Thursday, November 22, 2007

Recognizing our excellence

Last Sunday the Prime Minister once again broached the subject of term limits, giving his reasoning behind the subject. This is that if you can’t demonstrate an ability to fix the country’s challenges within 10 years, then what is the justification for providing another term. This brings to mind the importance of human resources in development of countries and companies.

With the advent of globalization being competitive means relying more on knowledge, and by virtue of that human resources. So even though one puts capital in place, without the proper human resource capability to support efficient utilization of that capital, competitiveness will suffer. It is human thinking that determines how efficiently technology is used, as a computer is one person’s hands can be used more productively than by another person who lacks the appropriate training. So while as a country we have always emphasized capital investment where we have failed is in developing our human resource capability.

International preference
Our official statistics show that over 70% of our labour force left school without passing even one subject. We also know that our literacy rate is around 80%, while countries we compete with are at 95% and above. So how can we hope to compete with these countries? It is this falling productivity that is at the heart of our problems.

But developing our human resources has never been our emphasis, as we are like rural persons dazzled by the lights of the city, only in our case rural is Jamaica and the city represents other countries. It seems as if once you take a plane from another country and come to Jamaica that you are a greater expert that a resident Jamaican, even if you come from a less developed country. This is a cultural problem with Jamaicans.

We didn’t really start to recognize how powerful Bob Marley was until he died and was honoured internationally. Never mind the fact that for years before his death people from across the world would kill to see him perform, and would visit Jamaica just because of his name. As usual though foreigners always recognize our excellence before we do. His song was even voted best of the century. Leave it to us we would have chosen an international artiste.

There are also many instances where Jamaicans go abroad and do very well. Why is it not possible for them to do well in Jamaica? So whenever we have a project to do, or we are seeking expertise, the first thing we do is seek to get assistance from overseas. Never mind the fact that the overseas persons may not even have more expertise than we do locally, or not even be able to think out a problem better than we do. The fact is that their address does not have Jamaica on it, and they present a brilliant marketing document and speak differently.

I mean it is the US that has had Enron, WorldCom etc. Jamaica has not had that sort of accounting scandal. We have not yet seen any fallout in Jamaica from the sub prime crisis, even though Europe and The US has been affected. These examples should tell us that our Jamaicans may be thinking more about decisions than many others in international companies.

Economic impact
Even outside of the cultural issue though there is an economic impact for this type of preference. The fact is that when we continue to favour foreign ideas and tastes over Jamaican ones it causes (i) a much slower development rate, and less emphasis, on our own human capability; (ii) it impacts negatively on our foreign exchange; (iii) it supports the development of foreign firms over local ones; and (iv) it changes the emphasis from local produce to foreign ones.

There is no doubt that cultural tendencies determine consumption patterns, which ultimately affect economics. And this is the part of the problem that has plagued us for years. Can you imagine if the preference was for Jamaican tastes and developing Jamaican talent 40 years ago? We would have been far ahead in terms of our economic development. Driving down Knutsford Boulevard we would be seeing all Jamaican companies that have branches all over the world, instead of seeing the all too familiar foreign companies.

As a country we have produced the best in all categories. We have the best flavours in some of our produce. We have produced one of the leading hotel chains in the world (Sandals), and one thing Butch Stewart always speaks to me about is the excellence of his Jamaican trained hotel workers. We have the world record holder in the 100 metres. The irony is that we have allowed foreigners to have capitalized more on brand Jamaica that we have been able to. A few years ago listening to Jamaican dancehall music would have been seen as not proper, leaving the other countries to exploit the product and recognize our artistes at the Grammy awards, which is when we started to accept it.

We have to start thinking outside of the box, and change our cultural attitudes towards anything Jamaican, including most importantly human resources. I believe that many things we run to foreigners for can be done by Jamaicans. But our tendency is to value foreign input more, and thus pay them more for the same job a Jamaican does. If we do not rate our own then who will.

Other countries that are more developed have done so by focusing more internally than externally. We always, for example, focus on development by exporting, when similarly we could do so by developing locally causing the wealth to remain in Jamaica. Instead we import 80% of inputs and then export the product. This has led to neglecting value-added development of our own crops, for example. A few weeks ago I spoke to a UK trade mission and they were excited about finding opportunities in Jamaica by developing our local products.

I have no problem with foreign investments, which are important for development in a globalized economy, but it is important that we do as other countries, which is to develop local talent and industries.

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