Future governance and leadership
Ten of the 19 Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community are graduates of the University of the West Indies (UWI) so are several members of the Caribbean Regional Youth Council and four members, including the chairperson, of the Commonwealth Youth Council. However, every Caribbean citizen is also acutely aware of significant shortcomings in the quality of leadership observed at national, regional, and international levels. Their calls for greater transparency, accountability, and inclusiveness in governance dominate public discourse.
In its 70th year, The UWI must reflect on its preparedness - notwithstanding its strong track record of leadership development - to support a new cadre of leaders equipped to stem the tide of misgovernance in the region.
Celia Davidson-Francis, director and coordinator of the UWI Students Today Alumni Tomorrow (UWISTAT) ambassadors programme, is optimistic: "Our graduates are well-set to provide us with strong governance in the future. I believe that many of them sincerely wish to see the Caribbean thrive and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. They are prepared to fight the old systems; they aspire to create a world where there is a lot more equity and equality and respect for diversity; and they have the skills and the courage to make the world and our Caribbean region a much greater place in the future."
That confidence, perhaps, comes from the fact that The UWI's youth-leadership model emphasises holistic development, which balances academic and extra-curricular excellence by offering a diversity of opportunities for participation and regional collaboration. At the Mona campus, there are some 130 registered clubs and societies based on religious or national affiliation, professional interest, community service, the arts, and sports. They include the UWI Mentorship and UWI Leaders, Engaged, Activated, Dedicated, Ready to Serve (LEADS) programmes; the regional UWISTAT Corps; as well as the four campus guilds of students and the Integrity Action Movement, which work together to promote effective and integrity-based student leadership. Students also serve on faculty and departmental committees, thereby influencing the governance of the university itself.
Former Mona Guild President Oshane Grant, who gained discipline and honed his leadership skills on the volleyball court at Mona, believes that The UWI provides opportunities for every student to participate, without discrimination, even though more can be done to protect students' rights to organise, for example, in partisan political groups, which, though active on campus, are not formally registered.
Importantly, he notes that there is a culture that is reinforced by social media advocacy of keeping student leaders accountable for the quality of governance and responsiveness to student needs. He says that if our governments were policed in the way the Guild is policed, the country would be better.
UWI students benefit from leadership training within and outside of the classroom, which helps them to display integrity and care while initiating innovative and timely advocacy and public-service responses to pressing regional development challenges like climate change, disaster management, HIV/AIDS, and breast cancer awareness.
As an incubator for regional leadership, The UWI encourages youth engagement based on discipline, diligence, and compassion. Students and graduates are expected to directly influence development agendas, showcasing their 'Pelican Pride' as they actively initiate responses to regional needs.
As Asha-Gaye Cowell, outgoing president of the UWISTAT Mona Corps, puts it, The UWI must continue its tradition, which avoids production of leaders "who have degrees but no temperature".