University of the Southern Caribbean’s 8th Annual Business Development Seminar

April 8th , 2018

An amalgamation of small efforts can lead to a great feat. Siewdass Sadhu exemplified this principle through his life’s mission; to build our now world renowned Temple in the Sea using only a bicycle and a leather bag to transport stone by stone. From nothing, he created a sacred monument that is an iconic part of our nation’s cultural legacy.

Ladies and gentlemen, the concept of community development underscores this very same principle. In Siewdass’ story, the stones represent each community in Trinidad and Tobago. The strength of each stone will impact the building’s structural integrity.

One of the factors for Trinidad and Tobago’s broader economic progression is development at a microcosmic level; that is, in the communities. To illustrate my point, I take you to the community of Biche which participated in the restoration of the Nariva Swamp. To restore approximately 1339 hectares of the swamp destroyed by illegal rice planting in the 1980s and 1990s, the villagers started creating nurseries in their own backyards to fulfil the demands of this project.

As the replanting expanded, one witnessed the development of the Biche community. Foundations for homes were being erected for the very first time, windows for unfinished homes were being installed, and walls of homes were finally being plastered. The women of the community, many of whom were unemployed, were now part of the national effort to restore an Environmentally Sensitive Area.

This project illustrates and parallels the goals of the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts; one of which is to create entrepreneurs at the community level to support, and perhaps one day lead in our nation’s economic development. From the Mentoring by the Masters Programme, to the Community Education and Skills Training Programme, we refine the skills of our artisans, bread makers, cooks, seamstresses, mas makers and many more, so that their final creations can compete on the local and even international markets, whilst training their minds to adopt the business acumen of a successful entrepreneur.

I am proud to say that many of the Ministry’s graduates participate in local craft markets; a movement which is gaining momentum across Trinidad and Tobago. Persons are now able take on small projects around their homes and within their communities such as tiling, plumbing, small engine repair, and electrical works. For every product that is sold and for every service rendered to a customer, income is generated. This is enabling more families and by extension communities, to become self-sustainable. There is a body of literature to supports what we already know; the direct correlation between self-sustainable communities and decreased crime and poverty rates, which contributes to a nation’s overall wellbeing.

Therefore the theme of this year’s Annual Business Development Seminar facilitated so well and for so many years by the University of the Southern Caribbean is very much relevant to the economic realities with which we are faced. As we shift our economic model to one of diversification, we must always place the farmers, the craft artisans, bread makers, the jewellery makers, at the core of our development goals. For when they are empowered to make a difference in their respective homes, villages and communities, there will more equitable access to resources, living standards will improve across the board, and the nation’s gross domestic product will grow.

Off course as consumers, we need to support the entrepreneurs of our communities. Buying local is by now a clichéd phrase, but purchasing the rice grown in Moruga, the sweet potato pasta produced by our own entrepreneurs, or fruits grown locally does reduce and will reduce our food importation bill which stood at a staggering $ 32.7 billion between the period 2011 to 2016. Little drops will fill our bucket. We also need to rethink our “preference for foreign brands”, especially around gift-giving occasions such as Christmas, Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day. Based on the quality of gift items produced from our own CEP graduates and other craft artisans and entrepreneurs, I can personally endorse these community and local entrepreneurs, and I can say to you that first class products are being produced in Trinidad and Tobago.

Ladies and gentlemen, I look forward to the discussions and proposals from today’s Seminar which would be useful to policymakers in shaping the country’s economic trajectory. I therefore encourage you to share your findings with all business stakeholders, and I maintain that doors of the Ministry of Community Development, Culture and the Arts will remain open to new ideas from our academic fraternity. Let us all continue to work assiduously as we build resilient communities across Trinidad and Tobago.

I thank you.