Moving the needle


David Mullings

Sunday, December 16, 2012

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A question I have come to appreciate after years in the business world and reading about change within societies is "Does it move the needle?", which simply asks if something creates a meaningful difference.

Investors ask this question every time they evaluate an opportunity. Will the absolute return on the investment make a noticeable difference in my portfolio, or is it too small and therefore not worth it? A person with $10 million would say that earning 10 per cent on $10,000 does not move the needle.

A business person looking at new markets for a product would evaluate the size of each market, and if that market was too small then it would not be pursued. A group seeking change within a society carefully chooses a cause and the desired outcome.

Groups rarely get large support for initiatives that do not move the needle. Overcoming Apartheid would move the needle, and so there was real support.

Jamaica has faced and currently faces many issues, all of which could move the needle if that was desired. Too often we have instead seen choices that lead to limited change and which ultimately do not move the needle, forcing us to confront the problems later on.

Access to education in the 1970s moved the needle significantly, creating a middle class that did not exist before and opening up opportunities to a wider cross section of the society. The establishment of the NHT, HEART and PATH also had major impact.

Very few countries have a vision for the future crafted and agreed by opposing political parties with a clear implementation plan and timeline. Jamaica is rare in having Vision 2030, which seeks to move the needle in many areas.

Unfortunately, in typical fashion, we are not implementing most of the plan within the timeframe prescribed, and so few people believe it will in fact be achieved by 2030 (I have heard jokes comparing it to Highway 2000 which is still being built today).

The Government would love to see the jobless rate decline by whole percentage points because that moves the needle, but many of the tasks outlined in Vision 2030 intended to make it easier for the private sector to operate have not been executed. We have yet again taken a piecemeal approach or even delayed implementation.

If the private sector is expected to move the needle in terms of job creation and generating income from outside of Jamaica, then the Government of the day must make decisions that have major impact, not minor changes.

I often hear non-Jamaicans speak about our "soon come" mentality. Delay and lack of respect for timelines have almost become acceptable in our culture. This has contributed to inertia.

Crime has been an issue for many years, but there was never a sense of urgency until someone else gave us deadlines. It was only then that we really sought to move the needle.

Education is constantly talked about each year when exam results are published. We have discussed the importance of early childhood education, exposed the lopsided spending where tertiary gets the most subsidies and early childhood the least. Yet there has been no sense of urgency in making the drastic changes to invest in the future.

The Panama Canal is widening and Jamaica is perfectly placed to be an even bigger transshipment hub for the Western Hemisphere, leveraging the seventh largest natural harbour in the world, but we will most likely be late to the party because no one is willing to make the big decisions in a timely manner.

If we were playing a football match our team would be losing, not because we were not good enough but simply because we weren't trying to score until the closing minutes of the game, while the other team was trying since the first whistle blew.

Critical decisions will have to be made in 2013 that affect the future trajectory of Jamaica, the economy and the citizens. It is high time for us to make bold decisions that will move the needle and implement plans with a sense of urgency so that Jamaica can really advance in this second 50 years.

David Mullings was the first Future Leaders representative for the USA on the Jamaica Diaspora Advisory Board.




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