By Basil Springer

"Do not follow where the path may lead; Go where there is no path and leave a trail" George Bernard Shaw (1856 -1950).

The issue of sustainable Caribbean development is of concern to us.  Caribbean countries have had a history of slavery and colonialism and must now emerge to conquer the unknown. Our history has inculcated a sense of inferiority and a sense of dependence to the extent that we may sometimes suffer from a lack of confidence and a mendicant mentality.  

There are pockets of initiative and enterprise but as a whole we have not risen to the occasion to create the opportunities and contribute to the growth our own socio-economic well-being. Our educational institutions appear to be on the decline. The tertiary output per capita is well below the international standard.  Our West Indies cricket team, the fortunes of which directly affect the day to day psyche of many cricket followers, is at a low ebb. We live in a state of frustration, the release from which can only been obtained by means of a quantum leap into the unknown in search of a pot of gold‚.

So low is our confidence level that very often when innovative proposals are made one can only hear the conservative response ˆWhere has it been done before?‚   Even though we have had examples like Sir Garry Sobers „the greatest cricketer the world has ever seen, we still lack confidence in ourselves. As a matter of urgency therefore we need to recognize that change is necessary and embrace it. We need to be brave and take steps into the unknown. We need to be ambitious, self confident, and seek as much support as possible for our innovative endeavours.  

Recently, I was privileged to be on a panel of judges in an innovation competition run by Enterprise Growth Fund Ltd. There were ten innovative projects which reached the finals and I was pleasantly surprised to see the level of creativity in all of the presentations. We need to encourage and support this entrepreneurial talent way beyond a modest monetary  prize, so that they have the necessary resources and advice to take their projects forward, rather than just to be left on their own.  

We need to ensure that the hopper for new ideas is continually full and we need to convert the visionary processes which have led to this activity into determined business action. If we think of these initiatives as being akin to the inputs in an incubator, then we need to create the right environment for them to thrive. This environment must be a holistic environment. It must include funding and guidance which will create business plans which are attractive to investors. We must lobby for a user friendly enabling environment created by the public sector. We must ensure that appropriate training and counseling opportunities are easily available to nurture and mentor the human resource base. We must be ambitious enough to exploit the niche market opportunities in the global network.  

One such example which represents an opportunity for growth is the vertically integrated Caribbean Sea Island Cotton project which is being developed by Exclusive Cottons of the Caribbean Inc. (ECCI) in collaboration with the Barbados government. Caribbean Sea Island Cotton is the Cloth of Kings. It is considered the grandfather of the highly desirable Egyptian and American Supima cottons, though superior to both. It is even better than the well publicized Egyptian long staple cotton. We have not exploited it to its full potential.  

Cotton has been grown in the Caribbean for over three hundred years but for the most part we have been quite happy with the sale of the primary product and have not attempted to garner the full financial benefits from investment in the value added processes. These include the spinning, knitting, weaving and finished goods manufacturing activities.

ECCI‚s mandate is to exploit the full financial potential, and over the last six months a foundation has been laid in this respect. This is a perfect example of public/private sector partnership, where the government engaged the services of CBET to mount a strategic visioning retreat, prepare a business plan and co-ordinate the implementation of that business  plan. The private sector promoters then came up to plate and the growers have responded with great interest. CBET was engaged by ECCI to coordinate the activities of the company in its initial stages.

Cotton has been successfully harvested by hand in past years when the volumes were far greater than what we currently produce. There is a certain romance in the „harvested by hand feature as the story of Sea Island Cotton is told and this translates into a significant marketing advantage. It is expected that a structured manual harvesting system will be introduced to achieve high efficiencies in harvesting seed cotton in 2005. There will be an opportunity for individuals or organized groups to earn attractive sums of money over the ten to twelve weeks of harvesting. Sea Island Cotton has great potential for contributing to rapid growth in the Caribbean as long as we successfully manage the downside risks. ECCI will attempt to conquer the unknown.

(Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. (CBET) -