STRONG SUIT: Where is this going?
As a child, I remember that I was frequently asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I have asked that question to children and adults many times over the years. I suspect you would have had a similar experience. You would also have found that, over time, the answers that you gave to this question tended to change.
Factors that influence the changes to our answers include parents, teachers, peers, role models, public perception and of course, our own experimentations. Sometimes, we shrug our shoulders because the true answer is: “I don’t know”. At the end of the day, it is a question worth asking and answering on a periodic basis. It can be a reminder that we are not as grown as we think we are and that without purpose, we fall into a rut and lose our reservoir of zeal.
At those times when there is or was a crystallized answer, it always embodied something we considered admirable and worth striving toward. Having an answer also gave us a point of focus into which we could pour our passion, energy and time. Two formative questions that have endured through the ages are: “Who made you; and why?”
Here, in Barbados, we are now confronted with being publicly stripped of one of our most prized accolades; that of being a nation that is “punching above its weight”. Prominent global assessors have now consigned us to comparisons with the world’s most ineffectual nations. There is a scurrying amongst various affected parties to assign blame and offer solutions. Old habits die hard and the discredited practices of pursuing self-interest and the retention of power are manifest in the fabric of the discourse.
The current flashpoint is the Government’s decision to remove 3 000 people from the public sector payroll and apply other restrictions to inhibit the growth of its wage bill. The uproar is similar to that which greeted the removal of free tertiary tuition, the retention of the 17.5 per cent value added tax and the imposition of extraordinary surtaxes.
The furore is because the current “trust me” approach, with information released in drips and drabs, shows no promise of sustainable improvement. There is little recognition of assets accrued and available for deployment. There is fragmentation instead of cohesion, and our national body language is similar to that of the current, dispirited West Indies Test cricket team.
I do not draw comfort from the fact that other nations face the same dilemma. I certainly hope that cohesion and traction can soon be established. Barbados is now 47 years old; a callow youth as nations go. Yet, in that time, it has on many occasions risen to the level of being considered a global exemplar of best practice in many areas. There are few laurels to rest upon but there are many lessons that can be used to move forward. Access to these lessons and Barbados’ new global current is linked to having a common vision.
With a shared vision, all the seemingly disparate initiatives will have a context and can be applied as an investment in our new future. What is needed is the humility and integrity to ask and answer the question: “What do we want to be when we grow up?” Then we will know where we are going.
• Dennis Strong is the founding president of the Caribbean Institute of Certified Management Consultants.