By Dr Isaac Newton
Pitched to a particular audience, establishing a “CARICOM Think Tank,” reflects Sir Ronald Sanders’ mission of closing the development gap between CARICOM leaders and their citizens. He has conveyed this to me through edifying conversations.
Dr Isaac Newton is an international leadership and change management consultant and political adviser who specialises in government and business relations, and sustainable development projects. Dr Newton works extensively in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, leadership, political, social, and faith-based issues
He talks about harnessing innovative energies and intellectual spaces by creating an institution brilliantly designed to strengthen small states’ capacity in our dynamic global village. Ingredients include: self-appreciation for internal innovation, strategic re-positioning in the international market, autonomy and funding, and keen experiments that produce wealth from one generation to another.
Influenced by an extensive diplomatic career and an active entrepreneurial mind, Sir Ron constantly addresses how sectoral focus, regional policies, and human capital are inseparable for producing solutions for decision-makers. His concern he says, is a model organization that makes the Caribbean an awesome place for human flourishing.
Sir Ron’s enormous determination matches his extraordinary capacity to help us find real solutions to our intensifying challenges. He sees regional connections that many of us may have taken for granted. Yet, he is up against a deeply attractive Caribbean ego. It both fascinates and repels. Satisfied by degrees, titles, positions, and iconic associations; it is less inspired by actions that bolster our common life. And it hardly rewards contributions that enrich our collective betterment.
I want to add to Sir Ron’s vision for a CARICOM Think Tank with a Strategic Do Tank. Whether located in the Caribbean or the Diaspora, this Strategic Do Tank should serve as a symbol of achieving broad functional excellence in the midst of global complexities and explosive technological growth. Aim: Transform our existence and promote our collaborative imagination. Strategy: Turn innovative ideas into achievable outcomes.
I have seen too many wonderful ideas in the Caribbean get stuck because of poor motivation, inability to cultivate buy-in relationships, little networking skills to support implementation, and failure to leverage regional resources with a passion for execution.
I emphasize “doing” over “thinking. “Although I realize that both are intimately intertwined, breakthrough execution is rare. Having a great idea and doing something marvelous about it makes the case for more innovative practitioners. There is urgency for strategic action that lifts our pride, decodes our prejudices, and achieves concrete results. But I am enchanted by some deep intangibles as well; our spiritual qualities, social ideals, and cultural aesthetics. These could revolutionize our natural habitat, deliver widespread benefits, and increase our resilience in the face of difficulty.
Having observed how regional governments have had to struggle with national deliverables, and having come to terms with our universities’ myopia -- an obsession with granting degrees over producing initiatives that improve the Caribbean’s quality of life -- my unshakeable faith in our intellectual abilities remains strong.
Yet I nurture a conscious irony. We think more than we act, thus we haven’t acted on our best ideas enough. I support our extraordinary mind but dislike our unwillingness to implement. Notwithstanding, the Caribbean mindscape has greatness in its genes. We can boast of three Nobel laureates from the Caribbean, two from St Lucia (Sir Author Lewis and Derek Walcott) and one from Trinidad (V. S. Naipaul). If we go back in time, there are towering figures: Alexander Hamilton (Nevis), and Toussaint L’Ouverture (Haiti). Let’s fast forward: Sir Vivian Richards (Antigua and Barbuda), Usain Bolt/Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Bob Marley (Jamaica) and Robyn Rihanna Fenty (Barbados). The list goes on.
Between our whisper and laugher, for instance, executing homegrown ideas will multiply CARICOM’s riches. But we’ll have to overcome regional stagnation of creativity. Let’s not ignore our post-independence status. We are guilty of self-imposed wounds and imperfections. We have failed to transform inherited colonial structures that we love to condemn, but still keep as untouchables.
Remove blinders! Too many of our highly trained experts are big on obstacles and small on opportunities, high on problems and low on projects, and savvy with eloquence but slow with execution. Perhaps that is why we focus on limited resources and downplay unlimited insights that can be churned into reality. I’d love to see more regional engineers, doctors, and artists actually devote their energies to transforming endemic infrastructural, public health difficulties, and inattention into habits of commitment and follow through. This will breathe excitement, energy and spirit into our broken communities.
One indicator for acting out our thinking is to identify long-term solutions to structural poverty, and implement them. Another priority is to give birth to practical interventions by tackling raging crimes and public health disasters such as diabetes, hypertension, and breast/prostate cancers, all of which are killing our people and destroying our peace of mind. As we act to make economic power and social wellbeing commonplace reality, we will have to measure success differently. Collective fulfillment and equitable access to resources that yield sustainable prosperity are worthy benchmarks.
I don’t believe that the only option we have in a free market democracy is to accept the calculus that the rich get richer and the poor get more desperate. This is unsustainable. Shifting cultural expectations and perspectives will immune us from living between extremes of plenty and poverty. A Strategic Do Tank that focuses on well-targeted, efficient and meaningful actions with clearer thinking to upgrade the Caribbean survival chances is needed. I recommend reading Scott Belsky’s book, Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles between Vision and Reality, as a good place to start.
For one moment, I could almost hear Sir Ron’s triumphant response: “Doc, when can we do it?” I’ll say, “Now!” Mighty good, release your vigour! Join us!