Chadwick Anderson, GUEST COLUMNIST
I have been reading with interest the articles published in The Sunday Gleaner on August 18, 2013 calling for the creation of a job czar. I must state that in our existing environment, all would agree that we do something disruptive to break out of this economic malaise.
I wish, therefore, to add to the discussion that we need to also consider a czar for research and development, and science, technology and innovation, and technology/knowledge transfer. As a scientist, I have long believed that the value of creative thinking, research, knowledge creation, and, ultimately, innovation have been vastly misunderstood and consequently under-represented.
While at the Scientific Research Council, I attended a workshop on 'Science, Technology and Innovation Policy: Embracing Structured Innovation for Socio-Economic Transformation in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia' (2011). As attendees, we got a first-hand view of the transformation that innovation brought to Malaysia and more than 20 other economies through a model in which innovation was infused in the government, in industry/businesses, and in academia.
This, along with many other interventions, has cemented my unwavering view that innovation can lead to quantum growth in Jamaica.
The same obtains today. Countries and their regional blocs are reviewing their systems to ensure that they remain innovation leaders. In recognition of the essential role of innovation, they have moved from passive osmosis to targeted diffusion. They have focused their effort where innovation transcends mere discoveries to driving high-value growth. From Canada to South Africa to Russia, it has worked. In the UK, it's the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills; in Ireland, it is the Ministry of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.
The Australians developed 'Powering Ideas' (2009), which has morphed into one of three pillars, including 'Helping Business Grow' and 'Backing Australian Firms to Drive Job Creation' (2013).
Closer to home, the Americans have developed 'A Strategy for American Innovation: Securing Our Economic Growth and Prosperity' (2011). Examples from Africa, Latin America, Asia, any regional bloc, demonstrate that governments have their innovation playbook.
develop our own playbook
It's important for us to also develop our playbook. The innovation czar (IC) will seek to galvanise the strength which we have right across the country into a cohesive whole to innovatively solve the challenges which are bedevilling us.
In harnessing these strengths, the IC will create an army of pro-innovators by training a mere five per cent of the existing public sector in a set of innovation tools and techniques. This army will lead in finding innovative ways to solve the existing problems and some of the anomalies such as near 100 per cent Internet coverage, and more than 100 per cent cellular penetration, yet one of the lowest with government online services; thousands of tertiary graduates, yet poor business sophistication; and more direct flights, more ships, more traffic to the USA than many other countries worldwide, yet woefully insufficient earnings from our trading in goods and services.
The IC would mobilise the knowledge and research centres within the government, universities, along with the users of technology: the entrepreneurs and private sector to develop technologies and solutions to foster double-digit growth in these areas.
The IC would liaise with the training institutions, especially the HEART Trust/NTA, to introduce compulsory modules in areas relating to innovation. Along with the universities, we could have 20-30 per cent of the workforce transformed within four years.
Let us follow the innovation leaders and, as has been explicitly stated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (2010), 'action on innovation must be a priority for emerging from the crisis'.
Chadwick Anderson, PhD, former executive director of the Scientific Research Council. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Job czar will not solve our problems
Writing in last Sunday's Gleaner, Gary Spaulding posed the question: 'Can a jobs czar do it? Worrying unemployment rate sparks talk on need for a minister to drive growth'. The editorial followed suit declaring that we need a minister of economy and business. Both are trying to address symptoms rather than root causes.
The author posited that such a czar may be required because "the Portia Simpson Miller administration is failing to tackle the issues which are stymieing growth and development in the country".
Having articulated the symptoms (high unemployment and low growth), the story hinted at the problem (lack of vision, strategy, execution and leadership), yet suggests a solution to address the symptom (czar) instead of its root cause. This reminds me of the man who lost a shilling in the dark bushes on one side of a road, yet searched for it under the street light on the other side.
Anthony Clayton, Dennis Chung, Dickie Crawford and Joe Matalon were all not in favour of a czar, suggesting that rather than addressing root causes, such an appointment would be cosmetic and a waste of time.
Aubyn Hill, on the other hand, in claiming his proposal is geared at driving economic growth (symp-tom), agrees with the idea of a czar (solution) without any reference to the root cause. He suggests Jamaica adopt a Ministry of Knowledge and Economy such as exists in South Korea. (Name was changed to Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy in 2013).
In attempting to benchmark Jamaica against South Korea, Mr Hill should be mindful of the fact that the president, elected by popular vote, serves a single five-year term, with no additional terms being allowed.
The Gleaner editorial articulated the symptoms (four decades of little growth and unsustainable debt) and identified a problem (policies and strategies that underpin the IMF programme contradict growth, and as such both cannot be handled by the finance minister).
However, in articulating a solution (a ministry with responsibility for business and investment), the editorial admits that "there is now someone (Minister Anthony Hylton) who carries the portfolio for industry and commerce, including trade and investment promotion".
skirted the root cause
It appears that the goodly editor has skirted the root cause, which is the poor performance of Anthony Hylton. Rather than addressing poor performance, the editorial seeks a solution on the well-lit side of the road. Furthermore, in stating that the new minister would be substantially about, inter alia, aggressively driving a strategic vision for the economy and playing a coordinating role between the key economic ministries, is the editor levelling a veiled criticism on the prime minister's own performance?
The editorial concludes that "there has to be a new approach to this matter of business and growth"; and I agree wholeheartedly. However, "... failing to tackle the issues ..." is at the root of our lack of growth, unem-ployment, social decay, poor education outcomes, high crime rate, etc.
Cosmetic changes such as a jobs czar or a Ministry of Economy and Business will NOT address the root cause. What is needed is a clear vision; a strategy to achieve the vision; and transformational leadership to ensure flawless strategy execution.
While we accept that these ingredients in government alone will not be sufficient to drive desired national outcomes, they are absolutely necessary and are much more impactful than those by other areas of society.
Unfortunately, the National Development Plan, the Growth Inducement Strategy, the Mid-Term Economic Framework, the Public Sector Rationalisation Master Plan and other such voluminous documents are woefully inadequate as "strategies to achieve a vision". So, too, are a jobs czar and a minister of economy, knowledge or business.
Robert Wynter is managing director of Strategic Alignment Limited, which facilitates organisational transformation and leadership development. Email feedback to email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.