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BEHIND THE HEADLINES: UWI alumni can do more giving

Tony Best

BEHIND THE HEADLINES: UWI alumni can do more giving

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“Inextricably linked.”

It’s a phrase that aptly describes a symbiotic relationship between an intricate tangle of threads. And when Professor Eudine Barriteau, Principal of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill campus in Barbados, used it the other day it was clear she was zeroing in on a crucial aspect of the partnership between the island-nations of the region and the English-speaking Caribbean’s leading tertiary education institution.

The issue on the front burner was the economic and social development of the states which belong to the Caribbean archipelago and the role of the UWI in that vital exercise. It wasn’t surprising that the academic and top administrator focused attention on the crucial matter.

After all, the tertiary education institution with campuses in Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica and its highly visible presence elsewhere across the region has helped to train most of the Caribbean’s current political, corporate and labour leaders.

And Barriteau’s descriptive phrase illustrates why there may have been a collective a sigh of relief at Cave Hill when published reports suggested that some of the countries, Barbados among them, may be on the verge of turning the economic corner after almost a decade of a harrowing economic downturn that began with the “great recession” of 2008 and hasn’t shown any long-lasting signs of abating.

“I believe very strongly that the agreement to place a Cave Hill campus of the UWI in 1963 made an incredible difference to the growth of the Barbadian economy, the sophistication of the civil service, the services that are offered generally and the interlocking linkages between the University, the corporate sector and the governmental sector,” she said.

“When you look at Barbados, there are a lot of factors that contribute to Barbados’ development and one of them is the enduring character of Barbadians themselves that has been underscored by the presence of UWI.”

That’s true. But Barbados isn’t alone. A similar picture is routinely painted in St Lucia, Antigua, Grenada, St Kitts-Nevis, St Vincent, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Dominica.

“Throughout the region, especially in the Eastern Caribbean, the leading persons there, generally, the majority of them have been educated at the UWI,” said Barriteau.

Prime ministers, judges, engineers, physicians, heads of the civil service, religious ministers, corporate executives, leaders of social services organisations and diplomats the region sends abroad to the United Nations, Organisation of American States, World Trade Organisation, London, Ottawa and Paris have sat in the classrooms or laboratories at Mona, St. Augustine and Cave Hill.

“It’s heart-warming to travel across the region or outside of it and hear the key decision-makers reflect glowingly on the role of the UWI has played in their lives,” she declared.

That bit of reality explains something else: why the UWI under its new Vice Chancellor, Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, and its long-serving Chancellor, Sir George Alleyne, backed by Barriteau are reaching out to UWI graduates across the Caribbean and in the diaspora in seeking their financial and other forms of assistance so that the university can meet its obligations to the Caribbean in the decades ahead.

“We are saying that our governments are experiencing serious economic challenges because we got the tail wind of the global economic recession after it hit the industrialised countries,” said Barriteau.

“Similarly, our economic recovery is behind them. Both in terms of their individual growth and development and their ability to make a contribution through their various areas of leadership and employment, the alumni can do this because of the education you have been given.

“Now that the university is at the stage where we need you, we are asking you to enable us to continue making our contribution to the ongoing development of our region, economically, politically and social,” she added.

In short, give back even more to the Caribbean which provided them with so much.

Aiding the UWI as it seeks to train the next generation of government leaders, experts and corporate executives who will push the region forward to its next stage of development is crucial.

“The UWI is calling upon you, its community of graduates and supporters to please give generously,” said Sir Hilary, a driving force behind what’s being called the UWI Giving Week Campaign that runs August 1 to 7. “Your support will strengthen and expand the emancipation we all imagine for our youth. As you donate, we will collectively educate and emancipate.”

Sir George, the campaign’s global patron, agreed.

“Our university is entering an exciting and innovative phase that aims to consolidate the old that is good and explore the new that is better,” Sir George said.

“In doing so, while continuing to rely on our traditional partners such as our contributing governments, we must mobilise additional resources from within and without the Caribbean to develop the programmes and projects of this new phase.”

The tradition of giving by the graduates and others who have benefitted from the UWI needs a shot in the arm.

And that’s particularly true when it comes to graduates who are seeking their fame and fortune in North America.

They watch day in and day out as alumni of some of wealthiest schools in the United States and Canada give to the school that armed them with the skill and knowledge which have catapulted many of their students to positions of influence and to a comfortable life.

It’s difficult to imagine the Caribbean without a vibrant UWI. It is clear that the school must diversify its funding sources and the thousands of graduates in the US and Canada, for instance must be first in line. The alumni, to use a baseball metaphor, should step up to the plate and hit a home run or as in cricket to score a century at the wicket by aiding their alma mater in its financing needs.