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  • 6 Apr 2022 10:13 AM | Kennedy Maraj (Administrator)

    LINKAGE Q4 (2021) - THE WAY FORWARD

    PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE

    by Toni Sirju-Ramnarine - President of AMCHAM T&T

    After more than two years of the current pandemic, the way forward will depend on what we want for our future and making sure the losses we suffered don’t keep us stuck in the past. The combination of COVID-19, recent geopolitical tensions, climate change and unprecedented oil price shocks have created major economic impacts resulting in rising food inflation, foreign exchange scarcity, and increasing unemployment rates.

    One thing is certain: we cannot return to normal. Instead, we need to introduce a new way forward. So, what’s the course we chart to achieve this?

    First, we need to start believing that economic stability and growth is possible again. Sometimes in our quest to right the ship, we forget what we are sailing towards. I am envisioning a world that will bring about more choices for consumers, more jobs for citizens, more revenue for government and stronger, and more resilient companies. Achieving this won’t be easy and there are no guarantees that we will get everything right, the first time. However, if we aren’t envisioning it, we can’t create it.

    SOLUTIONS – THE WAY FORWARD

    So, here’s how we can make this vision a reality. We can start by investing more in building capacity at a personal and professional level. This means prioritising opportunities for training and retraining to meet new and unforeseen challenges that can grind our operations to a halt at a moment's notice. It will involve incentives to allow companies to invest more in Research and Development that improves business processes, increases productivity, and introduces new products and services.

    There needs to be prioritised support for entrepreneurship and innovative ideas which can gain non-traditional funding to build the digital economy. The colonial-era institutions that drive our processes and systems cannot ensure long-term success in the 21st century. What we need is urgent reform to our dated public institutions and governance framework. We need a Customs and Excise Division that is reliant, efficient, and digital! We need the full digitalization of the public sector to attract investors and improve the ease of doing business.

    Today, digital is the new currency that will ensure our growth, competitiveness, and survival into the future. But this requires a robust governance framework, key infrastructure to bridge the digital gap, and of course, a welcoming environment that fosters the dreams of innovators who will launch us into the metaverse! The private sector can lead on this and start investing in new talent to fill key roles and responsibilities to drive their digital transformation agenda. Ultimately, we are talking about the creation of new jobs and attracting greater investors to sustain and grow our economy for generations to come.

    But growth must be inclusive. The pandemic and other issues have increased social inequalities across the globe. We must find solutions that foster economic growth in a more inclusive manner to counteract these far-reaching disparities that hinder development. Inclusive growth will require public, private, and social-sector leaders to work together to embed equity in the development process. So, that means addressing economic development from a human perspective that directly engages diverse voices and gives more decision-making authority to the communities they seek to empower.

    Sustaining our economy will also require creating a climate-resilient economy and adhering to our COP26 obligations. With the planet expecting to continue to warm until at least the middle of the century, natural disasters may be more frequent, deadly, and economically challenging resulting in disruptions to food supplies, business operations, and economic productivity, while damaging homes and personal property, public infrastructure, and critical ecosystems. Not only is investing in a net-zero carbon future will save money but it may also unleash a new wave of innovations, job creation, and economic growth to build a stronger and more sustainable economy.

    Finally, trade is also essential to our economic turnaround. We need to ensure that we are globally competitive in what we produce and manufacture and also how we conduct business. Rejuvenating the agriculture sector is critical - this would not only allow us to save our scarce foreign exchange and earn additional foreign exchange but it would also allow us to lift our employment figures and ensure food and nutrition security. As we seek to transform our economy, we also need to move beyond the shores of our comfort zone of the local market and even within CARICOM to begin new trading agreements with external partners, within and outside our region. AMCHAM T&T is already taking lead on this with the hosting of at least two trade missions this year aimed at not only taking local companies to foreign markets but also promoting local investors.

    So let’s start charting the way forward, by taking increased risks to build a nation defined more by progressive and optimistic values that solve problems and deliver real results to citizens. If we can take these small steps then we are establishing the way forward to help our economy and our nation recover and progress beyond these unprecedented times.


  • 6 Apr 2022 9:48 AM | Kennedy Maraj (Administrator)

    LINKAGE Q4 (2021) - THE WAY FORWARD

    CEO's MESSAGE

    By Nirad Tewarie - AMCHAM T&T CEO

    The past two years have brought unprecedented changes that required doing things a different way to achieve better results. The way forward from this pandemic will require us to continue building and transforming our companies, our lives, and our world even more if we want to increase economic growth and expansion. And the focus on the economy should really be about improving lives. For us, economic growth is a tool – a means to an end as opposed to an end itself. The goal should be to create the conditions for happier, healthier and safer people.

    To achieve this, we need to lead, and we need to collaborate. So much of the progress we made in the past occurred because we understood the value of putting aside differences to work together. We must find better ways to communicate and collaborate.

    At AMCHAM T&T, we have been focusing quite a bit on the digital economy. This presents a great opportunity to increase partnerships and drive innovation to transform our societies and improve living conditions for so many. Working together to help enable a digital economy, if managed correctly, can benefit our citizens in numerous ways - the creation of better jobs, reduction of inequalities, and the provision of better, more efficient social services.

    THE KEY IS ESG

    The promotion of good environmental, social and governance (ESG) practices in the private sector is now sharply in focus. ESG is an important accelerator for inclusive economic growth and development. Many scientists, politicians, economists, business groups and climate activists have promoted adopting a green recovery in response to the coronavirus pandemic which would unlock a number of economic benefits, in addition to, promoting measures to combat climate change and protect the environment. Research has also indicated greater private sector ESG investments are linked to a country’s macroeconomic performance resulting in an improvement in GDP per capita and a reduction in unemployment. These are all excellent arguments for policymakers to attach specific sustainability conditions to policy incentives that will benefit businesses, protect the environment, and strengthen the economy.

    The challenge for us in T&T is how to use the next decade during which we will likely continue to depend heavily on the energy sector to transition. Yes, the dreaded word – diversification. Well, any journey starts with a single footstep. We must do the basics – improve trade facilitation, improve the justice system and strengthen the rule of law across the board.

    This issue of Linkage will present some ideas that should spur conversations around how we can best chart the way forward from the impacts we have collectively suffered because of the pandemic. It will identify where we have gone wrong, but more importantly, it will show us what we can do better to improve and excel. We are not saying everything will work nor are we claiming to have all the answers. But what we are saying is that the way forward doesn’t begin with inaction but with more collaboration, identifying opportunities, and taking some chances to ensure recovery and stability in our economy. So, let's get to work!




  • 16 Mar 2022 2:26 AM | Kennedy Maraj (Administrator)

    LINKAGE Q4 (2021) - THE WAY FORWARD

    CEO's PERSPECTIVE 

    MITCHELL DE SILVA - CITI COUNTRY OFFICER - TT HUB
    CITIBANK

    HYBRID WORK - FAD OR FUTURE?


    Determining what is a business trend versus what is a passing fad is at times difficult, as we are often persuaded by our perceptions rather than by data or experiences that point in a particular direction. That said, an evident emerging trend is the permanent shift to a hybrid model of work. In what follows, I offer my thoughts on its genesis (fairly obvious), why I believe it will persist and some ideas on how we should approach this accelerating trend.

    The shift to the hybrid model has been imperative to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. At the very beginning, many assumed that it would be a temporary shift and that a return to office for all would only be a matter of time. As we have progressed through the various stages of this health crisis, some organisations have returned to office in what may seem like the pre-pandemic normal, while others have been slower to move and have taken the decision to remain in a hybrid model. Each decision has a unique motivation and set of circumstances, but I believe the second approach is one that holds considerable upside for those who choose it.

    Health concerns are not the only reason to consider new ways of work. In examining our local context and the case, so to speak, for a hybrid model, I look at one major factor: our main business district and access to it. The journey to Port of Spain prior to 2020 was marked by a significant influx of persons from all parts of the country, in the early morning and a large migration mid to late afternoon.

    If we agree the levels of traffic experienced pre-COVID were unsustainable, then in my view it stands to reason that the hybrid model is an approach that presents a meaningful solution. Simply looking at time saved for the commuters, for example, that travel from Princes Town to Port of Spain, by working from home they may claw back four to five hours on a daily basis. Imagine if someone told those commuters prior to the start of 2020, that four to five hours a day would be returned to them, what would be the impact to the quality of their life, to their productivity? In my view, holding commitment to work constant, they would see a marked improvement in many areas of their lives.

    The time saved, whether it be five hours or forty-five minutes, and the resultant improvement in quality of life, possibly presents a compelling enough argument for all organisations, private and public, to consider the hybrid approach. Suffice to say, the hybrid model moves us closer to our digitisation goals as a country; a net positive in my view. Clearly, the model will not work in every environment, especially for those frontline roles where it is neither possible nor practical. On that note, those in the front line are due our gratitude for their sterling efforts throughout the pandemic.

    There are potential downside risks to the model. In speaking to CEOs in various industries, two themes that come up are culture transfer and mental health. A considerable number of employers have hired new staff in the pandemic and in some instances those persons are yet to meet members of their team in person or set foot in a physical office. In my own organisation, these two struggles exist. Many will tell you that Banking is an apprenticeship business, which thrives on in-person interaction. Secondly, the absence of a separation of work and home increases mental strain and by extension, health.

    On the first point, I have found the on-boarding process becomes that much more important. Having someone join what was a largely physical experience previously in a virtual manner, calls for close collaboration across all lines. The new hire needs to be given precision on the organisation’s strategy, how their unit/team fits into it and what the expectation of them is in contributing to the success of the firm. That initial induction then needs to be supported by ongoing opportunities to connect with others, both in their teams and across other areas for work-related and informal matters. The latter in my view is critical. I firmly believe a material aspect of organisation’s culture is transferred in the informal interactions and settings in both conscious and unconscious ways.

    A potential pitfall of the hybrid model is the seeming limitation it places on relationships to those defined by work-related tasks and routines. If our organisations were run by artificial intelligence that would be fine, but as individuals, our need to connect, for affiliation and affirmation, demand a different approach. Management must and should maximise the virtual tools to have staff from all areas of the organisation connect, especially the new hire. These should be “camera on; email down” sessions, as fluid as possible, imbued with the spontaneity you would find in the lunchroom. Some challenges arise with this approach, but they are navigable and once you find the right fit, the opportunities and successes derived, I have found, are impactful and lasting.

    The merger of work and home has invariably increased mental stress as some find it difficult to disconnect one from the other. This is driven by a number of factors, one being the expectation to maintain product/service delivery at the same level in the virtual environment as was the case in the physical. For those in the service space in particular, where much relies on technology, connectivity in office is superior to connectivity from home; tasks that in office would take minutes, elongate, resulting in longer hours. Businesses wanting to persist with a hybrid approach must therefore invest in resources that ensure connectivity is as efficient virtually as it is in the office environment. Investments like this will not on their own ameliorate the issue, but alongside a combination of other measures, they can. It is management’s responsibility to find the appropriate combination for its environment that strikes the right balance.

    Hybrid work, in my view, needs to be encouraged. We are yet to fully realise the benefits of it, not only from the perspective of work-life balance and productivity, but also from the possible new opportunities it will create for business and society as a whole; advancement of the digital agenda being key. Locally, we have seen technology-based solutions mushroom and flourish over the last two years alongside a general focus on health and well-being.

    The solutions we bring to the table make us more competitive and they matter to our clients, to our investors and to our employees. The pandemic brought many challenges and taught us many lessons, while enabling us to use the opportunity to build on the positives that we have uncovered over the last two years.


  • 16 Mar 2022 12:06 AM | Kennedy Maraj (Administrator)

    LINKAGE Q4 (2021) - THE WAY FORWARD

    Reset, Realign, Restart

    AMCHAM T&T's/EY Private Sector Economic Outlook Survey 2022

    By AMCHAM T&T Staff Writer


    COVID-19 has has been an accelerator for sudden and unexpected changes for businesses around the world. From the fast-tracking of the adoption and use of technology and new ways of working, to the need to pivot quickly to keep up with changing consumer expectations – COVID-19 transformed business operations and changed the game for many organisations.

    “The changed landscape has forced reinvention and organisations are looking to create and shape a new future: to reimagine what’s possible and to realise new opportunities collaboratively,” said Melanie Tom, Senior Manager for Strategy and Transactions at Ernst & Young Services Limited, in her presentation at AMCHAM T&T’s Economic Outlook Forum on January 26.

    Tom said, “Now is the time to RESET, REALIGN and RESTART,” as she presented the results of a pulse survey conducted by AMCHAM T&T and EY in November 2021 with c-suite and executive directors/management across eleven industries.

    The survey sought to gather perspectives on how companies have been surviving or thriving into the third year of the pandemic, and how they are creating confidence and generating growth as they prepare for the future.

    Questions were mainly focused on how companies are driving their strategy having survived two years into the pandemic. This encompasses the impact of COVID-19 on:

    1) companies and the industries they operate in;

    2) corporate strategy as companies evolve and adapt to the ‘new normal’;

    3) talent strategy as there is a gradual return to physical work; and

    4) generating confidence to grow the economy.

    T&T’s ECONOMIC OVERVIEW

    It’s important to understand the current economic climate and the impact of COVID-19 on our marketplace before we focus on the perspectives from the private sector.

    The combined effects of COVID-19, energy production cuts, and price shocks all pushed the economy further into recession. In 2021, there was a reported overall 1% decline in real economic output brought on by new waves of infections and variants. However, a rebound occurred once COVID-19 measures were relaxed, borders reopened, and advancements were made in the administering of vaccinations to the public.

    Meanwhile, the inflation rate increased somewhat over the year as the pandemic continued to place strains on global supply chains, leading to higher international prices and costs of imports into Trinidad & Tobago. This, of course, increased input costs for local companies on raw materials and shipping.

    The Energy Sector also rebounded, with increases in the prices of crude oil and natural gas, and the production of crude oil ,which signalled a turnaround in the sector’s performance from the persisting declines in previous years. Still, this wasn’t enough to improve overall business metrics, with crime remaining a concern and security measures adding to the cost of doing business in T&T.

    THEME 1 - CREATING CONFIDENCE, GENERATING GROWTH

    So, what exactly does 2022 has in store for the private sector against this backdrop?


    Roughly 72% of respondents were confident that the economy will experience some growth in 2022. Their optimism hinged on noted increasing business prospects and demand levels, the improvement in the performance of the energy sector, and expanding markets.

    The emergence from the pandemic presented an opportunity for leaders to push their organisations towards capturing emerging growth opportunities and strengthening their competitive position. “This will require the courage to reframe the entire enterprise to look beyond the pandemic, with clear ambitions to drive long-term value,” Tom said.

    Meanwhile, companies with less optimism pointed to problems with supply chains, consumer economic constraints, and an unclear or inadequate medium- to long-term national development plan as their primary reasons for lack of confidence.


    Still, about 49% and 45% of respondents expected revenues and profitability respectively to return to pre-pandemic levels by 2023, which was a lot less optimistic than those surveyed as part of the EY Global survey. The latter indicated that circa 86% of respondents expected a return to pre-pandemic revenue and profitability levels by 2023.


    So where should the government focus its attention to achieve real economic growth in 2022 and beyond?


    The survey findings showed that digitalising government services as a means of improving ease of business would be the best way to achieve real economic growth—a sentiment expressed by roughly 60% of the respondents. This was followed by investments in the agriculture sector, boosting manufacturing, and facilitating private sector projects.

    For the private sector to contribute real economic growth, 66% of respondents thought engagement in private-public partnerships a viable solution; 49% indicated that investment in youth programmes designed to attract talent into technology, manufacturing and agriculture sectors were vital to an economic turnaround, while 43% indicated investment in talent for the Future of Work was also important.

    THEME 2 - COVID-19

    How did companies’ resilience match up against the wave of the pandemic? “Thriving companies are building for the future while surviving companies are protecting what they have,” Tom said. “As organisations reflect on the impact of COVID-19, they need to consider how they can reshape to a changed present and prepare for an unpredictable future.”


    The results showed that the pandemic had increased confidence in the company’s ability to adapt their business model to COVID-19, with over 62% stating their business model was dynamic and could adapt readily to changes brought about by the pandemic.

    Despite the high confidence, a sizable 52% of companies still experienced a decline in revenue, mostly in the manufacturing and consumer products sectors. However, FY21 did see some improvement in revenues, with 30% experiencing an increase in revenue, mainly from the financial services sector as well as from the rebound of the energy sector.

    Meanwhile, COVID-19 was to blame for a moderate disruption of the medium- to long-term strategy adopted by 48% of companies in the financial services and technology sector. Additionally, 41% of companies operating in the energy and consumer products sectors noted that they were greatly impacted and their medium- to long-term strategy had to be substantially changed to succeed.

    THEME 3 – IS YOUR STRATEGY SET FOR TAKE OFF?

    Tom said these disruptions, along with several transformative forces such as changing consumers, talent, technology, and to a lesser extent, environmental concerns, had intensified and converged to make businesses redefine how they create, deliver, and communicate value over the past year. “The accelerated impact of these trends has created a strategic imperative for organisations to re-evaluate its purpose and create long-term value by addressing the expectations of a broader range of stakeholders,” Tom said.


    COVID-19 compelled organisations to examine every aspect of their operations, with more than 80% of respondents indicating that the pandemic had a noticeably moderate to significant impact on all key areas indicated, while over 90% indicated that the pandemic had impacted operational stability.

    Meanwhile, companies have been actively putting the customer at the centre of all their plans, so it is no surprise that 66% of respondents believed that investment in digitalisation of customer journey and business processes was one of the most important strategic actions required for growth. Additionally, 49% and 41% also indicated that the adoption of new pricing constructs and innovative pricing models as well as recruitment and upskilling employees would be essential for growth.

    Still, cost and capital constraints, culture and employee engagement issues, and tension between the need to transform vs. the predictability of current operations were amongst the most common challenges faced by respondents, preventing their strategies from taking off.

    THEME 4 – TALENT STRATEGY AND WORKFORCE OF THE FUTURE

    Moving to a sudden virtual, socially distanced existence in 2020 was always going to be a test of agility and resilience for most companies. While many thrived, many others struggled to maintain business continuity and operate effectively. “The experience of a sudden shift to mass remote working has led many companies to renew their focus on agility and resilience, especially in relation to technology and workforce,” Tom said.

    So, what will the workforce of the future look like now that the technology infrastructure has been built up to enable virtual work?


    Despite the digital transformation taking place, over 70% of respondents indicated that they were not currently considering creating, nor have they created, any new innovative roles since the onset of the pandemic. Meanwhile, over 30% of respondents indicated that they had created a strategy officer and digital officer position over the past year, and another 20% of companies said they were considering creating a strategy officer, a data officer, a sustainability officer and a digital officer role within the next 12 months.


    This news came even after three-quarters of respondents indicated that they agreed a talent gap existed in their organisation and noted the top three capabilities required to effectively compete in the market included digital skills, such as data analytics and machine learning, agile and continuous improvement practices, and complex problem-solving skills.


    With respect to concerns associated with talent strategy, organisations must boldly and decisively take steps to rewire, retool and reorient their organisations for this new working world. Considering this, more than 70% of respondents took the opportunity to upskill and retool existing staff, whilst 44% said they had to hire new staff since the onset of the pandemic. Moreover, 65% of companies sought to acquire these skills by reskilling existing talent, 38% resorted to outsourcing to external third-party providers, and 33% said they had to hire talent from abroad.

    Return to work policies


    The workplace of the future will most likely be a hybrid model, involving both office and remote working. The expectation is that 75%-100% of employees will return to the workplace in 2022. To manage the return to the workplace, 63% of respondents introduced rotational work arrangements, 28% required the vaccine to work, and only 19% required COVID-19 testing periodically.

    Tom said a clearly defined corporate purpose, which reinforced and built upon a strong corporate culture, would allow employees based both at home and in the office to make decisions that aligned with the organisation’s long-term goals and boosted agility and resilience while providing the flexibility needed to retain a skilled workforce.

    THEME 5 – OTHER BUSINESS CONSIDERATIONS


    Foreign exchange constraints and woes continue to exist in the local economy, with roughly half or 53% of respondents saying they relied heavily on forex for its operations, and 71% saying their forex requirements were not being adequately met. This situation has heavily impacted smaller companies and other companies which do not generate their own US dollars. It has resulted in lengthy delays in acquiring foreign exchange to pay US suppliers, which added to the strain on supply relationships, hampered the ability to satisfy demand, higher prices for the consumer, and other related issues.


    The pandemic has also increased awareness of the challenges around environmental and social inequities, and reinforced the importance of access to technology and connectivity for all. “COP 26 and other macro-trends are driving critical conversations, including national and business net-zero commitments, and substantial investments in renewables and green technology,” Tom said. “More and more, our clients are coming to us and asking how can they incorporate ESG into their strategy.”


    However, based on the survey results, only 23% indicated that their company had a target to become carbon neutral, with 7% indicating they were already carbon neutral. Still, the majority at 70% indicated that they either didn't have a target or were unaware as to what the target was.

    This may be because 48% of respondents saw the societal and environmental changes as a mixed bag and viewed it as an opportunity and threat, while a significant 42% viewed it as a growth opportunity. These figures drastically contrast to the results of the EY Global Capital Confidence Barometer in 2021, which reported 97% of companies had a target to become carbon neutral, with 65% indicating a target to do so by 2035.

    “ESG is a major global initiative which many local companies have not yet considered or is only beginning to consider,” Tom said. “There is no doubt that in the near future ESG initiatives will become an integral part of overall corporate governance and strategy.”

    THEME 6 – REFRAMING YOUR FUTURE, RESET, REALIGN, RESTART

    “The strategic reset coming out of this crisis is firmly focused on a new growth agenda,” Tom said. With many companies having been in defense mode during the past three years, pivoting operations at speed or moving to a fully remote and digital environment, this strategic agility has fuelled an optimistic mindset with a clear view of a better tomorrow. “It also has provided a clear view of how to get there — reset, realign, restart,” Tom said.

    To generate sustainable growth and deliver long-term value for all stakeholders, organisations must reorient themselves for continuous transformation. “We believe a new DNA for successful enterprises is emerging, built around human-centred transformations that break down silos, increase agility, improve innovation, and drive toward long-term value,” Tom said.

    Perhaps this explains why, coming out of the survey, human-centricity, technology at speed, and innovation at scale are listed as the three interconnected values that will help companies realise their competitive advantage.

    At its core, successful transformation must be driven by the desire to improve the human experience by involving the right talent and mindset to execute the best-laid strategies. Successfully leveraging and implementing technology at speed requires upskilling and reskilling employees as well as diffusing a transformative mindset across the entire organisation at all levels. Finally, if the pandemic has taught the private sector one lesson, it's that they need to get into the habit of continuous and rapid innovation to protect and reinforce their core business in an ever-evolving world. Therefore, agility will be key to helping companies easily reset, realign, and restart when the next major disruption comes.


  • 15 Mar 2022 8:30 PM | Kennedy Maraj (Administrator)

    LINKAGE Q4 (2021) - THE WAY FORWARD

    SPEAKING GREEK

    By Simon Baptiste


    There is a famous saying by Lenin that goes like this: “It is necessary sometimes to take one step backward to take two steps forward.” For those in the arts and entertainment sector, and perhaps more specifically those who stage events, the dilemma we currently face is that our backs are pointing towards the edge of a high and precipitous cliff.

    Since the beginning of the pandemic members of the Government, friends in the private sector, my bank manager, and nearly anyone with a stable job has been fond of using the same word over and over again: pivot. It is one of those key words or phrases that has magically worked itself into the enchanting world of ‘coolspeak’, and once someone uses that word, I realize I’m going to be preached to and from there… it all sounds like Greek to me. Move over Socrates, Plato, and Heraclitus, here comes another island philosopher.

    PIVOT = SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

    The problem with adapting to something new, is that there are many (outside of our sector) who don’t wish to accept the response “this is all we know”, from entertainment specialists. Making me ask the question: what would these doctors, engineers, bank advisors, and politicians pivot to, if their industry crashed? That’s not to say some of us didn’t try. I witnessed a few savvy promoters – who had done well over the years, invest in supermarkets, auto parts and hardware stores; whereas others, who weren’t as liquid, get regular jobs. In the end, it’s all about survival of the fittest.

    Since the outbreak transpired in 2020, this journey has been a humbling and telling experience. If you didn’t know who your friends were before, now you know. And, for the record, they aren’t the ones who will ask you for complimentary tickets next year.

    A MISCONCEPTION

    Yet, from the vitriol that seems to engulf the public and keyboard warriors every time a promoter mentions the word “event”, one can’t help but wonder why there’s such an underlying hate, ignorance, or sheer resentment towards the idea that Trinbagonians can party responsibly, or that event planners can demonstrate control of the situation. As a result, the majority in our industry have hidden in the shadows; cautiously tiptoeing past eggshells for fear of being burnt at the stake, simply for suggesting that we would like to make a living.

    Perhaps there’s a deeper issue at play here. A misnomer of sorts. While others are pushing papers behind desks every day, apparently the thought process is that those in the creative sector, pre-pandemic, were guzzling copious amounts of alcohol and throwing pool parties all day long, before selling thousands of costumes or staging massive concert events. Therefore, any success gained we were guilty for and by decree, should be punished for it.

    Tuesday on the Rocks 2020

    Admittedly, working in the artistic community beats my previous job of working at a Bank (ironically), but do know that most of us didn’t get here by happenstance; some studied the craft or worked at it for many years. The success you have witnessed by entertainers like Patrice Roberts, Ravi B, and Machel Montano, or by promoters like Tony Chow Lin On and Kwesi “Hoppy” Hopkinson, and Mas Makers like Dean Ackin, or the amazing women (twins Karen and Kathy Norman) behind K2K Alliance, have all come from years of hard work and hiring teams of capable men and women who depend on this sector for their livelihood.

    Thousands have been without work, and many have had to survive on savings, loans, or moratoriums, including myself (and my business partner) who are now forced to find an obscene sum every month to service our mortgage payments to Republic Bank to hold onto our business in St. James. Yet, knowing this, it doesn’t stop people from asking us to do stuff for free under the guise of another overused word, exposure.

    WHAT DOES THAT FUTURE LOOK LIKE?

    As we all struggle to figure out the way forward, the question that gets raised time and time again is, what does that future look like? … but… is that the right ask?

    Events are once again becoming a thing. Our artists are gracing stages on the ground and across the world. And, barring a new virus (and this time it’ll have to be the Zombie virus to keep people from staying home), Carnival will more than likely be happening in 2023.

    Behind closed doors, teams are getting together and planning next steps, while artists are finally going to release monster hits that they’ve been stocking in their arsenal since 2020.

    Perhaps, the real question should be, have we learned enough from the pandemic to change the way we operate?

    Will Smith at DEF Decibel Entertainment Festival 2017

    Two years has taught us that there’s little doubt that our music is seasonal, Carnival can’t happen virtually, that the powers that be do not understand how to work collaboratively with the private sector regarding the arts (or anything entertainment related apparently), and to this day our corporate community fails to recognize the value of our sector, or the substantial investment required to be agents of change.

    The industry leaders in our field haven’t done themselves any favours either. We’re still operating in our silos, with little desire to come together and employ the strategic thinking required in order to turn this thing around. Furthermore, by failing to share data and being so hesitant to discuss our earnings, it feeds into the thinking that our industry doesn’t generate billions of dollars or that this is merely a hobby and not a “real job”.

    T&T is in a fight for its culture, and if we aren’t careful, we will find ourselves in jeopardy of a future where other countries can become the launching pad for Carnival. The older heads will argue that that will never happen and recite some nationalistic sentiment about this is where it was born, and it will never change. However, it was Heraclitus that said, “the only constant is change”.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Simon Baptiste is the Owner at Question Mark Entertainment.

  • 15 Mar 2022 8:19 PM | Kennedy Maraj (Administrator)

    LINKAGE Q4 (2021) - THE WAY FORWARD

    RESULTS - EXCUSES = LEADERSHIP

    By Kyron Regis


    In the past two years, we have heard the word "leadership" uttered in conjunction with COVID-19 and the "right" way to successfully navigate this uncertain season. We have also looked to some leaders during the maelstrom of the pandemic for inspiration, and in the same breath frowned on them with disappointment when they failed to bring about the transformation we anticipated.

    There was one instance in the Western world where a public official wrote a book on leadership before having his respective domain under control. After being praised like Jesus of Nazareth on Palm Sunday, exposure of his misbehaviour got him crucified in public. Sadly, there seems to be no sign of resurrection for this leader and to make matters worse, those who supported him in other spheres of influence have been pulled into the chaos as well by association, with some suffering severe career consequences.

    Not looking too far away in terms of geography, in Trinidad and Tobago, case studies could be written on leadership and the aftermath of power plays as a result of the scuffles aired in the media between some of our public figures in the recent past.

    In the midst of it all, there is the recurring mention of the word “leadership”. Furthermore, while leadership is quickly becoming a buzzword in T&T, like “digital transformation”, the reality is that the manifestation of great leadership is critical to our economic progress as a nation. Moreover, research conducted by economists Benjamin F. Jones and Howard Zhang conclude that there is a correlation between effective leadership and positive economic growth.

    In light of this, a very important question can be raised: How do we define leadership in Trinidad and Tobago and by extension in the Caribbean? More importantly, can we accurately measure leadership effectiveness in the region?

    After spending the last decade and thousands of hours studying the topic of leadership, alongside countless interviews and meetings with many heads of industry in T&T and the region, I am unconvinced that there is sufficient understanding of what it means to be a good leader.

    WAS ERIC WILLIAMS AN EFFECTIVE LEADER

    For example, some may conclude that Dr. Eric Williams was an effective leader. However, scholars like Professor Emeritus Brinsley Samaroo suggest that the legacy of Williams’ leadership would be haunted, since he would be described as the person that led the country during/into the Black Power Revolution.

    One might ask, “If Williams’ leadership was so effective, why did mutiny occur under his watch–especially within the context of people fighting against inequalities and inequities outlined in Capitalism and Slavery?”

    In his essay entitled “The February Revolution (1970) as a Catalyst for Change in Trinidad and Tobago”, Prof Samaroo eloquently expressed that Williams' regime "had [only] concentrated on capturing the administrative machinery of power but had left economic control in the hands of the colonial (European) and neocolonial (North America) capitalist classes and the local comprador bourgeoisie."

    This type of paradox, of articulation without consistent reinforcing action, is not unique to Williams. Some public figures that are deemed the greatest leaders in history have been fraught with contradictions. Mandela, Kennedy, and even the very proponent of one of the most recent theories of leadership–authentic leadership–in the person of Bill George.

    Stanford University Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer provides the relevant literary documentation of the duplicitous nature of the aforementioned leaders in his book, Leadership BS: Fixing Workplaces and Careers One Truth at a Time. I have also examined the seemingly double nature of the man who is dubbed the greatest English King in history, Henry V, in my Master’s thesis titled “Shakespeare and Leadership”.

    SPOTLIGHT ON MIA MOTTLEY

    As we circle back to the region, the latest sentiments on effective Caribbean leadership have placed the spotlight on Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley. I do not mean to discredit PM Mottley in any way, but what people seem to be fascinated by is her astounding ability to articulate and persuade through oracular wizardry–which is as illuminating as it is mesmerising.

    Maybe this is what primarily identifies leaders in any domain—the ability to express and frame sound ideas in public so exceedingly well that you can gather a supportive following. This would make sense because since the beginning of time, leadership has always started with language, and movements have been galvanised by the language of their leaders. Historically, there was always the leader addressing a crowd with a powerful message, whether it was around Lincoln Memorial in the case of Martin Luther King within the American Landscape or the University of Woodford Square in Trinidad with Dr. Williams.

    But does leadership end in language? Is there more to leadership than powerfully structured sentences and punchy words? Or was there something about the words of the leaders of old that propelled their constituents/followers into action?

    Some have argued that it was moral authority, citing Aristotle’s triad for successful leadership communication–logic, emotional connection and credibility (which is built on moral authority or “practicing what you preach"). Nonetheless, it is dubious as to whether Mandela, MLK, Kennedy and even Williams drew their support from their moral authority because they all had their contradictions.

    This is understandable as well because although followers and the general public sometimes demand perfection from our leaders, we know that such a high bar is impossible to reach. The condition of being human spares none from falling prey to weaknesses and vulnerability.

    NO EXCUSES/ACCUSATIONS

    What I believe followers/staff/constituents do not want aligns with what historically “great” leaders did not offer. Excuses. There was always a will to find a way regardless of the status quo.

    As we move forward into the future, leaders at every level should understand that while perfection will not be attained, excuses will not inspire, and accusations will not lead to execution.

    Interestingly, excuses are usually associated with its etymological cousin—accusation or blame. When there is trouble on the horizon or the writing is on the wall, there is always finger-pointing, and again, this is not unique to T&T. It has been around for a long time. Roman historian Titus Livius asserted, “Men are only clever at shifting blame from their own shoulders to those of others.”

    The alternative to blame-shifting is for the leader to take personal responsibility or ownership regarding the outcomes of particular situations. This means that the leader must hold himself/herself accountable for results.

    COVID-19 was a disadvantage to many businesses, and only those that decided to innovate and pivot not only survived, but thrived. Leaders of the entities that were successful during the pandemic understood that the final scorecard ultimately favoured results as opposed to excuses. Results provide the basis on which leaders would ultimately be measured.

    The leaders that took personal responsibility instead of making excuses and casting blame during the pandemic were successful. These leaders will continue to succeed as we move forward into this new future.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Kyron Regis is the CEO of the Kyron Regis Co—a Leadership and Marketing consultancy firm based in T&T. In addition to working closely with the Banking, ICT, Manufacturing and Hospitality industries, he has functioned as a Senior Business Journalist and TV Presenter. Kyron is also a director on the board of the Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce.

  • 15 Mar 2022 8:01 PM | Kennedy Maraj (Administrator)

    LINKAGE Q4 (2021) - THE WAY FORWARD

    NAVIGATING THE CHALLENGES OF BUILDING AN ENABLING FINTECH ECOSYSTEM

    by Francisca Hector
    The Trinidad and Tobago International Finance Centre (TTIFC)


    “How do you build an enabling FinTech ecosystem?” This hot button question has become a staple in boardrooms and political forums as FinTech (Financial Technology) investments are increasingly used as a marker for economic, social and technological progress. Leaders, innovators and investors are all attempting to capitalise on the paradigm shift that has magnified the influence and impact of FinTech on government, business and society.

    According to a 2021 report by McKinsey & Company, “The potential economic gain from building robust digital financial infrastructure is about 20% greater now than it was before the pandemic." Strengthening this view is the fact that global transaction values of digital payments have grown from $4.1 trillion in 2019, to $5.2 trillion in 2020 (Fortunly, 2020), and the market for FinTech solutions continues to expand. In 2021, the financial services sector experienced 177 percent year-over-year growth and was the leading sector for venture capital with $134 billion invested (CrunchBase, 2022).

    Apart from increased investment, vibrant FinTech ecosystems have the potential to boost innovation, facilitate and advance financial inclusion, strengthen public financial management systems and promote positive economic transformation.

    While the benefits are clear, developing the right mix of incentives, legislation and policies is no easy task. Achieving the desired outcomes involves identifying the type of ecosystem involved, examining the factors affecting that ecosystem and strategically addressing its challenges. Additionally, policymakers must be willing to take decisive action to implement the changes necessary to promote growth, innovation and adoption.

    Factors Affecting FinTech Ecosystems

    FinTech ecosystems are complex networks of interacting FinTech start-ups and scale-ups,

    financial institutions, regulators, governments, investors and talent institutions, who share an interest in advancing the financial services industry through technological innovation (Accenture, 2018).

    They can be broadly divided into four main categories: ecosystems in international financial centres, regional financial centres, emerging financial centres, and non-financial tech centres (EY, 2018).

    Table 1: Examples of FinTech Ecosystems

    TYPE OF FINTECH ECOSYSTEM

    EXAMPLE

    International financial centres

    London, New York, Frankfurt, Paris

    Regional financial centres

    Amsterdam, Stockholm, Hong Kong

    Emerging financial centres

    Abu Dhabi

    Non-financial tech centres

    San Francisco (Silicon Valley), Tel Aviv

    A major factor affecting FinTech ecosystems is the availability of talent. Ecosystems in international financial centres tend to benefit from their size, and commonly enjoy superior access to talent and capital. Conversely, while regional financial centres may benefit from strong government support for FinTech developments, they may face talent shortages.

    Shortages of highly-skilled technical labour have been exacerbated since the onset of the pandemic. The surge in FinTech and other tech-related businesses has placed a high demand on technical talent such as computer programmers, data scientists, web developers and financial service marketers to name a few. Therefore, strong ecosystems benefit from policies that support the development of a talent pipeline, reduce brain drain, and enable acquisition of international talent (Accenture, 2018).

    Another factor affecting FinTech ecosystems is the availability of different forms of capital. There must be adequate financial resources to support businesses through various stages—from the early seed stages, through the later growth stages, all the way to exit.

    Additionally, the development of a FinTech ecosystem depends on the strength of demand in theform of customer pulls for new financial services, both locally and internationally.

    Challenges of Building an Enabling Ecosystem

    FinTech ecosystems face challenges relating to the availability of resources, regulation and geographic clustering.

    In financial services, it is common that key operational resources such as customer relationships, financial data, technical infrastructure and regulator relationships are dominated by incumbents (Nechushtan, 2019). In this case, the success of FinTech ecosystems relies heavily on the extent of support start-ups and scale-ups receive from incumbent financial institutions. This can be done by providing capital in the form of loans, investing in start-ups and forming partnerships. In Trinidad and Tobago, First Citizens Bank’s investment into FinTech start-up Term Finance (Holdings) in 2021 with the acquisition of a 19.9 percent minority stake, as well as Republic Bank Limited’s 2019 partnership with WiPay, are examples of this.

    The Financial Services sector is subject to considerable regulatory oversight. The legislative and regulatory environment, competition policies, and access to the regulators, all have considerable influence on the success of FinTech ecosystems. The introduction of regulatory sandboxes in many jurisdictions has helped to facilitate better relationships and knowledge sharing among players in the ecosystem.

    In the Caribbean, pressure from foreign correspondent banks, coupled with high risk-averse policies and rigorous Know-Your-Customer (KYC) requirements, continue to drive heavy usage of cash-based transactions and increased distrust in digital payment solutions (Beecher et al. 2018). To counter this, regulators across the Caribbean, including the Central Bank of Trinidad & Tobago (CBTT), have already begun to take measures to relax KYC restrictions for commercial bank customers.

    In other economies with less stringent regulations, some FinTechs do not require banks to serve as an intermediary between lenders and borrowers (Abassi et al 2021). Provider-to-Person (P2P) lending facilitates direct interaction between lenders and borrowers via online platforms and applications. Through this mode of transaction, lenders use borrower data and insights to examine creditworthiness and provide access to credit facilities. Initiatives like these are critical to increasing access to and usage of financial products. Collectively they offer an immense opportunity to build better systems to support financial inclusion.

    Finally, financial services tend to be geographically clustered.

    Successful FinTech ecosystems maintain strong international linkages and attract talent from the broader region they are located within. There is the potential for this to occur within the Caribbean as countries like Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and Barbados are making huge gains towards fostering more enabling FinTech ecosystems. There is also the added benefit of free movement of labour between CARICOM members which can allow for access to a larger pool of the necessary skilled talent resources. Overall, the national economy benefits from these ecosystems by ensuring that the right kinds of resources are present, accessible and active. As a result, the economy stands to benefit from increased employment, innovation and investment.

    Developing an Enabling Fintech Ecosystem in Trinidad & Tobago

    Answering the question, “How can Trinidad & Tobago build an enabling FinTech ecosystem?” is at the forefront of the TTIFC’s (Trinidad & Tobago International Financial Centre) strategic push to bolster T&T’s position as the leading financial hub in the Caribbean. After commissioning the development of a FinTech Roadmap, the TTIFC proactively initiated the cooperation of government, regulators and the private sector by establishing the NGO, the FinTech Association of Trinidad and Tobago (FinTechTT). The TTIFC continues to play an integral role on FinTechTT’s Board of Directors as a non-Executive member and supports its efforts to facilitate the nation’s FinTech evolution.

    Additionally, the TTIFC received a realigned mandate which solidifies its importance in the Government’s overall thrust to create a digital nation. This mandate sees the TTIFC as the driver of digital financial services adoption across all sectors, leading Trinidad and Tobago in becoming the regional premier location for FinTech-enabled services.

    With its new strategic focus, the TTIFC has expanded its thrust to facilitate and advance financial inclusion. Its 2021 Financial Inclusion report provided a greater understanding of the current financial landscape and made the business case for the creation of a financial inclusion survey. This survey will provide data-driven insights that will inform the development of a Financial Inclusion Roadmap. This Roadmap will guide the creation, implementation and measurement of national financial inclusion strategies.

    The TTIFC has also collaborated with multiple government agencies including the Treasury Division on accelerating the digitalisation of payments across the public sector. One initiative has been the development of the Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) Framework and Policy to streamline the enablement of EFT payment methods for use by Ministries and State Agencies.

    It has also formed partnerships with local entities like the University of Trinidad & Tobago and international agencies like Microsoft and MasterCard to increase knowledge-sharing opportunities and develop strategic solutions for digital and financial inclusion by supporting local FinTech companies.

    As the TTIFC navigates the challenges of building an enabling FinTech ecosystem in T&T, it continues to lead the way by developing strategies for accelerating digital payments adoption and improving financial inclusion and service delivery for citizens through increased access to digital payment options.

    To learn more about the TTIFC’s vision for a FinTech-Enabled T&T and how you can partner with us, visit our website.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Francisca Hector, Marketing & Communications Officer, TTIFC

    Francisca is a Communications & PR professional who is focused on Communicating for Behaviour Change and Disruptive Tech Adoption.


  • 15 Mar 2022 7:34 PM | Kennedy Maraj (Administrator)

    LINKAGE Q4 (2021) - THE WAY FORWARD

    UNLOCKING ECONOMIC GROWTH

    CAN MEETING THE PARIS AGREEMENT DRIVE ECONOMIC GROWTH?

    By Caroline Mair


    The Paris Agreement achieved what the Kyoto Protocol could not. It united almost all the world's nations—for the very first time—in a single agreement on cutting the greenhouse gas emissions which are causing global warming. It was adopted by nearly 200 countries in 2015 and came into force in November 2016.

    Parties agreed to "pursue efforts" to limit global temperature rises to 1.5°C, and to keep them "well below" 2°C above pre-industrial times. They agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from human activity to net zero between 2050 and 2100. Each country sets their own emission-reduction targets, which were at first reviewed every five years to raise ambitions. Wealthy countries are supposed to help poorer nations by providing funding, known as climate finance, to adapt to climate change and switch to renewable energy.

    What was COP 26?

    The United Nations Climate Change Conference was hosted by Italy and the UK from 31st October to 12th November 2021. After a 12-month pandemic delay, tens of thousands of climate experts and activists descended upon Glasgow for the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, known as COP 26. Some of the key discussions in Glasgow were about whether countries are doing what they promised in Paris. Parties adopted the Glasgow Climate Pact.

    Some outcomes, official or otherwise, from COP 26 include (not a complete list):

    Some COP 26 Outcomes

    - a call for developed countries to double adaptation finance from 2019 levels, by 2025;

    - for parties that have not yet communicated new or updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to do so before the next COP in Egypt, November 2022;

    - a drastically accelerated timeline for nations to strengthen NDCs by the end of 2022. (The original plan of the Paris Agreement had provided that the NDCs would take place in five-year increments, so this expedited timeline was celebrated as a key Glasgow achievement);

    - establishing an annual high-level ministerial roundtable on pre-2030 ambition;

    - the Glasgow Dialogue between parties on Loss and Damage, to convene from 2022 to 2024;

    - a process to discuss a new collective quantified goal on climate finance;

    - an annual dialogue to strengthen Ocean-based action;

    - COP 26 invited the UN Secretary-General to convene world leaders in 2023 to consider ambition to 2030;

    - a regulated global carbon trading market (Article 6, Paris Agreement) allowing countries to partially meet their climate targets by buying credits representing emission cuts by others;

    - a new deforestation pledge was negotiated outside the Glasgow Climate Pact, with 120 nations representing 90 percent of the world’s forests pledged to halt deforestation by 2030. (Forests such as the Amazon River Basin create a “carbon sink”, soaking up carbon emissions and serving as the lungs of the planet.)

    - more than 80 countries agreed to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

    - 100 nations agreed to a Global Methane Pledge, whereby nations agreed to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

    - the surprise China – U.S. Pact

    - the surprise Antigua and Barbuda – Tuvalu Accord on 31st October 2021 established a Commission of Small Island Developing States on Climate Change and International Law.

    For the first time in the UNFCCC process, there is a reference to “phasing down” unabated coal power and “phasing out” inefficient fossil fuel subsidies. Paragraph 36 calls upon parties to accelerate efforts “toward the phase-down of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.” The explicit calling out of both coal power and fossil fuel subsidies is a departure. But the language here is significant. The initial text used the term “phase-out,” but this was changed to “phase-down” at the insistence of China and India—two nations whose economies are heavily dependent on coal power for economic growth. There was a great deal of tension as a result of the replacement of “phasing out” into “phasing down”, which small islands argued deeply undermines progress on that ambition and on reducing global emissions.

    Small Island Perspective

    From a small island perspective, there has been dishearteningly minimal progress on Loss and Damage. Historically, small island developing states (SIDS), Indigenous Peoples, least developed countries (LDCs), developing nations, especially women and children, contribute the fewest GHG emissions but have historically suffered the most from climate impacts.

    For many small island nation-states, like Trinidad and Tobago, the rest of the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands, climate change presents an acutely concerning security issue. Twenty percent of some island nations’ landmass is predicted to disappear by 2040. Pacific atoll nations are under threat of flooding, “sinking”, or even partially disappearing due to climate change-driven sea-level rise and wave-driven flooding. Aminath Shauna, the Maldives’s environment minister, highlighted the tension between the snail-pace of the international climate negotiation and the existential crisis facing her island nation and the home of her ancestors:

    “For us, loss and damage is not just about a dialogue. It is a matter of survival. It’s about being able to fully implement the changes that we have advocated for years now[…] What is balanced and pragmatic to other parties will not help the Maldives adapt in time. It will be too late for the Maldives.”

    The Glasgow Climate Pact eschewed the establishment of a “facility” that would set in motion more concrete financial commitments for addressing loss and damage for, and instead addressed loss and damage through the establishment of a “dialogue” between parties to “minimise and address loss and damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate change.”

    This situation did not ease previously existing tensions between developed and developing nations. Developed nations pledged $100 billion annually by 2020 over a decade ago, slated to assist developing nations in the transition to greening their economies. This promise was not met, underscored as a “deep regret” by the Glasgow Climate Pact while it urged greater clarity and transparency as developed nations will not follow through on this financial commitment until 2023.

    Leadership of Financial sector

    Financial services firms have been charged with playing a critical leadership role to support the transition to a green economy, which requires annual clean energy investment to more than triple by 2030 to around $4 trillion. The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero was a strong positive—a pledge by banks and asset managers to meet climate neutrality by mid-century. If we are indeed to achieve an orderly transition to Net Zero, then it is true that more governments simply must follow through on the commitments of the Paris Agreement. Ensuring a just transition to a net-zero global economy becomes more than lip service or cynical greenwashing marketing attempts. Because the goal is quite literally and simply the avoidance of the devastating human, social, economic loss and financial instability associated with failing to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement. Economic growth is simply not possible under those situations. It has been heartening to see that financial institutions have been heeding the clarion call for alignment with Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which has seen banks and other institutions adopting ESG-based strategies and principles in an effort to become more sustainable. For example, the Principles for Responsible Banking are another excellent framework to ensure that signatory banks’ strategy and practice align with the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. Over 270 banks representing over 45% of banking assets worldwide have now joined this movement for change. And the list goes on.

    It is a tumultuous time. The COVID-19 pandemic has been revealing to us just quite how fragile and perilous our human existence is, for a couple of years now. The current Russian invasion of Ukraine and the recent volcanic explosion in Tonga shows us how the violently unexpected can happen out of nowhere and wrench our lives and our societies apart. There is also the looming threat of energy amid the Ukraine crisis. Life is beyond unpredictable right now.

    But few threats are as devastating as what is directly ahead of us if we don’t take in front the greater and more long-lasting threat of climate change. Any decision we take now could have a drastic impact on the future of people and the planet. This is a call to humanity that we must not return to the old way, to business as usual. No. The urgent imperative of today is to build back better through sustainable, inclusive, and resilient growth.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Caroline Mair-Toby is an Attorney-at-Law at Mair and Company, and Director and founder at Institute for Small Islands.

  • 13 Mar 2022 7:24 PM | Kennedy Maraj (Administrator)

    LINKAGE Q4 (2021) - THE WAY FORWARD

    THE CLOUD IS COMPLEX

    SIMPLE IS WHAT WE MAKE IT

    By Nevillon Forde 


    The company’s story begins in early 2012, with a vision to bring world-class cloud technology to the shores of our Caribbean. Back then, Kendell Sandy, Founder and IT Engineer, took note of recurrent problems that businesses were facing i.e., the servers being purchased required physical space, they were expensive to buy, needed manpower for maintenance purposes and were quickly becoming obsolete and wasteful. That was the founder’s “Aha” moment; to make such a complex concept like Cloud Computing, simple, secure and flexible.

    After much deliberation, research and exchanges of exciting ideas with its stakeholders at that time, Simply Cloud Solutions, or “Simply Cloud” became a registered company. “We are continually living in an age of an expanding need for storage, databases, networking, analytics and artificial intelligence. For almost every computing need and technological want, there is a cloud solution that makes keeping up with the fast-paced corporate world around us, just a little easier,” Sandy explained. Within our Caribbean region or even globally, data is the oxygen of business growth. Whether it’s Big Data, IoT (internet of things) or Mobility, the amount of data being created is increasing rapidly. In 2018, the Simply Cloud brand was reintroduced, along with improved compliance, a host of new services and a push for offering local enterprises and government the best-in-breed cloud technology ranked #1 by Gartner, the tech research Authority. The reintroduction also accompanied partnerships with two datacentre fortresses—a proposed Tier III local option and Tier IV regional option. Since then, Simply Cloud continues to provide a haven to businesses in their post-pandemic recovery quest. Sandy tells me, “As we weather the pandemic, we’re also aiding enterprise migrations out of on-premises datacentres into our multi-tenant colocation facilities. So far, feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.” The state of cloud adoption has multiplied, as more discover the power of mixing and matching our cloud services (compute, storage, networking and digitisation), which addresses almost any business IT needs. Cloud computing is impacting every corner of the business world, including organisations of all sizes, needs and industries. Our cloud services work to make the cloud a realistic and game-changing opportunity for all industries—Educational Institutions, Finance and Banking, Government Ministries, Non-Profits and Oil/Gas companies.

    The real possibilities that can be harnessed from Simply Cloud bear similarly to global cloud (IaaS) tycoons: Amazon Web Service (AWS), Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure. While many local organisations have migrated existing on-prem applications to these cloud provider’s platforms, a caveat continually persists: the data sits outside of Trinidad and Tobago but more so, outside the Caribbean. For the first time, companies now have the power of choice. The choice to determine which territory their data should be collected from and stored as it floats within the cloud. The number of reported data breaches has doubled in the last five years and our reliance on information is under increasing threat from a lack of security. Would you take the risk if you could use this technology to prevent it?

    It’s clear that Simply Cloud is only just getting its feet wet, but as cloud adoption continues to hit growth spurts and have an impact on the way we think about sustainable cloud technology, I have no doubt their team is set on doing cutting-edge things.

    What can aspiring start-ups learn from Simply Cloud?

    1. Solve the present (not future) problems.

    In business, this is known as the MVP or “Minimum Viable Product”. In Simply Cloud’s case, this is raising the awareness of the importance of Cloud Computing, Cloud Storage, Cloud Computing Platform and Cloud Computing Services. When the problem has been identified, the minimum viable product can be actualised. The MVP is the simplest, bare-metal form of the product that will solve the problem.

    Sandy says, “It took us twelve to eighteen months to realise the services we thought we were perfecting before it reached the market was lacking in certain areas after reviewing consumer’s feedback. It was a huge punch in the gut, but it’s absolutely necessary to own up to, learn from and reduce risk. Focus 75 percent of work on the project that will lead to immediate growth and only 25 percent to ambitious, out-of-the-box ideas for future catapulting,” he says.

    2. Serve the user, not yourself.

    Once you are open to the idea of having your ideas challenged, you will have a far greater chance of creating the product/service that users truly want and not the one you think they want. It can be a dangerous thing when founders are set dead on an idea and refuse to give ear to information that contradicts it. You must have a vision that sees and understands true pain points and then converts them into a helpful product/service.

    Resist the urge to self-obsess over project perfection, to the exclusion of everything else. Instead, tackle the go-to market, work through who is going to buy it, figure out if it is a cultural fit and what they would willingly pay. Yes, you must enjoy the industry you’ve built your start-up within, and yes, you must be passionate, however, avoid mulling this passion over the interest of your (potential) clients.

    3. Don’t stop evolving and be open-minded about new opportunities.

    As Sandy said, “We didn’t get it all right the first time. We made a bunch of mistakes, but we learned and improved.” He further explained that the goal is to remain true to the mission and the customers, and to become the Regional Cloud Computing Authority, while still expanding the cornerstone of the company, in the most eco-friendly way. “Remind yourself where you want to be in a couple of years and try to take on projects that will help you get there. I've found it useful to break that down even further by listing your top three goals for the month,” he emphasised.


    Where do we go from here?

    The future is created twice. First in our minds and then in the world in which we live. Have you then envisioned your organisation’s post-pandemic future? Already, 32 percent of organisations’ budgets are being spent on cloud computing as the pandemic has exposed gaps in enterprise disaster recovery and business continuity plans in areas such as remote access/virtual desktops, networking and ransomware. The post pandemic’s impact on Digital Transformation has cemented our never-ending quest to innovate the cloud services you need, with the scalability that you will love. "There is a tremendous amount of work still ahead," Sandy says. "It's definitely not a time to let up on our history of ingenious innovations and best-in-breed technology." The reality is that organisations can’t afford to be left behind. You name the cloud service, and chances are Simply Cloud can provide it—from Platform to Infrastructure as a Service, to Colocation, Disaster Recovery/Business Continuity and Backups. Got an idea to transform your organisation’s digital threshold? Simply Cloud has the Solution!

    We live locally, we're served locally, why not cloud locally and within CARICOM?

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Nevillon Forde

    As she often says, “Meet me at the corner of Tech Business and AI in Medicine.” Fascinated with both industries, Nevillon has mastered the art of maximising talent within B2B teams over the last decade and she has a knack for seeing the genius and strengths in others beyond his/her own self-perceptions.


  • 13 Mar 2022 7:12 PM | Kennedy Maraj (Administrator)

    LINKAGE Q4 (2021) - THE WAY FORWARD

    ASSISTIVE DEVICES

    A TATT INITIATIVE 

    By The Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago


    It is not yet clear when the COVID-19 pandemic will end—however, what is clear is that while countries continue to deal with challenges associated with the virus, they have also begun to examine and employ strategies to rebuild and strengthen economies ravaged by shutdowns and other measures implemented in the last two years to reduce transmission.

    These strategies to rebuild and strengthen economies are meant to mitigate the economic and social impact of COVID-19 on individuals.

    Amongst the individuals impacted by the virus are persons with disabilities (PWDs), and this is quite a sizeable group.

    An article titled “Disability Inclusion” in a World Bank online publication, states that one billion people, or 15% of the world’s population, experience some form of disability. Those PWDs include the visually and hearing impaired.

    In Trinidad and Tobago, according to figures provided by the Ministry of Social Development and Family Services, there are approximately seven thousand persons who are visually and hearing impaired and it stands to reason that this group in our society is also being impacted during the current crisis, in one way or another.

    It is important to keep in mind that digital technologies can be used by persons of all societal groups, including PWDs, for entertainment, communicating with loved ones and accessing information. Without these technologies, life can be challenging for PWDs.

    According to a World Health Organisation online document titled “Disability considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak”, one of the current key considerations for this societal group is barriers to accessing public health information.

    PWDs must have ready access to essential information and the ability to communicate via these technologies, when necessary. During this era, PWDs who do not have access to digital technologies can miss critical information, are unable to contact health services in an emergency, reach out to loved ones for casual conversations or discuss critical issues concerning their health and well-being.

    It is important to note that whether or not there is a global pandemic, access to digital technologies by persons with disabilities is of utmost importance and must therefore receive special attention. This vulnerable group of persons must be well-secured and enabled within any country’s digital environment to deal with any eventualities.

    Thus, since 2017, the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (TATT) embarked upon an initiative to provide assistive devices and technologies to PWDs. This initiative is in accordance with the Telecommunications Act, Chap 47:31 and the Telecommunications (Universal Service) Regulations, 2015.

    The initiative provides persons with disabilities with mobile devices replete with assistive features suited to the visually impaired and hearing impaired at a subsidised cost. TATT subsidises up to $540 or 90 percent of the first $600 of the cost of the device.

    TATT continues to encourage PWDs to acquire these devices through this initiative, due to the importance of these technologies to PWDs, combined with their affordability as a consequence of the subsidy.

    The main objectives of this project often referred to as the PWDs Initiative are:

    i. To ensure that PWDs have access to basic telecommunications mobile services.

    ii. To make ICTs more affordable to PWDs.

    iii. To reduce the digital divide by promoting the digital inclusion of PWDs.

    iv. To enhance the quality of life by enabling those with disabilities to participate more fully in society—at school, work and in civic life.

    v. To enable independent living for persons with disabilities.

    To access this subsidy persons must be:

    i. Residents of Trinidad and Tobago.

    ii. Eighteen years and over.

    iii. Be visually impaired and/or hearing impaired and in receipt of a disability grant.

    iv. Provide the Authority with evidence of the disability such as a medical report or doctor’s certificate identifying and confirming the disability.


    Persons of all societal groups must be able to acquire and access digital technologies, which are a core tool in the implementation of new strategies by countries to pump life into ailing economies, affected by challenges associated with the pandemic.

    As we move deeper into 2022 and beyond, these technologies will be featured more prominently in sector-specific operations with the hopes that the result will be long-term economic recovery.

    In this regard, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago’s digital transformation vision focuses on three main pillars, one of which is the digital society, which addresses the need to ensure citizens not only have access to information and communication technologies, but are also able to use them effectively.

    Recent history has laid bare the stark reality of the importance of the effective use of digital technologies. COVID-19, as well as unprecedented events associated with climate change, demonstrated that digital technologies are used in a wide range of survival issues.

    During times of natural or unnatural disasters such as armed conflicts, persons including PWDs, will have the capacity to communicate with their country’s health and disaster officials.

    Where the states’ resources are challenged, such as in neighbouring Haiti, agencies like the Red Cross Society and Médecins Sans Frontières turn up to assist, and require the use of digital technologies to help with testing, diagnosis and at times, telemedicine.

    Search and rescue efforts, post-disasters, rely heavily on digital technologies–from tracking areas severely hit, to locating persons affected by volcanic activity, wildfires and flooding.

    Activities such as these require the use of digital technologies, not only by the state or international assisting agencies, but also by individuals who can use them to inform officials of pockets of disaster. It is therefore important for persons of every walk of life, including PWDs, to access these technologies and have the capacity to use them.

    It is not hard to remember that the first bits of information that emerged from Tonga after a subsea volcanic eruption in January 2022, came not from the state, but from individuals–evidence of the power of technology in the hands of ordinary persons.

    PWDs in Trinidad and Tobago who have not yet done so, are urged to contact TATT for more information on the assistive devices for the PWD’s project so they too may be empowered. More information on this project can be found on the Authority’s website.



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