a developing economy with only 50plus years of Independence and some innovative nationals.

  6. The scourge of white and blue collar crime is the CANCER that is the major hindrance to our progress as a nation..
    Citizens have been trapped into a vortex of police paralysis in dealing with crime.detection.
    Corruption has reigned for several years…
    The sinkhole of corruption is getting deeper by the HOUR…

  7. Embrace innovation… haha
    The PM who proposes a port in Toco and a Plywood plant in La Brea
    #1960sMentality

  8. Writer hits nail on the head. I can say Mr. Manning set the stage for much more than 5 years with his vision 2020, part of which was our IT infrastructure. I always wonder with our creativity (just remember our Peter Minshall’s Tantan inspired those blimps or whatever they are called), and that we have locals involved in animation, we have a local movie industry and a film company, as far as I recall, a fashion industry, what really is our vision? I agree with the writer, I do not see the need for a ministry of tourism. Our tourism is often the by-product of something other than sun/sand/sea. If we identify what product we want to push, provide consistent and timely support, and have consultation with the relevant players to develop a vision for the industry, then we might see some results. Let’s be real. We have a ministry of tourism, we try to push carnival as an attraction. How many of our related events are suffering from adequate and timely funding? Why do our camps go on hiatus after carnival when they have a different audience from the feters?

  9. O.M.G. This is the voice of visionary, passionate entrepreneurship. These are the words of someone who can see the pain of others like him suffocated in this decrepit, cesspool of “support systems” run by the walking dead. Clearly also the voice of salesman. He’s right, the solution has always been a well coordinated response in highly innovative offerings from the private sector. The government is useless. They’re only there to act in a supporting role. Right now the business voices directing their role needs to be challenged. That can only come from a coordinated front. A hybrid of talented people working towards a common goal. We can easily become the hub of all things innovative, each entity carefully synchronized in a framework of perpetual creation. Forget the politicians. They will serve whatever purpose they are directed to. This idea syncs so closely to what I already envision. I am intrigued by this initiative.

    • Check out Mariana Mazzucato’s the Entrepreneurial State – good read. It busts some common myths about innovation.

    • Alana, are you at liberty to share or inbox me your vision? hub, framework?

      since 2009, i have been talking about individual citizens putting themselves up for national service. and no, not in the typical party , politician framework.

      in the last election I had a spoilaballot/novote apps idea. but could get neither traction for the idea or support to get the apps made and distributed

      and now i have a new idea for a national ‘project” where people submit their names or are referred to serve, and each candidate must put forth a list of requirements, I wont list here. but include publishing, ideas, projects, programs, plans, a vision, and systems …that the public vote on. and even fund

      So we move totally away from the system that is killing us, and create our own innovations, recreating the country and society is the goal

      I offer that to explain who is asking of you, your brain matter 😉

    • Maven, I have only a vision. I have not translated that into a solid plan. But it basically revolves around mining IP. I saw UWI had a proposal or plan somewhere to make T&T into a space for, I want to believe, the monetization of IP. I need to find the link. I didn’t review the idea completely but I think they didn’t think it through well.
      Spoil a ballot…*breathes deep…I feel we are connected somehow. That warrants further thought.
      I think you may be referring to crowd sourcing or funding platform to support directed development. Again, something I am strongly in favor of. We do need to recreate society. In the interest of the people. We are having this conversation and we are basically facing the same limitations of disconnection that all entrepreneurs face. But I will take a note to inbox you. I just need some time to amass some info. You can feel free to message me in the interim though.

  10. In principle I agree with the writer’s sentiments. His idea of innovation and mine may be slightly different. Anyway, I don’t want to say Rowley has been a total failure as a leader. That may be too harsh but we’re approaching that point.

  11. Good luck with that one….their approach to every problem is to reach back into the 1980s grab bag of failed responses …..let’s be brutally honest here, modern, dynamic, future driven are not terms one ever associates with any TT politicians on either side of the House….

    • i dont get why and how we keep asking characters to show up and perform and present so far out of their capacity and sphere. like a letter is gonna suddenly make him be a different being?? that so confuses me

  12. I used to think so, hence my reason for being here, but this place sucks the life out of you – ” “The future belongs to people who see possibilities before they become obvious.””

    “Renewable energy is going to crush the fossil fuel industry. The world is moving towards autonomous driving cars and artificial intelligence.” An we are going backwards waiting for oil prices to hit $100 again, never in the near future.