Monday, March 22, 2010

The hope Jamaica holds

WE’RE GETTING THERE... PMI's Bishop Herro Blair and USAID's Dr Karen Hilliard, partners with the JCF for safer communities. (Photo: Collin Reid)

by Jean Lowrie-Chin | Jamaica Observer | 22 March 2010

WE can choose to be immobilised by fear or mobilised by faith. This week hundreds of us chose to turn our minds to the hope that our beloved Jamaica still holds. In various places, we reaffirmed Jamaica's promise, focusing on the upcoming EXPO Jamaica Trade Show, the power of sports, JCF's partnerships for safer communities and opportunities for new industries.

Now, we know that negative news is juicy. But there is far more to this "broader than broad" Jamaica. Birmingham knows this, and so officials in the English city are crowing about their big achievement. And would that be? "To say that you're good enough to attract teams such as Jamaica, and athletes such as Usain Bolt to come here, it actually sends a very strong message," exulted Zena Woodbridge, director of sport at the University of Birmingham.

Yes, even as a few are digging themselves into deep despair, the headlines of Birmingham are singing Jamaica's name. And here is why: "Birmingham is expected to get a £15m cash injection this weekend when it signs an Olympic contract with the Jamaican athletics team," reported Sky News last month. We are talking British pounds here, rolling into an English city because our team will train there in preparation for the 2012 Olympics. "The relationship between our two countries is being enriched by what we are doing today," said Mike Whitby, Leader of Birmingham City Council at the signing. "Birmingham has a heart that beats like fast Jamaican athletes!"

Delano Franklyn's call in the GraceKennedy Foundation Lecture for "a comprehensive plan for leveraging Brand Jamaica" was answered when JMA's Omar Azan announced that the theme for this year's EXPO Jamaica is "Brand Jamaica - to the world!" "There is a need for more creativity and commitment in fast-tracking the manufacturing sector," the JMA president urged. "The future of manufacturing is bright, and the sector is resilient as it competes on the local and international stage and against a tough external and internal environment."

"The only way to get out of debt is to produce more, export more and so earn our way out of our individual and national debt," urged JEA President Vitus Evans. This is no idle talk: the members of the JMA and JEA are committed Jamaican entrepreneurs who are providing employment for tens of thousands of Jamaicans. We are sitting up and taking greater notice of these efforts as once again, we are reminded that moving paper around from bank to bank cannot build an economy.

Three inspiring ladies also bolstered this argument at a meeting of the Women Business Owners last Wednesday evening. Scientific Research Council Executive Director Dr Audia Barnett reminded us that there were multiple opportunities with such products as sorrel and our herbs and spices. Kingston Properties Limited Executive Director Fayval Williams took us through her company's innovative way of raising capital, including investing in valuable Trinidad property and making significant profit in the resale. In building the business with founder Leo Williams, Fayval described a shoe-string first year, advising that we should not rush to create unnecessary overheads.

For people considering new businesses, Fayval said that the trend was for self-improvement and online activities, the top three of which were money and business, health and fitness and dating and relationships. She said that the landscaping industry needs more players and that the JSE Junior Market was an excellent vehicle for small and medium enterprises to raise funds. Today, Dhiru Tanna's Blue Power Group Limited will list on the Junior Stock Exchange, citing excellent prospects for growth.

Financial guru Sandra Shirley pointed to a global movement towards alternative sources of energy with many buildings now incorporating solar panels in their design. She said the seniors' market was growing rapidly and that investors should explore housing solutions for this group. Sandra urged strong corporate governance and suggested an exit strategy for those invited to put up venture capital. She said the media should get involved, calling for more local programming and suggesting a Jamaican adaptation of The Apprentice.

None of this can happen without a safe environment, so for me the crowning event last week was a Community Based Policing (CBP) event held by the JCF in collaboration with several agencies. I saw an energised SDC actively fulfilling its mandate. The dynamic Dr Karen Hilliard, head of the USAID, underlined her country's commitment to Jamaica and PMI head, Bishop Herro Blair, moved the audience with his heartfelt prayer.

We heard about the growth of partnerships between the police, residents, civic groups, public sector and international donor agencies. Assistant Commissioner Novelette Grant traced the 17-year journey of CBP, involving extensive training. She thanked the USAID, DFID represented by British High Commissioner Howard Drake and the UNDP's Deputy Resident Representative Akiko Fujii, for their support. Other partners are the Citizens Justice and Security Programme, Citizens Security Initiative, Jamaica Social Investment Fund, National Housing Trust and the National Neighbourhood Watch Movement.

And then, representatives of the communities spoke as if with one voice. Enfield, St Mary; Mountain View, St Andrew, "Russia" in Savanna-la-mar, Westmoreland. They are humble, resolute individuals who represent the Jamaica we know, the Jamaica that is still alive. The communities have experienced "a complete turnaround in terms of crime, public disorder, and youth anti-social behaviour".

Anthony Earle of "Russia" cited the unifying force of reggae music and football. Of the police liaison officer he says, "I see him as a friend, not a threat. He is welcome anytime, day or night."

These entrepreneurs, security officers, agencies and ordinary Jamaican people are sending us an important message: they see a strong future for Jamaica. We are not sitting and fretting over the negatives of our country. We are planning and working to overcome them. Let the world know, as Birmingham knows: we are a courageous people who will never give up on our vision of "Jamaica, strong and free".

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