“I too would like to say how pleased I am to have the name of Sagicor associated with the University of the West Indies and the Cave Hill School of Business and Management. The role that this institution and its sister institutions across the Caribbean must play in the future development of our region is clear and compelling. As I travel and work throughout the Caribbean, I get a real sense of a growing need to think strategically about expanding beyond our national boundaries, to work more collaboratively as a region and very important, be willing and able to engage the rest of the world, if not on equal terms, certainly with equal confidence and enthusiasm.
“This self-examination of where we are is important for many reasons. At a time when several of our Caribbean nations have celebrated more than 50 years of independence; Barbados as recent as a few days ago, many share the view that the independence experience has been a mixed one for the region. To be sure, 50 years of independence is a major achievement worthy of our celebration. As a region, we have enjoyed significant accomplishments in social development particularly in the areas of education and health. The general environment and infrastructure of many of our countries bear some resemblance to those of modern first world societies. We enjoy conveniences such as electricity, cell phones, cable TV, internet. And we drive modern vehicles, even if not always on the best maintained roads. Few can deny that we have achieved much since independence. Yet, the model which delivered these advances has left our economies vulnerable, and now threatens to reverse many of the gains we have achieved.
“In my view, our independence model was a social model weighted heavily in favor of philosophical ideas such as, controlling our own destiny, social justice and independence of mind and spirit. That was quite understandable at the time. These are all necessary and good conditions. However, equally understandably, what it was not, is an economic and development model which addressed fundamentally how we would fund and maintain our independence, and how we should chart a path towards long-term competitive coexistence with the rest of the world.
“For a while we were allowed to enjoy concessions and preferential treatment for our goods into export markets. This was perhaps more about ensuring a continued supply of the goods that our pre-independence masters enjoyed, rather than a bridge to the future for the new independent colonies. Nevertheless, the concessions did serve as a useful though insufficient mechanism to allow the region time to adjust to being on its own.
“But in many ways, the necessary adjustments were not made. The structural changes which should have been made to our economies are to some extent, still outstanding. Many of us continue to rely on old negotiated concessions, aid, and preferential treatment just to survive. And even when it became clear that these crutches of independence would disappear, we appear to bury our heads in the sand, holding on far too long to the old paradigm. The end results are: uncompetitive industries, weak export capabilities, an over reliance on tourism, and on being able to offer favorable tax regimes to international companies. This model could only do so much, and ultimately, stretched to its limits, it has produced economies, characterized by weak foreign reserves, persistent high fiscal deficits and unsustainable levels of debt.
“Another important and related area in which we must make further adjustments is education. The region has always been cited as having a high rate of literacy. This is good, and it has served us well, but it is merely a starting point. Our approach to education appears to still maintain many aspects of the systems and structures of the pre-independence modes and is not yet sufficiently geared to producing people with the skills to consistently execute strategically, to look outside of the box and to confidently engage the outside world. Many of our people are considered bright by academic standards, yet many lack that extra mental state required to turn that strong foundation into a winning competitive advantage and to use it to engage the wider global environment. This is important, if the region is to halt the reversals of the gains of independence and move deliberately towards a state of true long-term development.
“We at Sagicor for some time, have been building the infrastructure and charting a path to compete in the wider global space. It has not been an easy journey, and many of our people have had to learn on the job. The institutional frameworks to support our journey were weak, and in most cases, there were no precedents to research and follow. In many ways, you can say that we were building the road at the same time as we were traveling on it. Today, Sagicor is a successful, integrated international financial Group. We operate in 22 countries, including the United States. We compete without reference to concessions, subsidies or preferential treatment and we hold our own against competitors whose enabling environment is more conducive to their success.
“The University of the West Indies and the Cave Hill School of Business and Management have been making tremendous strides in their efforts to address this deficit in our education. Many of their programs are designed to deliver the knowledge, the practical know-how, and to inculcate the state of mind necessary to confidently look beyond the home geography and compete in the wider world.
“However, the University cannot do it alone. This is a team effort. Government, business, and the society in general must join forces with the university in charting the path towards a more secure future. There continues to be a view that higher education is an expenditure within the fiscal space rather than an investment on social capital for future transformation. Whatever your perspective on this issue there is no doubt that the higher education required to transform our economies is under-funded and this may be contributing to the education deficit that we appear to be experiencing. The traditional role of government has predominantly been restricted to funding, but there is a far greater role for government to play in ensuring that the legislative, regulatory, and social environment is consistent with our stage of economic development while being supportive of competitive engagement. But Government alone cannot fill the gap.
“We are at the stage of our development where innovative solutions will drive our transformation. This requires critical thinking, access to relevant data analytics and research capability. As businesses we must be part of this evolution. We must not only be willing to identify the gaps in our ability to source the type of talent required to compete, we must also be willing to assist the university and the society in developing this talent for all our benefit.
‘And more than ever, as Barbadian and Caribbean societies, we must stop condemning, for all eternity, even the smallest failure. Our people must be encouraged to explore, to take chances, make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes. Today, if you fail at the common entrance exam at age 11, you are scarred for life. Often condemned to the academic dung heap. And this pattern continues throughout our education systems, our societies and our businesses. Our people are encouraged to play it safe, take few chances, repeat verbatim what someone has written in a book, and above all, make no mistakes. Consequently, the region is most likely under-prepared to compete in this 50th year post-independence global environment, one which has been made even more challenging by the prolonged financial and economic crisis of recent time.
“Sagicor as a company operating in the international arena has had a front row seat during the 2008 financial crisis, and the economic recession which followed. We saw it through the lens of our operations in the United States, through our ownership of Sagicor Europe, and we saw its impact on the region through our operations in the Caribbean. Besides the economic and social dislocation that was evident, one further point became extremely clear: the world has changed, possibly forever. Our region, once geo-politically important, is no longer strategic. No one is coming to our rescue; we are truly on our own, craftsmen of our fate.
“The option is clear. We must urgently make the adjustments necessary to survive, even thrive in this new, highly competitive, globalized world. The University of the West Indies and the Cave Hill School of Business and Management have embarked upon a journey designed to deliver the type of education and training, and to develop the type of talent necessary to succeed in this new environment. It is vitally important that we give them our full support.
“Sagicor knows from experience the cost of the region not making the necessary and timely changes. We are therefore extremely pleased to be a partner with the Cave Hill School of Business and Management on this important journey, for the long-term development of our region and the people in the communities in which we operate.”
– Address by Mr Dodridge Miller, President of Sagicor Financial Corporation at the Renaming Ceremony of The Cave Hill School of Business as the Sagicor Cave Hill School of Business and Management