- Your Excellencies
- Ladies and Gentlemen
Jamaica, the Region and indeed the world is at a critical juncture. The problems that face nations seem to boggle the mind and there are no easy answers. There is any number of issues that I could address today. Some of the challenges with which we wrestle are:
- The continuing effects of the worst global recession in nearly eighty years weigh heavily on every country in this Region.
- The challenges of poverty and underdevelopment.
- Trade and financial inequities and instability in the global economic system.
- Political uncertainties.
- Environmental degradation, climate change, our vulnerability to natural hazards, and,
- Our high trade-dependence.
These are all serious constraints.
However, Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen, I think we have to focus on what is right with us, and what right attitudes and dispositions can help us buildtogether for the future. When, for example, I think about the challenges which the global community has had with democracy and with what is called democratic collapse; when I reflect on the many countries which have suffered from coups, dictatorships, tyranny and repression, I feel proud of our record as a Region. We have been a model in terms of our commitment to democracy and the rule of law. We have not been perfect, but among Regions, we have been exemplary.
When we see that even some countries which have had a long democratic tradition have suffered serious reversals, we should pause to celebrate our rich, enviable democratic traditions. And our democratic traditions are not just enshrined in constitutions! They are enshrined in the hearts and minds of our peoples. We have nurtured a democratic culture, a democratic ethos, a democratic spirit. If you talk to the average Caribbean person, you will see how deeply embedded are our democratic values.
People talk about our slow progress in building the Caribbean Community, but they fail to note how long for example the Europeans have been at their project of European integration. Everyone now knows the degree of stress which the European project is undergoing as the Euro zone crisis deepens. We must not undersell ourselves as Caribbean peoples. Yes, we must be self-critical and scorn complacency; yes, we must be introspective; but we must not be oblivious to the concrete achievements we have made in a world that is increasingly unstable, unpredictable and unruly.
It is important to take stock of what’s right with us as we contemplate the future. I believe, Your Excellencies ladies and gentlemen, that our values and attitudes will determine how we build our future. In other words, our future is dependent on the values and attitudes we manifest and how we are able to inculcate them in our youth.
I launched the I Believe Initiative because I passionately believe that we need to build in our people, possibility thinking and a can-do spirit. We need to see ourselves not as hapless victims and creatures of circumstances, but as a strong, resilient, resourceful, courageous people who are willing and able to take on the world-whatever it brings.
The peoples who have built great economies have been those who have manifested a strong sense of cultural confidence, a sense of destiny, and purpose. People need to know that they have the capacity to be great and to surmount whatever challenges they face. We have produced some brilliant historians who have documented the heroic struggles of our ancestors. We are a tough, resolute and defiant people. We need to use that history to ground our young people and let them know and appreciate the heritage they have.
Your Excellency(nod in the direction of HE of Trinidad & Tobago)
Some time after I had launched the I Believe Initiative, I came upon a fascinating paper written in 1998 by Jennifer Holder Dolly, titled “Leadership Challenges for a New Millennium: Perspectives from Trinidad and Tobago“. This was part of the Policy Papers on the Americas Series. It is based on a survey of Trinidad’s school-aged youth, exploring what they were looking for in leaders.
It showed that these Trinidadian youth were looking for leaders who exhibited “understanding, persistence, perseverance, patience, enthusiasm, ability to work hard, ability to motivate others and discipline”. Respondents also said that “the most significant influence” their role models had on them was their ability to increase their self-confidence. I had also intuitively held that belief.
Among some of the major findings of this survey was that, the respondents became more self-confident, persistent, disciplined, positive, focused and better organized as a result of the influence of their role models. This study also revealed the most respondents identified “staying focused, setting high standards, never giving up and being goal-directed” as being among the most important lessons learned.
Your Excellencies ladies and gentlemen, it’s not just about the macro economy, Gross Domestic Product, rates of industrialization, debt-to-GDP ratios, interest rates, and other indices of economic development which are very noteworthy. Indeed unless we address issues of social capital and values -issues having to do with trust, building collaborative relationships, dealing with conflict and anger management, building strategic alliances; inculcating values such as honesty, integrity, and trust, we will not achieve sustainable economic growth.
I urge you fellow Presidents and Governors-General to commit our offices and influence to reach our young people. They are the future of the Caribbean. We have to build in them a confidence toward the future, an indomitable spirit, and defiance in the face of adversity and challenge. We must continue to remind them of our history and of their historic opportunity to carry on the struggles of our ancestors and their elders.
Our offices give us certain advantages, in that we are seen as being above the political fray and being able to act as mediators and conciliators. In periods of polarization and political tension, we are the beacons of stability, sobriety and strength. I believe there is much that we can do to advance our societies. We will talk about some of these things at this Conference. We will exchange notes and share experiences. Hopefully, we will emerge at the end of this week more resolved and refreshed to take another step along this long road of Caribbean development. Let us walk together and reason together along the way.
I now take great pleasure in declaring open the 14th Conference of Presidents and Governors-General of the Caribbean. Thank you.