News Americas, ATLANTA, GA, Weds. Oct. 1, 2014: When it comes to hospitality, tranquility and musical creativity, the Caribbean can hold its own. Add athletic gifts, literary achievements, cultural flexibility and intellectual penetration and our region ranks high in the world. Yet, in the minds of global travelers, our islands are desired for their stability and spectacular beauty.
But there is a paradox. While we are primarily known for having an abundance of sand, sea, smiles and sun. We are not known for using our brain and backbone to solve the world’s most pressing problems.
This amounts to a negative image. Worse off, our appetite for foreign things leaves us vulnerable to outsiders branding the Caribbean, instead of our own doing the branding.
Our situation is more horrific when some in positions of power complain about our brain drain; but for reasons of small pond politics and big stick mentality, ignore our finest minds and sharpest talents. Such callous leaders allow the Caribbean brand to fall into the wrong hands simply to protect their obsession with power.
I have listened to a whispering campaign amongst the powerful and the mighty. Unfortunately, it conveys a hidden perception of negative brand publicity that is hurting Caribbean leaders. Most high profile leaders are politically correct on the surface but behind closed doors they do not think much about the region.
I am also aware that diplomatic protocols are a poor substitute for personal admiration. High profile leaders are looking for actionable ideas that could solve global challenges.
Clearly, the Caribbean could garner more global respect and exercise greater influence by developing a united Caribbean brand. But we will have to address urgently, our secret reputation for being perceived as slick beggars rather than innovative problem solvers.
In fact, nothing is wrong with demanding what’s rightly ours with boldness, courage and diplomacy at international conferences and meetings. But to create a new Caribbean image, a radical shift in acknowledgement, attitude and action is needed.
First, we need to know who we are as a region. By clarifying what we stand for, we will come to recognize that the region’s future lies in valuing Caribbean talent, at home and in the Diaspora.
Second, our brand must be attractive and alive. Although the competition for global resources and attention is brutal, there is little value in being seen as takers rather than givers. We still have a reservoir of homegrown intelligence at the grassroots level that we haven’t yet tapped into.
Third, our regional political heritage over the last 50 years has not positively affected world leaders’ perception of Caribbean values. I am not sure what the identity guidelines are that drive regional marketing strategy. Although CARICOM leaders have recently approved a long-term strategic plan to deliver its institutional mission, growing our brand should be more about transforming mindscape over tweaking strategy. Tinkering with all the brand gimmicks in the world without moving our people to possibility thinking is a marketing disaster.
Fourth, we need to cultivate an appreciation for the right attitude. Are we aware of our own self-image? For example, I read several speeches that CARICOM leaders made at the recent UN meetings. One PM touted his youthful credentials instead of promoting a readiness to navigate complex international troubles while calling on the UN and the USA to be faithful to creeds of protecting weak states and promoting fair trade. He did not take the time to creatively suggest meaningful solutions. There was no outline of how the Caribbean could lessen the world’s anxiety about new terrorists’ threats or downsize the spread of Ebola. This CARICOM leader shared that some Cuban doctors were helping out in Africa, but his observation didn’t meet the expectation of high yielding ideas.
I do not think that our size should retard our ability to make innovative contributions to global crises. Positive repetition produces positive recognition, and ultimately positive experiences.
Fifth, we need an eagerness for excellence. This requires that Caribbean leaders integrate national labels to grow a regional brand. We cannot permit a wrong perception of the Caribbean to die a natural death. That won’t happen.
Sixth, we must have a spirit of success that establishes an explosive process of business savvy. We need to know the benchmarks for executing everything we do and say. But we cannot leave this process to chance. By understanding what the Caribbean brand is, we must identify who will market our brand, and what the winning criteria to achieve global recognition status are. Yes, the Caribbean should sell the novelty of a soulful experience beyond sea and sand.
Our indigenous soul is deeper, wider, higher and more satisfying than tourism. Empowering leadership that connects regional values to marketing plans could produce a world class Caribbean reputation for innovative solutions and holistic experiences. We can be creative, sensitive and consistent as we promote the Caribbean. Every interaction, speech or product that draws on our uniqueness is worth marketing.
Dr. Isaac Newton is an International Leadership and Change Management Consultant and Political Adviser. He specializes in Government and Business Relations, and Sustainable Development Projects. Dr. Newton works extensively, in West Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America and is a graduate of Oakwood College, Harvard, Princeton and Columbia. He has published several books on personal development and written many articles on economics, education, leadership, political, social, and faith based issues.