Linkage Q4 (2020) - Reset / Recovery
By every account, we can say that 2020 brought unparalleled disturbances and disruptions. During this past year, we have had to hit the reset button many times just to adapt, recover and survive. Building a COVID-19 free world means we will have to keep our hands firmly on the reset button if we hope to recover quickly and prevent another widespread economic crisis.
This pandemic has forced us to close many businesses, to shutdown major sectors of our economy, many have been either furloughed or lost their jobs, and then there is the growing death toll. Now somehow, we are asked to pick up the pieces. And we will. Businesses all over will rise to the challenge but it won’t be easy.
So how do we define the strategy to ensure a healthy 2021? The bad news is that there is no specific strategy... no magic bullet. But there are things we can do to be more resilient.
Our business community is innovative – despite what detractors say. We forge new paths and while the talkers talk, we do. And that’s what we must do now. Think differently. Think big. And Do. Today, even with this uncertain outlook, we have an opportunity before us to challenge ourselves to be more bold, more innovative, and even more transformative in the way we conduct our business operations.
There is a lot that Government should do, and these things have been clearly identified before. So now it is up to those in authority to act. What would be useful is a more effective reporting and evaluation framework, ideally as part of the national budget presentation.
But as the private sector, we cannot wait on the Government. We must be bold because regardless of whoever is in office, we have a responsibility to our employees, our customers, our community, our society, our families and yes, to ourselves, to find ways to thrive and grow.
So, boosting our digital economy can help. How many times have we said that digital transformation holds the key to diversification which will lead to long-term growth and sustainability?
While Government must do more and faster in this regard, as the private sector, we have to ensure that not only are we identifying and implementing the right technologies, but also that our people are trained to use the new technology effectively.
Investing in technology and in our people is not new to us. Those aren’t bold concepts. But doubling down on training and capital investments in technological capacity in the midst of tight cash flows might well be. Yet we must double down on these things.
We know these are challenging times, but we have to remember that what differentiates us from less successful economies are our adaptability, innovation and willingness to explore new opportunities.
Our highly developed energy sector has, at different times, afforded us one of the highest growth rates, highest FDI inflows and highest per capita income in the region. And our manufacturing sector is responsible for providing the region with a significant portion of its consumer products.
So yes, we have achieved great things because of our strategic geographic location, natural resources and highly skilled labor force which means there is no reason why we once more can’t drive growth and sustainable development. Yes, we can. Now is the time to pivot and explore new opportunities even as we face this latest period of uncertainty.
And while certainty will be elusive for several months, the country does need a clear and coherently articulated vaccination plan. With the confirmation of just 25,000 full doses of the vaccine and no clarity around orders of additional doses, T&T is on track to be one of the last countries on the planet for full re-opening. We must move swiftly to secure additional doses of the vaccines – moderna, Pfizer, astrazenneca-oxford – and have a plan to ensure that the majority of the population is vaccinated in the shortest possible time, ideally by the middle of the year at the latest.
So, as we seek to build resilience and overcome the challenges over which we have no control, we must be bold. We must seek partnerships as opposed to trying to do everything ourselves – even if that means collaborating with firms who may be the local competition as we go after international business.
We must seek new markets as we attempt to overcome our foreign exchange challenges.
We must diversify within our own businesses. To do this we must take a good look at our business processes to identify intellectual property that we previously overlooked but that we can now commercialize. We must seek to identify unique businesses processes that give us competitive advantages. Massy has done this in the automotive sector and used this to advance in the Colombian market, for example.
What we cannot do is nothing. What we cannot also do is wait – wait for gas production and prices to increase. Even if they do, we can no longer be dependent only on local gas production and advantageous international prices.
As we diversify and grow, so too is our voice amplified with the policymakers. I see thunderstorms ahead but, on my company ship, I am betting on my team and our ability to pivot and execute new strategies. Nationally, I’m betting on all of you, our AMCHAM T&T community, to also pivot, to reinvent yourselves, to dig deep and bounce back stronger.
By Andre Bagoo
Photo Credit: Andre Bagoo
THINK ABOUT IT. Writers do everything alone. We come up with ideas quietly at our desks. A single image, a line of dialogue, the premise of a story—some germ comes to us, as though out of nowhere, and then, through a magical alchemy that happens privately, inwardly, this germ is built upon, expanded, then hammered into shape endlessly, perhaps over years, until the polished jewel, the pearl, is done, it's surface as lonely as the white page.
Writing is solitary
Yes, writing is solitary. So, it’s only natural to think that lockdown during a pandemic has been heaven for writers. Stay home you say? Sure. Avoid people you say? No problem. No parties? No gatherings? No trips to the beach? No crowds? Easy. We’re writers. We’re built for this. And hasn’t lockdown life meant people are turning more and more to books, films, TV shows, Netflix—anywhere stories are told and told well? Doesn’t that mean writers have it better than most?
Even for us, this has been a difficult period. While many writers are natural wallflowers and introverts who are better at revealing ourselves in books than in person, the truth is all writers, no matter their genre, style or the stage of their career, thrive on one thing: real life. Real people. Real bacchanal. Real tragedy. Real joy. What else is there to write about?
And not only has the pandemic deprived writers of this most basic muse (you try getting inspiration for a novel based on an endless tide of Zoom meetings, live streams and previously recorded broadcasts) it has literally taken food from our table. Like everybody else.
The Decline of the Book Market
I’m not saying writers won’t adapt. Who knows, the great Zoom novel is probably out there inching its way to a 2022 release date. But you cannot deny that the cancellation of marquee literary events like the Bocas Lit Fest in Trinidad, the Calabash Festival in Jamaica, and hundreds of other regional and international literary festivals, panels, readings, conferences, book signings and book tours—you cannot say all of it has not made an already hard proposition harder. How to sell books? Like most retail spaces, bookstores had to close. The tiny independent ones suffered in particular.
More than this, the uncertainties that overwhelmed us all at the start of the pandemic when much was unknown (I say this as if that’s still not the case, but you know what I mean) resulted in many book publication dates being pushed back to the last quarter of 2020. The idea was to give books a fighting chance to vie for attention. But then the news cycle of that last quarter was dominated, rather understandably, by a few minor events like, say, the US presidential election, and, well, skyrocketing COVID-19 statistics. And because all the books were now coming out at the same time, it meant more competition and a bottleneck to get to readers. Giving a book a fighting chance looked vaguely similar to not giving a book much of a chance at all.
And now, No Carnival
Around this time last year, it was only now becoming apparent that something was seriously amiss. If rumors and murmurs had previously been easy to discount, fresh travel restrictions out of Wuhan imposed by the US were impossible to ignore. (Multiple sources have since tracked the earliest onset of symptoms to at least December 2019, with traces of the virus found in wastewater collected in Milan and Turin, Italy, in that month as well.) As our Carnival proceeded apace last year, few imagined they were taking part in what would turn out to be their last opportunity for revelry for a very, very, very long time to come (not counting all the unlawful "zesser" parties and weddings that have mushroomed since).
The announcement that the State would not put measures in place to put on Carnival this year (2021, in case you’ve forgotten because the pandemic has seriously warped our sense of time) was a huge blow to the creative industry.
Consider this: the State pumps about $100 million to $200 million annually into the festival. Immediately, all the people who rely on these sums to provide goods and services saw that dry up. But the fact is, visitor expenditure alone during the Carnival season can easily be in excess of $300 million, according to Central Statistical Office figures. So basically, half a billion in cold hard cash just evaporated.
And this is not counting the millions undoubtedly pumped into the festival by the private sector spread over a battery of events, sponsorships, commissions, as well as bar and gate receipts.
While for many Carnival is limited to two days of revelry in the streets, we need to also acknowledge that for many others Carnival is a full-time job and a full-time fete. There is an entire year’s worth of build-up that surrounds the festival, an informal program of teasers and testers and tasters—big events meant to generate buzz ahead of time. Simply put, there is a whole economic eco-system supported by Carnival.
For instance, hotel room occupancy at Carnival season helps fuel operations for the rest of the year. The Trinidad Hotels Restaurants and Tourism Association has estimated hotel occupancy soars to between 90 per cent to 100 per cent at Carnival time. And other activities like the planning and design of costumes, music, devising of travel and tourism packages—these are done in advance. So, cancellation of one year actually has knock-on effects that could linger.
It is also the case that visitor arrivals will also likely take a hit in the new normal. There was already stiff competition from neighbouring Caribbean islands, but with the collapse of the CARICOM “travel bubble” there is no standardisation. Travelers may fall back on the familiar or be drawn by destinations that have more experience with tourism and are upping their game. Witness Mia Mottley’s Barbados.
The Creative Sector needs to be the most Creative of All
But as writers might tell you, the putting off of Carnival is just one piece of the equation—admittedly a substantial one—when it comes to the challenges faced by the creative sector during COVID-19. As the closure of some outlets of cinema chains demonstrates, the pain is being spread around.
Any creative forum that depended on live audiences has been hurt. That includes cinemas, music concerts, theatres. I know restaurants and bars and art galleries that closed down. Programming, and therefore revenue, for an entire year, was effectively lost. While things opened up slightly by the end of the year, these in-person activities still faced huge hurdles. Social distancing requirements meant venues had to operate at half capacity, assuming they could fill it. Half capacity means twice the run-time. And that assumes half capacity could indeed be filled. People (again, not zessers) are still cautious: about money, about shielding and exposure. They ask: Is it really worth risking COVID to see Christopher Nolan’s Tenet or the new Wonder Woman?
The new normal requires creative thinking from all of us. But the creative sector, in particular, might just need to be the most creative of all.
Andre Bagoo is a poet and writer. His essay collection, The Undiscovered Country, was published by Peepal Tree Press in 2020.
By Elizabeth Solomon
No doubt this question, ‘is there an economic cost to human rights?’, will send readers’ thoughts racing in opposing directions. Some will articulate strenuously that now is not the time for the country to be attempting to live up to aspirational human rights commitments signed up to in some historical moment of diplomatic largesse; those are international impositions on our sovereignty when what we need now is to hunker down and look after ourselves. Others will take a more philosophical, longer-term view, believing that the principles of dignity and equality must be the overarching dictate of all interactions with our fellow humans, economic challenges notwithstanding because, ultimately, human rights are the right thing to do. Yet others will argue that human rights exist only where the laws of the land provide for legal protections; anything beyond that is costly and nothing more than emotional demands by activists for better treatment of the unfortunate individuals who fall outside the national legal framework.
Human Rights + Economy = SDGs
Divergent views are not surprising. Conceptually human rights are a clash of values regulated by a generally agreed upon normative framework of conventions negotiated between States. The reach and efficacy of these conventions are constantly the subject of tension between governments and their citizens, and between states. The Venezuelan refugee crisis brings to the fore just such a clash – the tension between the state’s prerogative to exclude and the human rights imperative to include.
At its core, human rights are based on the simple premise that we are “all born free and equal in dignity and rights endowed with reason and conscience”. This premise does not just inform the legal and political manifestation of our rights and freedoms, it recognises that there is an inescapable link between economic growth and human rights, each informing the achievement of the other. Ultimately, the question of whether a country’s investment in human rights improves or undermines economic development is the nexus where the core principles of human rights and the fundamental purpose of economic growth and wealth distribution meet. From this nexus emerged the Sustainable Development Goals.
COVID levelled the playing field
The incredible challenges of 2020 exposed in stark reality the inextricable connectivity between protection of citizens’ freedoms and provision of basic rights. From Wuhan, China to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, the COVID-19 pandemic brought us closer together even as it forced restrictions on our individual rights in ways no one would have envisaged: from freedom of assembly to freedom of movement between and within borders. These restrictions profoundly affect social and economic stability, with the greatest impact on those who are already most vulnerable. Yet even as the pandemic exposed inequalities, it levelled the playing field. Some may be better able to protect themselves from infection because they drive a car rather than take public transport, but the car drivers still need the vulnerable to go to work and to be physically and economically healthy enough to buy goods, to teach their children, to run the public service and to drive the economy.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed on 10 December 1948 as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, recognised “the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world”, and equally, established the purpose of the pursuit of human rights, “to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom”. The debate over whether the pursuit of human rights has a political or an economic purpose has raged on for seventy-odd years. Some states have organised their societies around the provision of economic and social rights at the expense of political freedoms. Others have promoted the rights of individual freedoms above all else, including basic social safety nets like universal health care.
High inequality = lower growth
Politicians and economists have argued that inequality spurs economic growth yet research, by the Danish Institute for Human Rights for instance, on the correlation between strengthening citizens’ rights and economic growth shows this not to be true. There is no trade-off or cost to economic growth. Freedom rights as well as equal access to education and health contribute to economic growth, which supports perspectives also expressed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) among others: Countries with high levels of inequality suffer lower growth than nations that distribute incomes more evenly.
Commenting in 1968 on the growing disparity of wealth and opportunity in the United States and its impact on hopelessness amongst those who lacked access, Robert Kennedy observed that GDP “measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile”. The traditional approach to measuring economic growth relies heavily on GDP, but GDP is a measure of output, not of well-being. Successive Nobel Laureate economists have based their work on the belief that the social and institutional well-being of a society is an important element of economic growth and sustainability. They argue in essence that the realisation of human rights is the smart thing to do.
What makes life worthwhile?
Amartya Sen’s (Nobel Laureate 1998) simple thesis is that freedom is both the primary end and the principal means of development. Firstly, the only acceptable evaluation of human progress is primarily and ultimately enhancement of freedom; secondly, the achievement of development is dependent on the free agency of people. The free agency of people is not just achieved through the protection of their rights and freedoms, but through the active promotion of their health, education and well-being.
Joseph Stiglitz (Nobel Laureate 2001), chief economist of the World Bank for many years and chair of the Commission on Economic Performance and Social Progress, explored with Amartya Sen and others “that which makes life worthwhile”. The objective was to assess healthy economies, where citizens enjoyed a high level of well-being, and discern what went into the making and sustaining of these societies. They examined circumstances outside the control of individuals, such as ethnicity or gender, that can have a significant impact on inequality and opportunities. Stiglitz also looked at factors, such as trust, that can be both a cause and consequence of well-being and of market income. The evidence showed that subjective well-being is influenced by trust, and that countries with higher levels of trust, in institutions and amongst citizens, tend to have a higher income.
Micheal Kramer, Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo (joint Nobel Laureates 2019) introduced a further measure for addressing inequality, which has shown that investing in the economic rights of people by targeting the most vulnerable with investments in education or health care can shape new people who are critical to bringing about expansions in capabilities. The positive effects from human rights on economic growth are not just in the expansion of individual capabilities but they are channelled through institutional and economic factors such as government effectiveness, investments, trade, as well as human development and income equality.
COVID creates opportunity
It is this nexus between human rights and economic growth that has rallied international institutions around the 2020 Human Rights Day theme, ‘Recover Better’. As with all crises, the pandemic has created opportunity. The levelling of the playing field has heightened interest in building new social alliances. We have an opportunity to address pre-existing conditions that have been affecting the health of our societies and our economies. The starting point must be one in which we fully embrace the core human rights principles of non-discrimination and equity. The language of leadership must become collaborative. Now is the time to build partnerships with citizens. Building trust in the functioning of legal and governance institutions is crucial and urgent. Our policy-making must become inclusive and our institutions must reflect who we are as Caribbean people so that citizens no longer see institutions of subjugation but can see themselves in the frameworks of governance and recognise that framework as their social pact with their State.
Elizabeth Solomon is a Judge of the Industrial Court, a Steering Committee Member of the Women Mediators Across the Commonwealth Network and former Executive Director of the Caribbean Centre for Human Rights.
Linkage Q4 (2020) - Reset / Recovery
By Dr Kalim Shah
The green economy is a development paradigm that is centered on low carbon options, resource efficiency and social inclusiveness. Employment and income growth are driven by public and private investments, infrastructure and assets that allow reduced carbon emissions and pollution, enhanced energy and resource efficiency, and reduced environmental risks. Green growth is therefore part and parcel of sustainable development. International trade in goods and services becomes a central feature of the green growth economy.
Shift to a Green Strategy
COVID-19’s economic repercussions mean that Trinidad and Tobago like other countries must shift strategies to get back on track. The green economy pathway could be a welcome reset for future prosperity if supportive policies and advantageous strategic choices are made, including revisiting our trade in goods and services.
Appropriately regulated trade facilitates green economy transition by fostering the exchange of environmentally friendly goods and services, including technologies, and by increasing resource efficiency and generating new employment opportunities. We have the potential to generate trade: by opening new export markets, by increasing trade in green city by products, by greening international supply chains, and by adopting more resource and energy efficient production methods through regulatory reform. Cognizant of these issues, we can secure access measures and long-term competitiveness in international markets. The recently completed Roadmap for Trinidad and Tobago: Transforming to a New Economy and a New Society alludes to building a green economy. It mentions building climate resilience through nature-based solutions in construction/infrastructure projects, resilient food systems through renewable energy and energy conservation, and developing marine protected areas, eco-tourism and a maritime industry hub among others, although the latter are noted under the related ‘blue economy’ concept. Nonetheless, far more strategic detail than currently in the road map will be required to operationalise trade opportunities aligned to the green economy transition.
How businesses can transition to green
Manufacturers must consider at least three strategic positions for a green economy transition to be realised. First is a life cycle sustainability assessment that considers:
Second is extended producer responsibility, where there is accountability to reclaim, recycle or reuse or treat with an eco-friendly way, the exhausted goods at the end of their life. Third is the consideration of sustainable production and consumption, including if the goods produced are now part of larger global ‘conveyor belts’ of intermediate products, or inputs to other more environmentally impactful and negative production processes elsewhere in the global value chain. Where our manufacturing processes are unable to respond to these calls, the options are either shifting into alternative, cleaner manufacturing options or reengineering processes for greater sustainability. There is no sense from a green economy standpoint in promoting, for example, mass-produced bottled water that increases downstream plastic waste and attendant disposal challenges, by stating that the water bottle factory is the “most modern in the Caribbean”. This is anti-theatrical to the green economy position. The Roadmap, for example, identifies such growth opportunities in the scrap iron industry, in recycling and reuse of plastics, and in the food and beverage sub-sector, all of which can be promising opportunities for exports to new markets that value green products.
Green Energy Sector Strategies
Government has already indicated support for renewable energy development, which is good, given that net-zero carbon emissions are a core feature of the green economy. Ideally, this means that our fossil fuel dependence must be urgently phased out. In fact, eco-idealists will argue that the continued export of fossil fuel products eliminates any claim of having a green economy, since this is essentially an ‘export of emissions’ to another geo-location.
Two energy sector strategies arise. First, if we increase power generation from renewables, it will mean that manufacturers have the opportunity to produce goods with reduced carbon footprints. This helps with eco-certification and energy-efficient product ratings that command price premiums in some export markets. This can also include transitioning corporate fleets to electric vehicles. Second is leveraging our technical human resource capacities built in the traditional energy sector to support green technology manufacturing. For example, global markets are growing with massive increasing demand for solar panels, wind turbines, various types of storage battery technologies and much more. The Roadmap’s mention of hydrogen from natural gas as a future business opportunity is an important example. Another example is our CARICOM neighbor Barbados now manufacturing solar panels and components and exporting solar water heater technologies.
Finding new synergies
Perhaps the most under-reviewed green economy transition strategy involves finding new synergies between existing productive sectors. A high-potential example is the food security-sustainable tourism-clean energy nexus. Here, investment in the production of eco- and organic local produce with high export value can also be leveraged in the hotel and hospitality sector to develop a unique and attractive destination product. We simultaneously contribute to local food security and open a lucrative export market. Moving along the value chain, there arise further food-processing opportunities. Such nexus opportunities provide opportunities for hotel and hospitality eco-certifications and certified organic consumable products. Coupling with solar and wind and energy-efficient facilities makes this a triple-win situation. We can find other such synergies, for example, in the ‘build back better’ mantra by manufacturing more disaster weather resilient construction materials for the regional market. In the longer term, green economy transition must replace emissions-intensive production with low-emissions industries. Financial, investment, banking and insurance services tend to fall in the latter category as do burgeoning communications, information technology and online service sectors.
Certain national enabling policies can accelerate green growth by incentivising trade opportunities. These include:
1. Incorporating a green economy expenditure review with the national budgeting and planning cycles. This examines government resource allocations within and among sectors, and national/sub-national levels, to assess efficiency and effectiveness of those allocations against green economy priorities. The data and insights yielded can be valuable for designing policy reforms, government budgets and investment projects to redistribute spending to stimulate investments in green economy priorities.
2. Readying national standards and quality certification agencies to certify ‘green’ export products and services. Differentiating “green” products in the marketplace has the potential to increase the market value and share for producers who are able to participate. National capacities must include an agreement on what constitutes best/acceptable practice in standards, auditing process to assess compliance of export products and service with standards, tracing processes to show that the final product in the market has come from sustainable sources, and labelling of the product to differentiate the product in the marketplace.
3. Reforming subsidies that handicap green transitions. In the short-term, reducing any subsidy may depress production and consumption as it will raise prices and costs of production. In the longer term, however, subsidy reform may encourage greater efficiency in production or in provision of the services and force a more rapid rate of technological change. The key to ensure subsidy reform could reach more inclusive outcomes for green growth is to make appropriate use of the money that is freed up by subsidy reform to lead to improvements in the green growth capacity.
4. Green energy investment incentives. Since the energy market requires significant government support for renewable energy to establish an initial market share, to gain access to the national electricity grid and other energy infrastructure, and to attract investment, these policies should be applied to entry, establishment, mergers and acquisitions and investment incentives in green energy sectors. Power sector restructuring and deregulating power generation can create more space for renewables and allow IPPs in the national energy mix.
5. Focus on eco-innovation and green entrepreneurship by providing predictable policy signals to ensure that potential innovators and adopters of climate-friendly technologies are not dissuaded from undertaking the necessary investments, focusing the national public R&D effort more on green innovation, strengthening local capabilities to absorb technology from abroad and adapting it to local needs. Research also suggests that clustering green entrepreneurship into networked value chains around existing ‘anchor’ industries accelerate green transitions.
6. Sustainable public procurement can stimulate demand and supply of products by exploiting the power and scale of government purchasing, thereby leading market growth in ways which are quicker and more certain than relying on market mechanisms. Initiatives should identify high impact goods and services, pilot initiatives to build capacity and support, and ensure multi-stakeholder collaboration between the public and private sector from the outset. Transitioning government fleets to electric vehicles can be a good start.
Ultimately and often misunderstood is the fact that greening the economy, is not solely an eco- or climate strategy but a responsible, future-thinking, risk-relevant sustainable development agenda. It requires fundamental but necessary change for people, planet and yes, profit.
Kalim Shah, Ph.D. is a professor of energy and environmental policy at the Joseph Biden Jr. School of Public Policy & Administration and Director of the Island Policy Lab at the University of Delaware, United States. He is also coordinator of the United Nations Universities Consortium of Small Island States; and Managing Director of Valinor Research & Consulting LLC. He is a recognised expert on public policy design and implementation, institutional strengthening and organisational structuring for green economy, climate change policy, corporate sustainability and environmental governance. Email: email@example.com
By Kiran Mathur Mohammed & Edward Inglefield
The fastest way for TT-based firms to aggressively compete in developing markets like a Mexico or Costa Rica is if our larger firms partner and invest in innovative startups.
Given our mature and declining local market (even before the pandemic, GDP shrank by 9.5 per cent between 2015 and the end of 2019), we are running out of options.
Our larger firms, particularly in food manufacturing, already have strong brands that can travel, and have already established footholds in Latin America.
But for all the usual reasons (our exchange rate among them), quite a few firms exploring international expansion have found their products are at once too expensive to compete with mass-market Asian goods, but not yet high quality enough to compete in higher-end market segments. It is difficult to “travel” with a mid-segment product (like most of those developed for local markets) unless you have vast economies of scale.
And many companies, not just in the capital-intensive energy sector, have a ton of sunk costs that make it more difficult to pivot as quickly as they need to.
So how can we find ways to crack a market like Mexico or Uruguay?
First, there is immense potential for product design lying in simple process maps, particularly if you can derive from them a product that fills a developing country need, which services in US or European markets are often not designed for. How many companies are already mining their operational processes for products?
This approach has resulted in companies like Shopify, which noticed that small companies were spending large sums on building standalone e-commerce websites. By deciding to turn that process into a product, Shopify has made its plug-ins almost ubiquitous for small businesses. And its most basic level this approach can be as straightforward as doing something like opening spare manufacturing capacity to produce white label products.
Of course, product and technical innovation is a highly specialised field that even companies with vast resources struggle with. Companies can become mired in bureaucracy and turf battles that senior executives grapple with at the best of times. These, of course, are not the best of times.
The simplest way is, therefore, to acquire or invest in the talent that can develop new products and enable access to new markets. That way large firms can focus on their own advantage: access to hundreds of thousands of customers and a testing base for new products before they are launched internationally.
Sure, the ideal would be to change the whole culture of a large organisation. But far easier to simply buy that energy and jolt it with cash and customers. If done right, investment and acquisitions of standalone startups is also a way of managing risk. It allows for a growth environment without sacrificing the stability of the core business.
When Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently reviewed Disney CEO Bob Iger’s memoir, one incident struck a chord: Disney’s acquisition of Pixar Animation for US$7 billion. At the time, Disney was short of new content and in slow decline: “No one else had managed to solve the problem by rebuilding from within, and Iger didn’t think he could do it either.” Rebuilding from within is hard. According to Gates: “By keeping his ego in check and realising that he wasn’t the guy who was going to rebuild Disney’s animation studio, Iger was able to make a big bet that paid off phenomenally well.”
But internal resistance can very quickly kill new deals. The problem is that internal incentives often do not reward growth found by this kind of collaboration. That is why internal staff from the C-Suite down need to be appropriately incentivised to aid collaboration and integration of new companies, lest they bury deals early on.
Ensuring start-ups keep their autonomy is particularly crucial to success. The key is to offer the tools for scaling, while recognising that micro-management can destroy much of a deal’s value. Start-ups need to wise up as well- and make sure they are audit-proof, and that their processes are well mapped. Too many founders still shy away from the boring work.
This is one occasion in which the clichéd business-sports analogy is actually quite useful. In association football, the larger player can control the ball, taking it down and protecting it, whilst the smaller, leaner player is fast and zippy enough to get around players to score. In basketball, the taller player can take the rebounds while the shorter player shoots the hoops. Corporate size carries weight, whether in the form of capital, customers or credibility; but start-ups can move swiftly to score the goal, without the burden of technical debt or historical inertia.
When you have a plucky, unknown firm with the fantastic ability to go for gold, but which can lean on the experience, weight and guile of a bigger, stronger market player: that’s where growth is supercharged.
Of course, this is not to say either one of the players can’t make it on their own, using their inherent advantages, but it will be a longer slog, even if you have capital and customers (one of the one side) or fast decision making, speed and innovation (on the other).
So how much time do we have? An instructive place to find that out is to listen to what TT’s largest investor and foreign exchange generator are telling its investors. On BP’s Capital Markets Day in September 2020, its new CEO Bernard Looney announced: “A 40 per cent reduction in oil and gas production” in the next ten years. He said: “We have been an international oil company for 111 years. And over that time, our main focus has been on producing resources. We are now refocusing on delivering solutions for customers as we transform into an integrated energy company.” Unless we create new markets and revenue streams, the only road ahead will lead to inexorable decline.
Executives have already recognised this and have begun setting aside cash for investments. Republic Bank paid US$10 million for just under 20 per cent of a subsidiary of online payments company Wipay, which allows consumers without bank accounts to make online payments. As recently as October 2020, Medici Ventures invested US$8 million in a stake in Barbados-based blockchain company Bitt, while the Massy Group has made US$1 million available for smaller investments. Other organisations have piled in, with Compete Caribbean funding a joint multilateral initiative to match start-ups with larger firms, and AMCHAM T&T itself leading the way with its tech summits. This should make other firms less wary about the risks.
How big is the risk of standing still?
Kiran Mathur Mohammed (l) is an economist and entrepreneur. Edward Inglefield (r) is an entrepreneur and former chef. Inglefield and Mathur Mohammed are co-founders of medl, an IDB Lab-backed social-impact enterprise.
By Rey-Anne Paynter
Research Officer at AMCHAM T&T
Each year, AMCHAM T&T submits budget and policy recommendations to the Ministry of Finance for consideration for the National Budget. The submission is a compilation of the recommendations put forward by our members along with the policy positions that we believe will contribute to the recovery and stabilisation of the economy as well as making Trinidad and Tobago a more attractive destination for investment.
We are happy to report that our recommendations have not fallen on deaf ears and our advocacy has been effective. A number of our recommendations to enhance the efficiency and efficacy of the Government and improve the ease of doing business in Trinidad and Tobago has been incorporated into the 2021 National Budget.
Ease of Doing Business
For years, AMCHAM T&T has been advocating for a revamp of the venture capital regime to improve its attractiveness and efficacy. The Honourable Minister of Finance Colm Imbert announced the provision of a tax allowance of 150% (with a cap of $3 million) for businesses that invest in tech start-ups and new tech business.
We called for the full automation of customs processes and functional integration of TTBizLink to increase the efficiency at the ports. It was announced that an electronic funds transfer window is being put in place to allow all payments to Government, inclusive of taxes and custom duties, to be made by electronic means.
It is well known that the tax administration has been punitive to the compliant, while there are many who operate freely outside of the tax net. It is against this background we made recommendations to improve the tax administration by widening the tax net and implementing systems for the timely settlement of VAT refunds, including the automatic application of refunds. While these issues have not been addressed by Government, the Minister of Finance announced that it was building institutional capacity in several areas and promised that the VAT refund system would be made more efficient.
Digital transformation has long been a focal point for AMCHAM T&T. Many of those were reflected in our recommendations:
While we welcome the establishment of an overarching ICT policy and the systematic upgrade and enhancement of the ICT systems in the education system, we hope to see the execution of the other recommendations such as the implementation of the unique national identification number system and the promotion and accelerated use of technology-based channels for the delivery of Government services. This would require an enabling policy and legislative framework including effective implementation of current legislation, starting with the implementation of existing legislation – Electronic Transactions Act, Data Protection Act and Electronic Transfer of Funds Act – which has been enacted by not assented to.
Energy Sector Policy
The energy sector remains one of the most important sectors of the economy and if it is meant to survive and excel, the completion and implementation of the National Energy Policy (NEP) is paramount. We also recommended a review and update of the Petroleum Act, including a review of the fuel margin, incentivising investment and the development of an Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Policy/Initiative.
In light of this, we were pleased with the announcement of a review of the Petroleum Taxes Act, as it will simplify the existing oil and gas fiscal regime and make it more attractive to investors to invest in renewable energy. The increase in the threshold for the imposition of the Supplementary Petroleum Tax for small onshore oil producers was also a welcomed measure.
In order to help strengthen the non-energy sectors of the economy, we recommended that more effort be put into creating an appropriate and enabling investment environment to stimulate private sector interests. We also had two major recommendations for strengthening the Agricultural Sector. They were:
It was definitely a win, not only for us, but for the economy, when the Minister announced the Government’s intention to deepen integration with the private sector and the creation of more public-private partnership arrangements to create a strong agribusiness ecosystem. This, along with training and education in modern and sustainable farming practices is what we have been advocating for, and we welcome the opportunity to work with the Government to make this a reality.
More Work to be Done
While we are pleased to see that some of our recommendations are being taken into consideration, there are still, several equally important policy recommendations that we would continue to press the Government to consider and implement. The top five of these are:
View a comprehensive list of all AMCHAM T&T’s Budget recommendations that were considered and announced in the 2021 National Budget.
View AMCHAM T&T’s 2020-2021 Budget submission.
Rey-Ann Paynter-Mendez, M.Sc, PMP is the Research Officer at AMCHAM T&T
By Dr Justin RamJustin Ram Advisory, and Co-founder & CEO of GSec
The Caribbean economy is and has been at a crossroads since the 2007/2009 global financial crisis. Since then and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, economic growth has not returned to pre-crisis levels. In 2016, the average per capita income across the region fell below the worldwide average after being consistently above it for 25 years. The underperformance of the Caribbean economy, which includes Trinidad and Tobago's economy, is a result of many factors. These challenges can be summarized under four main headings:
I wrote extensively about the challenges with my then colleagues at the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) in a working paper titled "A Policy Blueprint for Caribbean Economies." Besides the above challenges, some cross-cutting themes need to be addressed, a practical regional approach to many things and the implementation gap. Figure 1 summarises the challenges.
Figure 1: Summary of Challenges
Ultimately and now, with the impact of COVID19, we need interventions that will turn our challenges into opportunities. To build resilience and to build back our economies will require a concerted effort in what I call "our stepping back to jump further" policy intervention. The best way to describe this is the long jumper who steps back before launching down the track to jump further. Interventions that will turn around each of the challenges are summarized in figure 2 below.
Figure 2: To build resilience: We need to step back in order to jump better.
Besides the necessary interventions that are critical to allow the Caribbean to "jump further," the Caribbean must look at new areas of opportunity. The Blue Economic activity is one of these areas; we have not taken advantage of the vast ocean space surrounding many countries. The blue economy refers to economic activities that directly occur in the ocean and seas or use outputs from the sea for consumption or as a source of income. According to a 2018 CDB report on the Blue Economy , the ocean influences the livelihoods of about 40% of the world's population living at or near the coast, "ocean-based activities are estimated to have generated US$1.5 trillion and directly provided 31 million jobs in 2010, primarily in fisheries, maritime and coastal tourism, offshore oil and gas exploration, and port activities", CDB (2018). The CDB report goes further and estimates that by 2030, based on current trajectories, the ocean's value-added will rise by US$3 trillion, with employment rising to over 40 million. The total value of critical ocean assets is estimated at approximately US$24 trillion.
The Exclusive economic zone (EEZ) surrounding our landmass is as large as eighty times that landmass. We should refer to ourselves as Big Ocean Developing States (BODS) rather than Small and Island Developing States (SIDS). We have traditionally exploited only a small fraction of our EEZ, and usually, only that part of the EEZ that is close to shore for tourism-related activities and recreation. Some of the EEZ further away from shore has been exploited for oil and gas, and fishing but the vast potential of the Blue Economy remains unexplored and exploited. I should clarify that when I refer to exploitation, I am referring to sustainable and inclusive exploitation that is environmentally sound and that the economic benefits are equitably distributed. Figure 3 below shows the traditional BE industries that we know of and the possible new and emerging BE industries that the Caribbean can seek to exploit sustainably.
Figure 3: Established and Emerging BE industries
Significant opportunities are therefore available in the BE. There could be a new BE investment boom in the Caribbean and Trinidad and Tobago with the right policy environment. However, the niggling question of finance always remains. In a reasonably new area such as emerging BE projects, how could we attract the right type of finance? In the book chapter that I co-authored with Donna Kaidou-Jeffrey in 2020 , we describe the innovative forms of finance that should be considered. I will discuss some of the novel concepts here, concepts that the Caribbean and Trinidad and Tobago financial sectors should consider developing to help advance the nascent Blue Economy.
Possible BE Financing mechanisms
As we seek to develop the BE, a critical financing mechanism will be Blended finance. Blended finance uses development finance and philanthropic funds to incentivize or mobilize private capital flows so that risks to investors can be reduced or mitigated and returns managed more efficiently in the market. Because the market is underdeveloped, the Blended finance approach in the early stages of BE development will be critical to help de-risk early projects.
Blue Bonds are another innovative finance mechanism that has recently gained traction in international finance. Like green bonds that focus on wider land-based environmental projects, typically, funds raised from blue bonds are earmarked exclusively for ocean-related projects. Blue bonds leverage capital, mainly private sector capital, to support ocean-related activities and, by extension, Blue Economic activity.
Financing with built-in reward mechanisms also tend to play a unique role when investments have commercial and social objectives. Development Impact Bonds (DIBs) facilitate public-private-partnership arrangements between donors and the private and non-profit sector to deliver specific development objectives related to the environment. These bonds are results-based financing instruments. Similarly, Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) are also results-based financing, but the government has borne the risk rather than the donors. Social development is the main objective. They require three key players, including the investors, service providers or the implementation agencies, and outcome funders.
The emphasis has recently been placed on debt swaps that can provide an environmental or social benefit while reducing a government's fiscal burden. Debt for nature swaps mobilizes private resources in exchange for high-interest-bearing sovereign debt. In exchange, national authorities pledge to enact policies to conserve the environment related to climate change and environmental protection. There are three parties to the transaction. The creditor or creditors agree to sell all of the outstanding debt or part of the outstanding debt to a third party, usually a conservation organization, at a price lower than the face value of the existing outstanding debt. In debt for nature swaps, it is also possible to have a bilateral swap negotiated between the creditor and debtor government to exchange conservation activities in the debtor country. Conservation activities always drive motivation. In our chapter on Blue economy finance, we describe how the world's first climate adaptation debt conversion was completed in 2016, where finance was mobilized to conserve Seychelles' Exclusive Economic Zone and for climate adaptation. This arrangement increased Seychelles' marine protected waters from less than 1% to more than 30%.
Another instrument is the Trust fund, which uses diverse financing mechanisms to manage and invest financial assets. Resources are disbursed in the form of grants to support programmes and projects through various entities. By extension, a well-structured trust fund can also be used to fund Blue Economy activities.
Governments can also consider raising revenue specifically for Blue economy investment. There are limited opportunities for raising taxes in the Caribbean, mainly as they concern tourism-related taxes and fees. Many countries impose different levies that are targeted towards environmental protection in the form of ecological or tourist enhancement levies or taxes. A targeted Blue economy levy could raise revenues that could make a Blue economy investment viable, such as a public-private partnership investment in a needed BE infrastructure, similar to toll roads or highways.
The Blue economy requires long-term investment and de-risking. The insurance sector is critical to the sustainable development of the Caribbean, given the extreme vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Risk pooling and risk transfer have become more critical for the Caribbean as natural disasters' occurrence and intensity increase. For the Caribbean, given that Blue Economic investments are relatively underdeveloped, the risk level may be higher from an investment perspective. Insurance can bridge the gap by transferring the risks associated with investments in Blue Economic activities. Insurance products that are geared towards the Blue Economy could boost new business around managing risk and reducing economic impact on related activities. Marine insurance, which is well developed in the Caribbean, can be explored for developing insurance products tailored to the Blue Economy.
Donna Kaidou-Jeffrey and I explore the idea of a Caribbean Blue Economic financing facility. This facility could help address some of the challenges anticipated if Blue Economic investment financing is scaled up. An example of the Caribbean Blue Economic financing facility can be found in the Blue Natural Capital Financing Facility, supported by the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg's Government and managed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). At the regional level, a financing facility would build technical capacity in developing and structuring financial instruments aligned with the Blue Economy's objectives. This could include market research, scoping, and valuation studies to inform investment in the Blue Economy. The facility would work to leverage and align existing resources more efficiently to Blue Economy activities.
Finally, financial technology (Fintech) refers to the use of new technology by companies, business owners, and consumers to improve the management and access of their financial operations and processes. For example, online banking or a digital wallet that allows customers access to their financial resources from their smart device is an example of the increased use of Fintech over the last decade and expansion into areas such as insurance and investing. Fintech has enabled faster transactions and improved compliance and has allowed investors to raise financing on the open market with much less friction. Blue tokens, an initiative advanced in the chapter, is being proposed. It could use blockchain technology or another technology to raise money for Blue Economic projects with development and financial returns.
These are just some of the financial mechanisms that could be considered for Blue investments. These ideas are meant to spur further thought and discussion. The Blue economy should be seen as a critical growth pole for all of the Caribbean. Working together and exploiting the Blue economy sustainably and inclusively could be very rewarding for our broader economies and societies. However, the right financing mechanisms will be indispensable in making the most of our substantial exclusive economic zones and becoming true BODS.
Dr. Justin Ram of Justin Ram Advisory is an international economist with over twenty-five years of international experience in practice, research, development and management. He was previously Director of the Economics Department at the Caribbean Development Bank. He is currently the Co-founder & CEO of GSec.
Linkage Q4 Edition (2020) - Reset / Recovery
By Stuart FrancoCEO, The TSL Group
The TSL Group is made up of five Companies, the main being Trinidad Systems Limited (TSL). For 39 years, the group was led by Mr. Nicholas Galt, and morphed into what it is today under his leadership. Upon his retirement, I was appointed CEO of The TSL Group in November of 2018. Year one as CEO was a great year of learning and finding my own style of management. I ended the year with much optimism and excitement to step into year two.
The challenges brought on by 2020 were unexpected and incited a lot of fear in the business community. Whether we like it or not, “pivot” was one of the defining words of last year. CEOs in 2020 had to be able to pivot business operations quickly and creatively as we were dealing with problems that were not only sudden, but problems that simply didn’t exist prior to the pandemic.
For those who were able to pivot, we have seen some inspiring and motivating stories coming out of last year’s struggles. But many were not able to adjust fast enough and continue to struggle today. I think what really worked for us was not jumping into this new phase panicked. We took a step back to strategically assess the situation and then we carefully executed. We also prayed hard and credit must be given to God for guiding us through. As mentioned earlier, when the pandemic came around, I was only in my second year as CEO and still learning, so it was definitely very challenging. The mantra I tried to instil in the TSL Family from the minute I took on this role was putting God and family first, then work after.
Pivot from head to heart
Three things have had an impact on me and my management style, one I think important to share for context. In 2014 I read an article by Bob Chapman, the CEO and Chairman of technology services company Barry-Wehmiller, which spoke to the need for organisations to change the way they refer to team members: a move from the traditional “head count” to what he refers to as the “heart count”. An organisation’s heart count is the number of people who want to be there: the ones who like their jobs, are proud of their work, enjoy the company of their co-workers, have a great relationship with their boss and feel happy at work. Some people may read this and ask themselves if a place like that even exists! “This naming convention helps us remember that every individual is important. We are all someone’s child, brother, sister, mother or father.” As a CEO, looking through this lens, decisions are made in a much different manner.
Following this mantra led to one of the lessons I learned last year which was how to truly lead with empathy. Greater empathy than I ever had to exercise before.
The pandemic brought significant hardship to our team members. We had parents, some single parents, who now had to take on the role of teachers. The spouses/partners of some of our team members lost their job (now single income home). Some of our colleagues were dealing with health issues and were now considered high-risk, and so much more.
Remembering Norman Mc Cave
People usually look “up” at management and think we could never understand their plight, but TSL’s management was not spared the challenges that came with COVID-19. We lost a long-standing member of our team to the virus and would like to honour him here: Mr. Norman Mc Cave, who had been with the company for over 30 years. Mr. Mc Cave was one of the most hardworking and loyal people I have ever met. A true gentleman who will always be remembered in TSL’s history.
With these challenges plaguing people’s lives, mental health became a factor of concern. It is an issue that is not talked about enough in the workplace. The effects of the pandemic took a huge toll on our team’s mental health and it simply cannot be overlooked. In fact, we had already been taking steps to address this matter prior to 2020, when we invited a psychologist to join us for a lunch-and-learn session. A mental health session hosted by a therapist for our male staff members followed, as mental health is an issue often ignored by men.
Our aim has been to destigmatise mental health diseases through open dialogue with our team members, but this did not prepare us for the storm of stressors that came with the pandemic. Issues such as anxiety and depression were on the rise due to financial stress, burnout, disconnected work environments and heightened anxiety for our health and safety.
Mental health typically has not been dealt with equal urgency to physical health. Leaders must understand that recovering from business challenges requires team members to be in the right headspace. This was a key part of our HR team’s responsibilities last year. To reach out to our staff and let them know that there is always an open line available if they ever needed to talk through a problem, whether it be work-related or personal. This circles back to leading with compassion and empathy. TSL management at all levels had to exercise this leadership style if they wanted their teams to succeed.
Take a close look at your culture.
With all this to consider, we had to take a close look at the kind of culture we were cultivating at TSL. Did we have a culture that made dealing with these challenges difficult or easy? Over the years, we have celebrated employees’ wins, managers have open lines of communication available for their teams to voice their opinions, and we constantly host team bonding events. Company leadership is visible and accessible and offers ongoing professional development opportunities to various teams within the company. This has led to a low turn-over; a team that is loyal and trusting. The team feels valued and gives 100% effort, even in hard times. Last year really showed us the importance of this family culture that we have been pushing. By no stretch of the imagination was last year easy. But I believe things would have been more difficult if we had a different culture in place.
2020 was perhaps a good wake up call for us all. For so long, we have been doing things in a way that was comfortable to us, rarely taking risks or making changes. Our adaptability and grit were put to the test last year, and we have come out on the other side a bit battered, but much stronger for it. The economy will be on the mend in 2021 and we will all need to take the lessons of 2020 into consideration to ensure we all grow with the economy.
In my opinion, one of the most important lessons learned from last year is to pay more attention to the mental health of our team members. If we do not take the necessary steps for same, we will not be well poised to grow with the economy and we will be left behind like 2020.
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