Tuesday, May 11, 2010

We are, therefore I am

Lyndon lived in my neighborhood. He did not complete his secondary education, but he was an intelligent and resourceful young man. His business was transporting people to and fro-first in a van and then by car. He developed a reputation for being reliable and he loved his people. When Lyndon was not running the Taxi during off-peak hours, he was cutting lawns. Lyndon and the boys in the area would gather daily at the corner to lime, and, I later discovered, these gatherings had a purpose-to organize and rally the troops to assist in his little lawn-cutting business. He was the 'big man' in the group. Whenever Lyndon had a lucrative gig, like when Pirates of the Caribbean was being produced on the island, the entire group of men, young and old, walked tall. If Lyndon was doing well it meant they too were doing better. He took care of them, he motivated them, he organized them; they worked and played together with a camaraderie that had the potential to move mountains. Lyndon, who was an asthmatic, died a couple of years ago. The boys still gather on the corner and perhaps a new leader has emerged amongst them. But watching Lyndon in action gave me great hope that the spirit of the Village-In-Unity and the Caribbean Resource Man were both alive and well, waiting to be fully tapped.

Meanwhile, British thinkers, Anthony Payne and Paul Sutton are saying, "The Commonwealth Caribbean's current crisis of development is perhaps the gravest it has faced in the post-independence era. It has been generated by the region's failure to establish for itself a viable role within the wider context of the globalization of the world economy." And, this they see largely as a consequence of the fact that "from the beginning of the 1980's onwards the script became one that was largely written elsewhere."

Four years ago, the idea to create a space where independent thinkers, trained and untrained, could gather and learn from each other was incorporated under the banner Strategy Forum Inc (SFI). SFI is a place where thought and action engage in common enterprise. It is a village without walls, thus allowing people anywhere in the world to be a part of this enterprise where together we create an environment to facilitate the re-imagining of our world. We use various tools to accomplish this and one of these is the Storytelling Forum, Inclusive which produces FIRST READS.

Organizations such as SFI normally rely on endowments and funding from wealthy philanthropists and large businesses, but neither exists in sufficient quantities in the Caribbean for this to be a reasonable expectation of SFI. Trevor Campbell and Reginald Nugent explain it thus, "The University of the West Indies (UWI) was established to prepare the intelligentsia to administer the newly-formed nation-state and embark on the agenda of nation-building. As such, UWI existed as an economic protectorate and held monopoly in a small higher education industry." However, they add that to date "UWI has not produced entrepreneurs that have the wherewithal to provide it with significant endowments." The reason, they claim, is largely due to the fact that students are being trained to work in a bureaucracy. In other words, the mentality is still one of dependence rather than "innovative and entrepreneurial" (ibid).

It is true that SFI can solicit funding from international funding agencies, but the problem with that approach is that we are then still at risk of having our script written or commandeered by external forces. It is imperative, therefore, that we create a model of self-sufficiency. But how should we proceed? We proceed by harking back to the not-too-distant past and learn from ordinary men, like my father, for instance, who believed that education and entrepreneurship were the sine qua non of development and independence, and who possessed a steely resourcefulness as they marched purposefully to that end. And yes, we must look back to the Village Ethic, for we are convinced that the notion We are, therefore I am is still an integral part of the Caribbean mindset. We saw it working well in Lyndon's world. It can be revived, it is waiting to be retooled for the twenty-first century and SFI is attempting so to do.

Our subscription model is designed to illustrate one such method. We have created three categories of subscriptions: benefactors, contributors, and readers. Our benefactors are much like Lyndon, when they are able they give a little to the platform so that others who don't have can continue. The contributors are like some of the boys on the block who Lyndon organized to make the whole thing work: they were the grass cutters, and often the movers and the shakers-they brought their talent, if not their dollars, to the endeavour. Then there was 'Crazy Man,' who I didn't mention before. He was an elderly man in Lyndon's group who would spread the word about what Lyndon was doing, when he was doing it and how well he was doing it. He championed all that was Lyndon. And so too will the third category in our subscription group: they read and spread the word. Lyndon and 'Crazy Man' exchanged roles from time to time or performed several roles simultaneously. So, as with Lyndon and 'Crazy Man', in this model one can be any one, any two or all three for such is the Village Ethic - it is only when we are, can I be.

SFI believes self-organization is the key to the Caribbean's future. We invite our readers, and those not yet our readers, to join this experiment. Invest in the platform and subscribe to FIRST READS today.

I. Rhonda King