“Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons.” - Deuteronomy 4:9
I have recently been reflecting on the passage of time and the evolution of concepts that have woven their way into the fabric of economic development in the Caribbean.
It was in July 1993, after a visit to Singapore, when I first put pen to paper in a letter to the editor of the Barbados Advocate, musing about the potential of Barbados becoming the “Singapore of the Caribbean”. Little did I know then that this notion would germinate into an intricate framework of ideas, guiding the trajectory of small island economies for decades to come.
The cornerstone of my vision for economic growth has been the Economic Gearing System – a skeletal structure that has proved essential in nurturing and propelling economies forward. This system, like the gears of a well-oiled machine, fosters connectivity among business sectors, bolsters the growth of micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), and creates jobs that sustain livelihoods. Through these interconnected gears, the engine of our economy hums with vitality and progress.
Central to this evolution are the trailblazers we call entrepreneurs. They conjure up ideas with the DNA of an elephant, which start small but have intelligence in their seeds of grand visions that are not only colossal but are, in fact, powerful enough to shape our economic landscape.
If these entrepreneurs embrace the spirit of shepherding (life coaching and business mentoring) the benefits will be to (1) avoid pitfalls as they traverse the rugged terrain of challenges; (2) understand the perfect mix of profitability, savings and equity (rather than loans); and (3) share the successes of their ventures to create a more inclusive prosperity. What a transformation this will be.
As I reflect on the transformation of Singapore, my mind inevitably turns to their triumphant journey from a modest fishing village in 1959 to a First World powerhouse by the turn of the century. The success of Singapore is encapsulated in the principles of Connectivity, Openness, Reliability and Enterprise (C.O.R.E.). These principles, woven into its very core, have propelled Singapore beyond its humble origins, inspiring Caribbean nations like Barbados to follow in its footsteps.
In the ever-changing landscape of economic discourse, Barbadian businessman Selwyn Cambridge’s insights have cast a spotlight on the nuanced difference between small business owners and entrepreneurs. His poignant comparison, shared in the Barbados Today online newspaper, has shed light on the distinctive paths they tread. It is through such discerning observations that we can chart a course for growth that acknowledges both paths, carving a space for each to flourish.
An undeniable truth emerges – the way forward for small island developing states lies in the symbiotic relationship between the public and private sectors. Collaboration, often in the form of public-private partnerships, unveils a path strewn with opportunities for success. Through shared resources, expertise and vision, we can navigate the intricate terrain of economic growth, building a foundation that supports both entrepreneurs and small businesses alike.
As I pen this column, 30 years after that initial letter to the editor, I am filled with optimism. The journey has been one of learning, adapting and embracing the ever-changing dynamics of our world. The seed of an idea planted all those years ago has blossomed into a forest of possibilities not yet realized.
The economic landscape of the Caribbean and, indeed, other small island developing states, while distinctive and diverse, holds the potential to emulate the success story of Singapore – not as a mere copy, but as a unique Caribbean tale of growth, enterprise and prosperity.
There are a plethora of entrepreneurs in our countries but without shepherding they fail at an alarmingly high rate. My hypothesis is that if only our governments would understand and play that critical role of creating an enabling environment, what a wonderful transformation we would witness.