FIFTY years after Jamaica was declared an independent nation, we are by many objective indices worse off than we were at the dawn of this ambitious project of self-governance.
True, much of the blame should be placed at the feet of our political leadership. However, we should be careful how we seek to lay all the burden on those whom we have elected to public office.
What is interesting is that
in 50 years, despite the phenomenal achievements of our entertainers and
athletes, we still do not
have comprehensive national policies to tap the enormous economic potential resident in their accomplishments.
While we preen at the continued appeal of Marley and Bolt, and will journey to London proud in the fact that we as a nation have spawned these remarkable expressions of humanity, we are still largely oblivious to how we can
harness the opportunities presented by their phenomenal accomplishments. Jamaican companies are heading to Britain to bask in the reflected glory of our athletes and entertainers but how many of these entities have an appreciation of the value they could generate if they were to make strategic investments in sports and entertainment?
What kind of presence do Jamaican products have
on the Diamond League?
Do Jamaican products travel with our entertainers? The relationship between corporate Jamaica and our athletes and entertainers does not seem organic but is in the main contrived and parasitic.
I am indeed heartened that the recent IPO for Caribbean 2 World (C2W) was oversubscribed not only because I happen to know two of the principals, Chris Astaphan and Ivan Berry, well, but simply because listing of the start-up music publishing entity on the Junior Stock Exchange could signal a shift in our perception of entertainment-related ventures. I am hoping that this move will herald the public listing
of many more entertainment-related businesses thus providing the levels of capitalisation required for growth and expansion in a sector which can make such an enormous contribution to our national development.
Jamaicans are among some of the most enterprising in the world. I always remind others of this by pointing to those Jamaican entrepreneurs who spotted a business opportunity in the rain-soaked conditions at Catherine Hall a few years ago where patrons had assembled for an annual instalment of Sumfest. The patrons were spared the destruction of their footwear and accorded more assured mobility in the wet conditions of the venue through the protection provided by "scandal bags". All the patrons had to do was to put the scandal bag over their shoes when entering the venue and remove them when they were leaving. It was an ingenious but simple solution to a problem.
The entrepreneurs were addressing a fundamental principle of successful business: satisfying an unmet need. Those familiar with the Reggae Bed will see another example
of satisfying an unmet need at one of our music festivals bringing financial reward to enterprising individuals.
What is significant is that these enterprising individuals created far more value than they actually received for providing their products. Many persons who attended Sumfest would not have done so under the rainy conditions which would have meant a loss of revenue to the promoters. In fact, the event might have had to be postponed at huge cost to the organisers. In the case of the Reggae Bed, many who could not
have afforded expensive accommodation were able to attend Sunsplash. The Reggae Bed was a way of customising patronage by creating a group of patrons who could travel over long distance to the festival without having to seek hotel accommodation. The Reggae Bed created different categories of prices and customers.
The problem, though, is that in many instances the native ingenuity of Jamaicans is put to devious or antisocial ends. Look at the Lotto scam which has attracted so much local and international attention. If this is not an example of Jamaican ingenuity gone awry, I don't know what is. The question is, how do we harness such unquestioned intellectual capacity to more licit ends. As I have repeatedly pointed out, training and access to capital are critical factors in converting ideas into viable products. Lip service has been given to venture capital and other funding arrangements but we are still nowhere near where we should be on this matter.
What is clear to me is that the common man operating on the margins of society has largely held his end of the deal as far as contributing to the national project is concerned. It is from the periphery of our society that our athletic and entertainment icons have emerged. It is our leadership (private and public sector) that has mainly failed us. If anyone doubts my point, one only needs to take a trip
to any of the other Caribbean territories where the Jamaican culture largely dominates, but our manufactured products
are largely absent. Is there something our entertainers and athletes know that our corporate tycoons need to learn?