'Action Ann' and Jamaica's promise

Jean Lowrie-Chin

Monday, April 08, 2019

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We Jamaicans should be proud of ourselves. We had a vibrant example of democracy in action last week with colourful campaigning and an electoral office that gave us results of the Portland Eastern by-election within two hours. It was a triumph for the Jamaica Labour Party's (JLP) Ann-Marie “Action Ann” Vaz, who can now write the book on tireless campaigning to win over a “safe seat”.

What made the difference? I believe it was Vaz's track record of service to the community through her One Jamaica Foundation, and her unrelenting promotion of the parish of Portland long before she even thought of entering the political arena. We congratulate her and wish her well in taking on the role of Member of Parliament for a constituency with so many demands. We were moved by her first pledge: To give urgent assistance to about 200 elderly persons who she said were living in poor conditions.

There is another important reason we celebrate with Vaz. Gender and development activist and practitioner Joan Joy Grant Cummings recently shared the Inter-Parliamentary Union rankings of women political representatives: Rwanda and Cuba are first and second with over 50 per cent representation by women. Grenada, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, Dominica, and Barbados are ahead of us. And, even with Vaz's victory we have barely inched up from 17.5 per cent to 19.04 per cent representation. If we want better for Jamaica, we should encourage more balance in political representation.

It is interesting to note that Damion Crawford opted for a more aggressive form of campaigning laced with misogyny and classism. One wonders who advised him on his campaign, and why did he not see how damaging such an approach would take.

A clean Kingston Harbour?

The GraceKennedy lecture, now in its 31st year, is a generous public event sponsored by the 97-year-old company. Chairman of the GK Foundation, Dr Fred Kennedy, noted, “My dad used to say, a good business is just like a good family; each is founded on a set of core values, the most important of which is honesty. Even the principles of finance are the same, the means to prosperity, he used to say, is never spend more than you earn, and always invest in the future.”

Kingston Harbour is good business, indeed, and there is already hefty investment in its future. In addressing the topic 'Clean Kingston Harbour — Pipe Dream or Pot of Gold?' panellists Professor Mona Webber, Dr Wayne Henry and Tijani Christian, and Professor Dale Webber gave rich insights on the seventh best natural harbour in the world. Dr Henry noted that there are 1,633 businesses on the land surrounding the harbour, with an estimated revenue of $252.4 billion. On the Kingston waterfront, we are seeing the completion of the GraceKennedy and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade buildings.

Even with the introduction of the Soapberry treatment plant, Kingston Harbour is polluted. Professor Mona Webber reminded that, “The water in Kingston Harbour should not be in contact with human skin.” It was noted that 19 gullies and two rivers course into the harbour, carrying solid waste, 80 per cent of which is plastic. It takes 450 years minimum to break down these plastics. The threats are many: coral reefs are in crisis and the pollutants could damage ships, making the harbour unattractive for shipping and a threat to our becoming a logistics hub. There was a call for stronger law enforcement and collective and individual responsibility. We cannot let this be a pipe dream, let's work at cleaning Kingston Harbour.

Stepping up with tech

We spent an invigorating Friday at The Destination Experience, brainchild of the audacious Kirk Hamilton. Described as “an interactive masterclass in innovation”, we focused on the “Fourth Industrial Revolution”.

Sean Watson of Singularity University said many companies are struggling because they are “stuck in mental, cultural models — legacy structures”. He said technology had democratised access with the cost of entry into markets now nearly zero. Business now requires “big, bold thinking”.

Jamaican-born Ann-Marie Campbell is executive vice-president of Home Depot. Starting out as a cashier in Florida, her enquiring mind and energy moved her up the corporate ladder. She noted that her company maintains its brick and mortar presence for more mature customers, along with a strong digital presence. Listed as one of the 25 Most Powerful Women in the US by Fortune magazine, Campbell says the shop run by her grandmother, which inspired her business sense, still stands in Portland.

We enjoyed a session with Danielle Terrelonge, Mark Croskery, Odetta Rockhead Kerr, Jeff Pulver, and Mauro Miyake. Launching DRT in 2008, Danielle made her bold step to build the Caribbean's leading digital media monitoring service. Innovative investment expert Mark Croskery of SSL Venture Capital has created the Blue Dot survey company. Odetta Rockhead Kerr has presided over the growth of the business process outsourcing (BPO) business in Jamaica as country head and vice-president of Sutherland Global. Mauro Miyake, director at Microsoft, says the company is on a mission of empowerment. He says cloud technology is an equal opportunity enabler. All the presenters were brilliant.

I must applaud the last panel: Jampro CEO Diane Edwards, business leaders Jeffrey Hall, Andrew Mahfood, Paul “P B” Scott, and Chris Williams. Referring to the advice of Harvard Business School Professor Linda Hill to pull out the “slices of genius” in your team, Edwards said, “We need to believe in our own genius.” She reminded us that Jamaica is now the number six country in the world for ease of starting a business and number one in the English-speaking Caribbean for doing business. Hall noted with the lowering of interest rates and the movement of capital, business at the port of Kingston had doubled. Scott called for updating our regulations in order to align with global strides in technology, following Bermuda's example. As the panel noted the importance of growing the small and medium sectors, Mahfood said the steps taken in the national budget will assist the more vulnerable, while Williams noted the rise of the Junior Market of the Jamaica Stock Exchange, the work of Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship and new small and medium-sized enterprises bank offerings.

Now Jamaica needs to promote awareness of the impact technology can make in every sphere of our lives, including crime-fighting. This includes moving ahead with the national identification systems. I don't hear people speaking out against the detailed information needed to apply for visas, so why criticise a national system which requires much less? Let's step up with tech.

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