A week in Trinidad – working!

The exclamation mark in the title of this piece signifies indignation.  Scepticism on the part of friends and colleagues becomes an occupational hazard when you work overseas, I find.  Well, it’s true – I’ve been working in Trinidad.  When I mentioned to my clients Ian Charles of the Leeds West Indian Centre and Arthur France of the Leeds Carnival that I was going there, their immediate reaction was ‘How do you get so jammy?’  A few days later, as I stood on  the bridge of the Trinidad Hilton and Conference Centre, in the bright sunshine, looking down over the astonishingly green hills towards the town of Port of Spain nestling around the harbour, with the Caribbean Sea sparkling all around, I had to agree they had a point. I had been invited there for the 2011 Caribbean  Investment Forum (CIF) , a follow on from the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference at which I had presented two years earlier.   This was then to be followed by the Trinidad and Tobago Investment Forum (TTIF) at which I was also invited to speak.  There is a growing interest in the potential of the Creative Industries in the region and this was a good opportunity to explore that potential.  Trinidad, in  particular, has identified four creative sectors including Animation and Fashion as being key to its economic growth.  I met quite a few of the leading players in this sector and saw some of the terrific work that is taking place.  One animator entrepreneur, Camille Abrahams of Full Circle Productions, showed a DVD she has developed using an animated pan stick to teach children to play the pans (steel drums).  It was enchanting, beautifully produced and captivated the whole audience.  None more so than Dr Wu, of the Chinese Business Network.  Apparently, China has developed a huge interest in the pans as a result of recent Trinidadian trade missions and exchanges, and he was very keen to take Camille’s film back to China with him to show it and get it distributed – quite a thought!  China really does seem to be everywhere – as someone commented ‘it’s almost Colonialisation by Investment’ – last time I was in Zimbabwe, I had a Colonel from the Chinese Army as one of the participants in the ‘Creativity
and Innovation in Business’ MasterClass that I was running.  He was lovely and I couldn’t resist inviting him for a drink afterwards, partly because he was so nice but also partly just to be able to say I’d had a drink with a Chinese Army Colonel! But I digress….

The CIF was spectacularly well organised.  All the sessions were extremely well attended and had some really good speakers – the usual sponsors, Microsoft, oil and gas giants etc – but the added extra was the personal involvement of the Trinidadian Prime Minister, whose idea it had been.  She’s the first Caribbean woman Prime Minister, and is running a coalition government.  Impossible to judge in a couple of days, of course, but there was a real sense of calm authority which was very attractive and as a woman, inevitably made one feel very proud!  Richard Branson was the guest speaker at  dinner on the last night – they’d been expecting him to do it virtually over big screens but, unexpectedly, he tipped up in person.  And, for the record, he was terrific – very personable, generous and stimulating – how good it is when a hero lives up to the billing!

And for me?  I had a ball!  The presentations at both forums  went well – the only thing that took me slightly by surprise was that every speaker, irrespective of status or success, made his/her presentation a pitch about his/her company, blatantly using the opportunity to do a bit of puffery.  Except me.  It just hadn’t occurred to me – but I learned fast.  On the second presentation, I ended with a few slides about CIDA itself and told a few stories.  Afterwards, the Minister of Commerce from a Central American country came up to me and said ‘Well, if Zimbabwe can do it, I think we had better do it too – let’s talk’!  So, clearly, a useful strategy!

One of the Ministries in Trinidad fixed up a meeting with me and several leaders of the creative industries (including lead couture designer Claudia Pegus, a redoubtable and passionate champion of the sector) – this is where the conference organisation was so good, locating people, putting them together, allocating space specifically for these side meetings, etc; very impressive.  Our meeting went spectacularly well and we’re now all in correspondence so we’ll see where that leads.

On my last day, I had been invited to give a seminar on Creative Entrepreneurialism for about 40 independent creative practitioners.  It was hosted by the Trinidad and Tobago Entertainment Company, run by the remarkable Dionne McNicol Stephenson, and we had a great session.  It’s just so exciting when you take a new audience through this work and they react so strongly, so positively.  I created it a few years ago for creative entrepreneurs in the Balkans, and, by the end, the audience were on their chairs, cheering – since then, I and colleagues have done it in countries all over the world and it always gets a fantastic response. We’ve refined it and honed it over the period, but the real reason it gets the cheers is because every audience of creative entrepreneurs find that they can identify so strongly with it.  Pace Leadbeater, ‘improvisational
entrepreneurship’ is what we do so well and we should be proud of it!  (Yes, yes, there’s other stuff we have to get better at but, without our creativity, our improvisations, the creative sector would not be the growth sector it is today!)

Anyway, it all went well in Trinidad and I met some great people there.  My fingers are tightly crossed that it’s not the end of the relationship!

Anamaria Wills, CIDA International  – anamaria@cida.org