SPEECH BY NIRAD TEWARIE, CEO AMCHAM T&T
BECOMING A COUNTRY OF ‘WHY NOT?’
EVENT: LAUNCH OF WiPay
DATE: WEDNESDAY 17TH OCTOBER 2018
Almost every internet forum, every WhatsApp conversation, every in-person conversation on T&T and technology seems to return to one central idea: we are behind the rest of the world.
In other countries robots build cars, roads and houses are 3D printed, and block-chain based systems augment online security.
Here, we celebrate when we can pay with Linx at the Licensing Office.
This denigration of T&T is common. It often seems to imply that we’re too far behind; we can’t catch up. But that’s exactly the idea I want to refute; with technology, not only can we catch up, but we can leapfrog other countries.
Technological leapfrogging is happening all around. Let us consider a single example from Africa: millions of people who have never had a landline now have access to a cell phone. According to The Economist:
Every 10% increase in mobile-phone penetration in poor countries speeds up GDP growth per person by 0.8-1.2 percentage points a year. And when people get mobile internet, the rate of growth bumps up again.
These people did not have to put up poles and phone lines and then move to cell phones like most of us. They skipped the landline phase entirely and went straight to a device that gives them access to mobile money and freelance jobs.
However, to facilitate technological leapfrogging, we need to transform ourselves from a society that asks ‘why’ to a society that asks ‘why not?’
David Marquet, of Forbes magazine, argues that “‘Why” is provocative and puts people on the defensive.’ It implies that they may not have a good reason for what they are doing. Or, suggests that they need to justify their actions to us and we’ve already decided to be skeptical. Picture this: You have an idea. It could be transformative. It could change the way we do business. But you’re constantly met with people asking why. Why do we need this? Why did you do that? Why do you think that?
We need to fundamentally shift the way we think about ideas. Someone has an idea. It could be transformative. It could change the way we do business. So why not try to make that idea a reality? We need to become a ‘why not’ society.
We may be behind many parts of the world on technology. But why can’t we leapfrog them? Why can’t we commit to entrepreneurial ideals? Why can't we use technology to lead to greater social inclusion and social justice? Why can’t we promote critical thinking in schools? We want to transform the way we do business. Well, why not?
Such a mindset must be supported by coordinated policy measures that enable the ‘why not’ entrepreneurs to access what they need to effect change. This is not to say there should be no regulation, but regulations should only exist if there is a material public safety concern. Otherwise, we should be enabled to take risks and innovate. This is, after all, the best environment for creation.
V.S. Naipaul wrote ‘Most people are not really free. They are confined by the niche in the world that they carve out for themselves. They limit themselves to fewer possibilities by the narrowness of their vision.’ Let us not be those people who limit ourselves or limit others by imposing our vision on them. Let us work towards being a people and a country open to the expanse of possibility: in technology and in life. Let us make ourselves a country of why not.
Why not open data?
Why not e-payments in government services?
Why not alternatives to fiat currencies?
Why not e-procurement?
Why not GPS trackers on police and emergency vehicles?
Why not real time data and therefore monitoring of air and water quality?
Why not a unique national identification number?
Why not programming, gaming and app development on the school curriculum from ECCE level and data analytics later on?
Why not a Trinidad and Tobago that is digitally enabled; digitally connected with a thriving ICT industry that both enables other industries and stands as a major "industrial" pillar of our re-newed and diversified economy?
So, I ask you to answer that question for yourself and keep asking it of everyone with whom you come into contact.
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