Sunday, September 08, 2019

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We've admired them from afar and, for some, had their stories brought to life by this newspaper. But never like this.

Today, The Jamaica Observer Sunday Finance begins Q10 (10 questions) to lay bare the stories of some of our most accomplished, erudite and fascinating men and women in business to bolster the confidence of our next generation and make the unattainable seem within reach.

This week Q10 features immediate past country resident representative for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Jamaica, Dr Constant Lonkeng Ngouana.

Q10: What was your experience like growing up?

Dr Ngouana: I grew up in a relatively large family in Cameroon, a low-income country in Central Africa. My most vivid childhood memory involves playing football in the corner of the street with neighbours and friends. I also recall the vacations spent in the countryside with my brothers and sisters during the harvest season. It was always a great opportunity to catch up with our grandparents and cousins joining from different regions. Granny would wake us up super early in the mornings to go to the farm a couple of miles away with the ever-solid argument that we have to beat the sunshine.

Q10: What made you decide to join the IMF?

Dr Ngouana: Earlier in my professional career in Cameroon, I perceived the IMF to be a highly technical and credible institution with the necessary levers to get sometimes tough, but necessary policies for the long-term implementation in partnership with governments. I since viewed the institution as a great place to work and help make a long-lasting difference in people's lives around the world.

Q10: What do you love about your job?

Dr Ngouana: There are several things that I like about working with the IMF. First, the job provides a unique platform to help countries strengthen their economic institutions and raise the living standards of their people. Second, I find it quite refreshing to interact with people from different cultural backgrounds — IMF staff come from 148 different countries. Last, but not least, it may allow you to visit countries that you never thought you would visit before (Jamaica is not one of them because I always thought of visiting Jamaica), adding to the rich cross-country dimension of the work.

Q10: If not at the IMF, where would you be?

Dr Ngouana: I had a strong drive for Mathematics because of the underlying logic. Seeking some applications after my bachelor's degree, I moved into statistics and subsequently closer to the people in the field of economics. I probably would be a mechanical engineer if I didn't choose to be an economist, not only for the strong association with Mathematics but also for my attraction to airplanes and heavy engines growing up.

Q10: How do you spend your free time?

Dr Ngouana: I spend my free time with my kids, family and friends; I love travelling and interacting with people from different cultures.

Q10: Where is your favourite place in the world?

Dr Ngouana: Cameroon, my home country, is my favourite place on earth. I always feel something special and unexplainable when the plane is about to touch down whenever I visit, which I try to do every year to connect with my parents and extended family.

Q10: What are you most proud of?

Dr Ngouana: My highest pride, which I share with my wife, must be the unique resilience of our kids. That resilience was in full display living here in Jamaica alone with them, as my wife had to be away for reasons beyond our control. The kids spent three amazing years here, adapting perfectly to their then new environment and making lifetime memories and friends. They are now back in the US and gearing up for the school year in their now new environment.

Q10: What are the main highlights of your tenure in Jamaica?

Dr Ngouana: Boys' & Girls' Champs, not only for the organisational apparatus behind the games and the contagious excitement at the National Stadium during the sprints but because it is, to my mind, a great illustration of what a country can achieve through a consistent clockwise process. After watching Champs three years in a row, it became clear to me that it is no hazard why Jamaica has dominated the world stage of track and field for so long. Jamaican athletes get to develop the needed competitive spirit early on. My sense is also that the encouragement (and pressure) from school peers prepare Jamaican athletes well to face the pressure on the world stage, this is so critical for the sprints as every second counts.

I am thankful for the fact that I could have a discussion with Government officials and private sector representatives on the same day, be on a farm or on a factory tour out of Kingston the next day and subsequently find myself interacting with students the day after (the media was very often in the mix, carrying the message to a wider audience). I never took that openness and far-reaching engagement for granted. It is amazing to see how engaged Jamaicans are when it comes to developments in their economy. The fact that the Jamaican people are so plugged in is probably one of the greatest safeguards of the economic gains achieved over the past six and half years.

Q10: Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

Dr Ngouana: I will likely be with the Fund five years from now, trying to help countries strengthen their domestic economic institutions.

Q10: What would you have done differently during your tenure in Jamaica?

Dr Ngouana: If I was to start over again, I would go to the beach more and get to visit the island some more on a personal level. I guess this gives me a good reason to come back as a visitor, including for Champs — I was promised season tickets during my send off and intend to follow through.

— Compiled by Kellaray Miles

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