AMCHAM T&T C.E.O Nirad Tewarie spoke to students, teachers, and guests at the launch of AMCHAM T&T’s National Youth Productivity Forum 2016, held at UTT Campus, Valsayn.
Below is the full text of Mr. Tewarie’s speech:
“Your Excellency, Thomas Aquinas Carmona, Senior Council, Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago- recipient, President of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and Patron of the National Youth Productivity Forum. Professor Dyer Narinesingh, President of the University of Trinidad and Tobago. AMCHAM Directors – Patricia Ghany Vice President, Hugh Howard, Immediate Past President.
I must extend apologies on behalf of our president Ravi Suryadevara who had a medical commitment which he had planned several months ago and could not be here today. Mr. Omar Mohammed, co-ordinator, Trinidad and Tobago National Commission for UNESCO. Mr. Nigel Forgenie, Chief Executive Officer of YTEPP. Representatives of the University of Trinidad and Tobago. Committee Members of AMCHAM T&T, NYPF Judges and Committee Members, Mr. David Belgrave – CEO, Massy Technologies InfoCom, representatives of other sponsors, Cheryl-Ann La Roche – Cluster Manager (East/Central/Tobago Region) First Citizens, and your colleague. Special thanks also to Ezone, our platinum sponsor. Other specially invited guests. Most importantly, teachers, students, members of the media, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, all that to say a pleasant good morning and welcome to you all.
I have a speech, but I just want to ask for your indulgence to say a few things.
First of all to His Excellency, I just want to say, in addition to being patron of this and being accommodating to us over the years, thank you very much for your understanding this morning, and your ease, and our apologies if we got any of the protocol incorrect as we undertook our meet-and-greet, but I’m sure our students really appreciated your warmth and your personal greetings, so thank you very much for your understanding. I never got to meet a president when I was in high school.
I want to share with you all a little personal story. Sometimes we write speeches, people like me, and they’re not really for the audience. I would like to talk with you a bit this morning. When I was in my second year of university, I was studying abroad, and I met a very important person in society by way of the position in which they held. When I was going back to school, he was in the airport and he knew my mom. When I say important, he was a legislative independent senator at the time, and he said, “Young man, what are you doing?” So I said, “Well sir, I’m studying Journalism.” He said, “what are you going to do next?” and I said, “ well I’ve done some internships while I was here over the years, and CCN TV6 said that I would have a job when I completed my studies, so I intend to come back.” And he looked at me almost with derision and said, “Come back?! This society so-so-so…etc.”
Now I’ve always been described as a fairly hot-headed person, so I literally bit my tongue and I waited, and when he was finished, I said, “Sir, with all due respect, if we all leave, who will build our country?” Not to say that I think that I am spectacular or that I could do anything revolutionary, but who says I can’t? Who says you can’t? And there’s a saying that goes, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Think of any revolution, think of any significant event, and go and read about it, go and research it, or even part of it, and at its core – of course you have a central charismatic figure usually- but at its core there are a few people, who organise everything, who have a vision, and who get people to move with them. I want to ask you the students, not what do you want to do, but what do you want to achieve? The Dalai Lama said, “Live a good, honourable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.” Do you all know what that means? It’s profound -what I interpret that to mean is that if you live your life in a way that makes you proud and happy, when you get older and you think back on the things that you did, and the experiences that you had, you experience that enjoyment piece by piece, all over again. Conversely, if you live your life in a bitter, frictional way, when you reflect on your life, you will reflect on anger and pain and lost opportunity. So ask yourselves, not “What do I want to be?” or not “What should my profession be?” but, “What do I really want to achieve?” And that thing doesn’t have to be specific. It doesn’t have to be that I want to “invent ten patents”. It could be that I want to help humanity, I want to do something for my community or do something for my country.
So you see, what we are doing here today? Each year, our NYPF asks students to look at themes of international importance. This year, the theme as you know is “Diversity…Inclusion, toward a more productive Trinidad and Tobago.” We deliberately choose broad themes so that you can put your own interpretation on them. AMCHAM T&T believes that this theme is pivotal to the sustainable development of T&T, and given its global importance, AMCHAM T&T has set out to facilitate the education of young people on topics so that you can understand the issues and implications for our economy.
This is our economy and our country.
Trinidad and Tobago is at a crossroads. This is a time when we need all hands on deck. I’ll share something with you: we have been looking at competitiveness at AMCHAM T&T, and we have found that aside from Luxemburg, which is a tiny country in the middle of Europe, and that in European law many people can pass through without having to live there, and Qatar which is a unique economy, there is no country in the world, none, beside those two, that is in the top 20 of any competitiveness index, that has a population of fewer than 3 million people. What does that mean? (We have 1.3 million people here.) It means that if we want to be competitive, we need to embrace everyone in society who is willing and able to contribute, and we should not use any disqualifying criteria, whether it be gender, geography, race or anything else. Surely you all have done research, I see some teachers laughing! So surely you all have done research: political affiliation, sexuality, – I need to hear from you all on those issues.
Trinidad and Tobago, as you know, as Trinbagonians we say that “God is a Trini,” – who am I to say otherwise? But what I do know, is that if you believe in a higher power, he or she helps those who help themselves. So we cannot sit back and assume that God will solve all our problems and fail to offer him or her even the slightest bit of help. Do you all agree with that at least? You are not going to pass your exams because your parents or teachers want you to do it, or you are not going to pass your exam because you go to church, temple, mosque, kingdom hall or wherever and not do any work, so you have to help God help you!
We know that our country has experienced successive periods of negative economic growth, and therefore we all need to work together, to deal with the challenges that we face. I just want to “segway” a bit to say one thing on behalf of AMCHAM T&T: I wish to state categorically that we at AMCHAM T&T are of the view that trade unions are our partners in development. We firmly believe that with sincerity of purpose and, if like Bob Marley advised, we don’t get bogged down by the “schisms and isms”, business and labour can work harmoniously to come up with solutions that would lead to a more competitive and productive Trinidad and Tobago and that is part of what this is about.
We cannot increase the productive capacity of our country, which is needed to improve competitiveness, by continuing exclusion of marginalised groups who may then be forced to depend on state benefits and marginal economic activities such as casual work or charity that does not lead them out of poverty and into a place where they can help themselves. Economist Richard Florida, and his global bestseller, “Rise of the Creative Class”, which details the reshaping of the economies of cities, identifies 3 main components for economic growth: “technology, talent, and tolerance.” All three of these he says, must work together, and while I believe we must develop all three, I just want to share some thoughts on tolerance.
Too often we judge people before they are given an opportunity to prove themselves. Just last week, we all aware of the two students, Denille and Mark, who were shot and killed in Laventille. Those students had names, they had families, they had hopes, they had dreams, and they were doing everything that we, as a society, tell them they need to do to take care of themselves, and to be different. But they didn’t get the chance to realise their full potential. And when those reports came out, I am sure many of us, when we heard it was gang-related, we thought it meant that they were involved in some gang-related activity. When we heard that one of them didn’t go to school that day, we said, “Ahh they must have done something!” And then we got the story. But we judged. It’s natural to judge, but we must accept that we have prejudices, and consciously deal with those prejudices to include people and to make a state for all to be able to contribute in society. We cannot become so comfortable with national stereotypes that we are willing to condemn others, before we understand their story. These students were role models. After Sean Luke’s murder, the little boy in Carapichaima who was brutally murdered in a cane-field, I remember asking someone who was deeply of the faith, “How do you justify this?” He said, “It can’t be justified, but my only hope is that this becomes a rallying point of change.” It is my hope and I hope that it is your hope, whether it be these murders or something else, that we use this as the impetus to create the kind of society that we want. So when the future of our nation is gunned down in the streets, our young nationals are forever stripped of the chance to live their dreams, it cannot be business as usual. We cannot become so callous, that we turn a blind eye because the students come from so-called “bad areas”.
So according to Richard Florida, “stuck in old paradigms of economic development, cities struggled in the eighties and nineties to become the next “Silicon Somewhere” yet they lost members of the creative class and their economic dynamism, to places more tolerant, diverse, and open to creativity.” What he believes in short is that when you create societies in which you have engineers and architects and IT people and educators and artists, and everybody is all together, they interact and they create new things. They find different ways to adapt technology and the society benefits, but they have to create the space in which people are free to be themselves. That they shouldn’t have to hide who they are or move into very narrow moulds, that is the essence of Trinidad and Tobago in my opinion.
Who is it that sang “Freedom”? Lyrikal? Do you all know that song this year? Somebody here must be into Carnival, somebody must be listening to the radio. The freedom – Freedom is the essence of who we are, and so to have freedom we must have a lot of tolerance and understanding and patience. So we in T&T must make a decision about the type of society that we want to create. We can’t use lazy stereotypes to make judgements instead of really listening to others’ stories and perspectives. We can’t use our differences to divide us, especially if it means we might drive out our creative class because then we will drive away some of our best and brightest thinkers. We can’t accept intolerance passively by never ourselves fighting for inclusion. Or, we can upgrade our national watch-words: discipline, production, tolerance. That’s really important because talent is no more than 10% of success. Malcolm Gladwell, an author, did a study, and he found that everybody, from Bill Gates to The Rolling Stones to the Beatles— everybody who made it to the absolute top of their field, put in a minimum of 10,000 hours of work, trying and failing before they made it. The Beatles were singing in bars before 15 people; Bill Gates was tinkering with computers for years before he made it. Ten thousand hours of trial and failure before they made it. So, if you’re talented, I am glad for you. If you’re not working to maximize that talent, woe be unto you. So we can embrace our watch-words: discipline, production and tolerance. We can commit ourselves with our words and our actions to create a society where our tolerance drives our discipline so that we can truly move toward a more productive Trinidad and Tobago. And while it may not be easy to overcome long-held beliefs, particularly where those beliefs are arranged for us by people whom we respect, and particularly when the fight against ignorance and unfairness seems daunting, I know what kind of society I want to live in, do you?
I thank you very much for your time.”