“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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.