straight to the point – from different points of view

Mentoring for failure

Mentoring for failure

I really should be very happy. I have been calling for initiatives to help develop new businesses and sectors for as LNG as I can remember. Successive administrations have been promoting diversification but paying only lip service to assisting our younger generation of new entrepreneurs in turning their ideas into profitable businesses for the benefit of themselves and the nation.

So when I saw the headline I smiled. It read “Mentorship for 25 young aspiring Tobago entrepreneurs“. At last, an administration has seen the light and is ready to move in the right direction. We can assist this first batch of youngsters towards building viable businesses for the New Normal. If successful, we then have a methodology and a catalyst for the creation of a competitive new economy in Tobago.

I eagerly read the report on this new development and extracted a key passage that I believe will define its prospects for success. Here is that passage –

TWENTY-FIVE unemployed young people between ages 18 to 30, including university graduates, will benefit from the Building Opportunity for Sustainable Success (BOSS) mentorship programme.

BOSS will be a practical support mechanism to bring the theory to life, through assisting participants to explore strategies in monetising your talents or your ideas, all this while giving you, young and aspiring entrepreneurs, the chance to learn from experienced businesspersons.

This is a mentor-mentee initiative, we are equipping you not only with the theory and the practical but also we are providing you with a unique opportunity to hold the hands and to learn from those who have walked the walk already. We are ensuring that we equip you or we give you with all the tools that you may need and the counselling and the advice that you may need to succeed and sustain your businesses.”

It is abundantly clear that the initiative is all about mentoring these youngsters, a noble intention. Sharing relevant expertise and experience with them will go a long way towards enhancing their prospects for success. I cannot say forcefully enough how critically important is such mentoring to the likelihood of success. This announcement shows us that the administration at least understands this most critical pre-requisite for success.

More could and should have been said about who will be delivering this mentoring and what form it will take. Without that explanation, this is just a flowery statement with no indication of a studied understanding of the challenges or directions as to how they will be addressed. The closest they come to offering some detail is in the second paragraph.

Of immediate concern is the notion that these youngsters will learn from our experienced businesspersons. The reality of business in Tobago is that the vast majority of business success in Tobago is based upon winning contracts from the government. Is that what we wish to pass on to the youngsters? Or worse, is it the THA’s so called business advisory staff who will advise and mentor them?

The stark reality is that we do not have a cadre of successful business people who could become effective mentors unless we simply wish to expand the type of business activity that depends on the THA for success. To make this much needed project work as planned will require some out of the box thinking from the THA. Perhaps they haven’t figured it out yet and will notify us when they do.

In the meantime I wish to offer a suggestion. It is a suggestion that administrations in both Tobago and Trinidad have made from time to time but which have never been followed through to success. On multiple occasions they have lauded the accomplishments of our diaspora, our nationals who have excelled overseas but are under utilised or not utilised at all in situations where they have proven themselves at the highest levels and under intense scrutiny internationally. Moreover, many of these people actively wish to give back to their places of birth but are denied the opportunity to do so.

We’ve boarded the boat and it is about to set sail. The destination is clearly identified and all systems are go. Unfortunately, we do not have the complement of qualified crew on board to take us there. This is the moment when we must recognize the fortuitous circumstances in which we find ourselves. My own personal experience is one where I have been pleased to meet many other members of the Caribbean diaspora operating as consultants to major corporations and governments in the UK, EU, USA and beyond.

A common topic of conversation when we met was the desire to give back to our countries of birth. The same sentiment was expressed by many offspring of our emigrees. Not only has the time come to follow through on the off stated desire to tap this rich resource, the situation today provides an ideal match between what we need and what they have to offer.

There will be a great deal of work required to effectively gather information about these individuals and to identify those who can and are willing to be part of this mentoring project. Beyond that narrow and immediate objective however exists the prospect of widespread use of such expertise in a host of areas that will benefit both Tobago and other parts of the Caribbean.

I am proposing that Tobago take the lead through this mentoring project. Let us use it as a development platform not just for this project but also to build a database of our diaspora and what they have to offer us. It could be skills in any number of areas, investment via Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) or useful links that could assist us in our dealings with other nations.

What’s more, while developing that database for this first purpose we will be creating an asset that can be useful to each and every nation in the Caribbean. Just like Estonia we will be building solutions for our own use and to our specifications that are marketable to other nations.

A platform to gather data about out diaspora thus becomes the centrepiece of a powerful data management project. The data itself is of value as is the functionality that can then be built upon it as we own all the data.

I really do thank THA for undertaking this project but plead with them to see the need for embracing our diaspora to fill the void left by local businessperson. Our youngsters deserve no less. We win for Tobago in so many ways.

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