By Wilson Jn Baptiste
The realization that resources are no longer scarce holds tremendous hope for Saint Lucia during these turbulent economic times. This realization is based on the value placed on the generation of new ideas and the transformation of these new ideas into social-economic engines through the use of technology.
Wilson Jn Baptiste holds a BSc in Hotel and Tourism Administration and an MSc in Tourism Management, from New York University. He is currently CEO of Gems of St Lucia, headquartered in New York, an enterprise designed to market the best of St Lucia’s hospitality and tourism products, entertainment and leisure.
However, the nurturing of new ideas requires a friendly environment geared towards stimulating the thought processes, increasing mental energy and providing a national audience to fine tune and consume the final product. The national audience must be viewed as every Saint Lucian globally.
The current approach to the acceptance and execution of ideas is based on the perception that certain members of society are the sole owners of ideas. This is based on tradition whereby these certain members have in the past been the ones at the forefront of the socio-economic development of the island. This may have been due to their connection with the former colonial masters, superior education and a financial institution which was receptive and tolerant to their ideas.
However, the elimination of preferential treatment and the advent of globalization may very well have made their skills set irrelevant and dysfunctional. We are now living in a world which is profit driven, on the corporate side, knowledge driven and “what is in it for me” on the diplomatic end.
Saint Lucia has to move quickly to ensure that a new appreciation towards ideas exists. This new approach must first remove biasness against a certain segment of society and preference towards the other segment. The reason why this new approach makes sense is due to the availability of technology for research and development to all segments of society, irrespective of class. As a result, there is a more competitive environment for the nurturing and execution of ideas.
However, the institutions which the island inherited from the colonial masters have not been transformed to allow the same level of access to resources for the execution of ideas to all citizens. This form of control may very well be the reason why constitutional reform remains a smoke screen.
The motivation for the generation of ideas is based primarily on two factors. These factors are need and excess capacity. However, there is the need to identify in which segment of the population that these two factors exist.
The citizens with the need for the generation of new ideas will most likely be found in the ghettos. This is the segment of society where nationals have to be both creative and imaginative. However, whereas they succeed in meeting their daily needs through creativity and imagination, that creativity and imagination is referred to as hustling in preference to ideas.
The reason why they are referred to as hustlers may be due to the raw form in which they present and execute their creativity and imagination. There are no spreadsheets and business plans. As a result, they cannot attract finance from a complex financial environment which was not designed to cater to their low skill levels. They also do not know how to identify and manage their market. Their hustle is based on trial and error.
The citizens with the need to generate ideas due to excess capacity will most likely be found among the educated class and in the Diaspora. However, successive governments have failed to harness the Diaspora for development even at a time when the government is constrained by financial, human capital and governance deficits in meeting their local development goals. These communities have strong linkages to the local areas they are from and where in many cases their families still reside.
The crisis of confidence which followed the recent financial crisis has further reduced the availability of private financing through traditional financial instruments. Further, public finance and development assistance alone cannot bridge these funding gaps. As a result, there must be innovative approaches that target new sources to support available financing to realize the promise of local development.
Among the untapped resources available to developing countries are their expatriate communities or Diaspora in developed countries. These communities can contribute to the development of the island through the Global Development Fund and the Global Skills Bank.
Saint Lucia and its people are now facing their worse economic and social challenges since independence. The banana industry can no longer be described as green gold and tourism will only create a dent in the economy if it records double digit growth at near rack rates. This means that increased tourism arrivals at discounted rates may very well be bad for the island because it does not justify the marketing resources being spent to attract these added visitors.
The leadership of the island must not only seek assistance from foreign government but must also pay attention to the dreams and aspirations of the ghetto kids because they are the ones for which solutions are being sought. However, the irony is that they are not being consulted on their needs and their capacity to meet their specific needs. If this was done, then government would recognize the gap between dreams and aspiration and capacity, and address it in a more targeted and strategic fashion.
Finally, the Diaspora has tremendous value to Saint Lucia both in terms of intellectual capacity and economic capacity. This capacity has been untapped thereby creating an economic disconnect between communities in the developed world and on the island. The time to bridge this gap is now.