Shaping the Future of Innovation - Feature Address

CoA

 

 

 

Ministry Of Planning And Development

Government Of The Republic Of Trinidad And Tobago

 

 

Speech By The Honourable Pennelope Beckles,

Minister Of Planning And Development

 

At the

 

Awarding of Grants for the

CARIRI “Shaping the Future of Innovation” Programme

 

 

 

 

 

 

9:30 am

Tuesday, July 19th, 2022

 

Salutations

  • His Excellency Peter Cavendish, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Delegation of the European Union
  • Her Excellency Ute König, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
  • His Excellency Fernando Nogales Alvarez, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Spain to the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
  • Mrs. Joanne Deoraj, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Planning and Development
  • Ms. Carina Cockburn, IDB Country Representative, IDB Trinidad and Tobago (Who is unable to join us in person today)
  • Ms. Vashti Dookiesingh, Senior Specialist, IDB Lab
  • Ms. Marie Louise Norton- Murray, Innovation Challenge Facility Project Manager, Beta Technologies Ltd/EurochamTT
  • Mr. Hayden Ferreira, Chairman, CARIRI
  • Members of the Board of Directors, CARIRI
  • Mr. Hans Erich Schulz, Chief Executive Office, CARIRI
  • Mr. Meghnath Gosein, Executive Manager, Corporate Services, CARIRI
  • Dr. Mahindra Ramesh Ramdeen, Trinidad, and Tobago Manufacturers' Association
  • Mrs. Marleen Lord-Lewis, President, The National Institute of Higher Education Research Science and Technology (NIHERST)
  • Dr. Prakash Persad, President, University of Trinidad and Tobago UTT
  • Representatives of the Business Chambers and Other Organisations
  • Shaping the Future of Innovation Award Recipients of the First Call for Proposals
  • Special Invited Guests
  • Members of the Media

 

Good Morning! It is indeed a pleasure to address you today, on the occasion of this ceremony awarding grants for CARIRI’s “Shaping the Future of Innovation Programme”, and congratulations to our Grant Awardees are indeed in order. But before I go further, please allow me the opportunity to put this programme into context.

 

As we all know Trinidad and Tobago is the leading producer of oil and gas in the Caribbean region, with an economy historically driven by oil and gas production and its associated downstream industries. However, as we have seen time and again with the volatile nature of the energy sector, we have been vulnerable to price shocks and production challenges from time to time. To address the challenge of economic diversification, Trinidad and Tobago’s National Development Strategy, "Vision 2030", has made specific commitments to build an innovative culture. We have stated that Government will create an environment that encourages open and free competition, as well as a favourable culture and ecosystem for entrepreneurship and innovation, towards creating the economy of tomorrow. Our competitive businesses will exhibit a strong sense of social responsibility by always seeking the best interests of citizens and of the country in which they operate.

 

Stemming from this directive, our Government has been engaged in numerous initiatives to promote innovation in Trinidad and Tobago. These investments began with various studies by the Ministry of Planning and Development, independent consultants and academic institutions, which ultimately lead to the creation of Trinidad and Tobago’s first National Policy on Innovation.

 

Putting plans into action, Government supports innovative projects and activities through various avenues. For instance, CARIRI, our partner in this Programme has been blazing the trail in providing hands-on support to our young innovators and the business community who are actively engaged in innovation. Through strategic local and international partnerships, CARIRI has for a number of years been providing training and other forms of support to entrepreneurs, including guidance on how to access funding, all with the aim of promoting innovative activity at their Centre for Entrepreneurial Development in Freeport.

 

Additionally, Government, through the National Entrepreneurship Development Company (NEDCO) been affording innovators access to the funding to help them take their new products and ideas to market. The Government also recognises the efforts of the private sector to promote innovative activity in Trinidad and Tobago. We have seen quite a few programmes aired on local television about innovation initiatives led by the private sector, such as the innovation competition for secondary schools, to teach, encourage and build an innovative and entrepreneurial mindset in our youth, as well as provide opportunities for funding and support.

 

Citizens of Trinidad and Tobago are gifted with natural creativity, and we need to fully unleash that creative and innovative potential in ways that add value for our economy. We can’t speak about creativity without mentioning our creative arts sector, and specifically, Carnival, Steelpan, Calypso and Soca. We often take it for granted, but let us not forget that Lord Shorty (Ras Shorty I) experimented with fusing Calypso and elements of Indo-Caribbean music before debuting "the Soul of Calypso or So-Ca” music.

 

Long before soca music was born, the steel pan or steel drum as it is known internationally, was created here in Port of Spain. It has the distinction of being the only musical instrument invented in the twentieth century. The steel pan was not always as beautiful to see and hear as it is today. According to those who were around at the time and documented their memories, the steel pan evolved. Following the ban on the tambu bamboo by the colonial authorities, the young men of the day decided to make their rhythms on metal dustbin covers, which were not banned – and this was when it was discovered that depending on the deformation of the bin cover, tones could be achieved. That discovery started a “technology war” of sorts, as different bands started experimenting to find more durable materials that would not distort, ways of putting more notes on one pan, how to heat and beat the metal to create several musical notes, and so on, and so forth. Today, that innovation is all over the world – Australia, Venezuela, Germany, South Africa, Nigeria, Britain, Japan, the USA, Canada, and many other countries have steel bands – all from innovations by curious, competitive young men from Port of Spain, who could NOT read music, but played classical music as comfortably as they played calypso.

 

Another important aspect of our local creativity and innovation can be seen in our food. Trinidad and Tobago is well-known as a foodie destination due to the wide range of street food, both traditional and gourmet. Trinbagonians have elevated doubles to gourmet doubles – doubles with toppings such as curry goat or duck instead of or in addition to channa. The COVID-19 Pandemic forced us to innovate a step further. During the lockdown when street vending was prohibited, our innovative culinary professionals found a way to package these products to sell in supermarkets and convenience stores. Doubles and Bake & Shark found itself next to Sushi and Chicken Alfredo in the ready-to-eat section. This shows not only our creativity and innovation but our resilient spirit.

 

Look at our fashion industry. When we think fashion, the big names like Meiling, Claudia Pagus, and Peter Elias and the more recent Anya Ayoung Chee come to mind. Quite recently however, I saw some exciting news about a young Trinidad and Tobago-born designer, Joshua Joseph and his Rebels to Dons brand which has been chosen to work with renowned shoe brand, Clarks Original. The Rebels to Dons owner was given the responsibility for creating a design with Clarks and bringing a modern perspective to a brand that hold tremendous weight among Caribbean people. With this in mind, Joseph designed pieces for Clarks that can be worn anywhere, any time and at any event.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, with the level of creativity and innovativeness that our people display, if we can stimulate investments in innovations that add value, then there is potential to generate greater levels of revenue for the firms, and onward benefits for Trinidad and Tobago. We have seen elements of innovative activity led by both the Government and the Private Sector, but we all can agree that this approach can be more cohesive.

 

The Shaping the Future of Innovation Programme aims to be a comprehensive programme that brings actors in the innovation sphere together to increase opportunities for innovative activities, the overall objective being a more diversified and innovation-driven society in Trinidad and Tobago. As we emerge from the pandemic, our citizens, our businesses and our organisations must pivot into a new mindset. We know that a nation which makes investments in innovation today will be dominant in the global economy tomorrow, and this programme therefore represents another significant investment in innovation by all the partners involved in this programme.

 

I would therefore like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to the stars of today, the Grant Awardees from the first call for proposals for the Shaping the Future of Innovation Programme. You have made it to the point where you will be in receipt of funding to continue your innovative and entrepreneurial endeavors, which I am sure will benefit Trinidad and Tobago tremendously. I know it has been a long journey up to this point, and you face an even longer journey going forward. You came with your ideas, products and proposals and survived the rigorous evaluations which were designed to ensure that very specific results are achieved from this programme. Government as well as our international development partners are most interested in your success as a business, but that success should also create a desired impact for the country, and this formed part of the criteria for selecting successful projects, which also included potential benefits, such as new job creation, increased foreign exchange earnings, and positive social or environmental impacts.

 

As you will have learned, of the 152 applications that were received, only 96 went on to pass the initial screening process. This first stage was meant to ensure that any beneficiary to this programme had all the legal, financial and regulatory requirements as a legitimate business operating in Trinidad and Tobago. At the second stage of evaluations, the team at CARIRI was able to establish an Independent Advisory Panel, comprised of experts in various fields including finance, law, risk management, business, and experience working with entrepreneurs. This core team was further able to co-opt technical experts in the specific sectors in which the innovators operate, to ensure a proper technical evaluation of the merits of a project.

 

I therefore take the opportunity to publicly thank the Independent Advisory Panel, which not only helped to ensure a balanced and transparent approach to selecting the final awardees, but also gifted us with a body of work that will also be used to provide positive feedback to those applicants that were not selected. Those firms now have an opportunity to look at areas where they can improve and possibly revisit their business strategies and improve their operations.

 

Finally, the last vetting of this process was provided by the Steering Committee for this programme, which is chaired by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Planning and Development. This process, as lengthy as it was, was necessary not only for transparency purposes, but also to ensure that we achieved the desired impact.

 

I would also like to take the opportunity to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of both the European Union and the InterAmerican Development Bank, our two key international development partners in this programme. Both organisations have provided the critical financial support for this programme, and have also enhanced this initiative with invaluable technical expertise and manpower resources. On behalf of the Government and people of Trinidad and Tobago, I offer sincere gratitude for your efforts, which have helped the programme achieve a higher level of success.

 

The European Union has for years provided support to the Government and people of Trinidad and Tobago in various sectors of national development. Since 2000, the EU has partnered with Trinidad and Tobago and through the mechanism of the European Development Fund, provided support in several areas, inclusive of HIV/AIDS, Higher Education, Competitive Business, the Environment, and now, Innovation.

 

The IDB, has also played a significant role in supporting innovation locally. For years the IDB LAB has funded innovative projects in Trinidad and Tobago in addition to providing financial support for numerous studies conducted locally. The Bank has built up a wealth of experience in funding and supporting innovative activities with quite a few success stories to show, both locally and throughout the Americas. The IDB is therefore an ideal partner for the design and management of this programme.

 

In the same vein, I also wish to offer thanks and congratulations to our state agency, CARIRI, for your role in supporting the design of this programme as the key implementing partner. The efforts of the staff and management of CARIRI towards innovation in Trinidad and Tobago and the region are noteworthy, and I encourage you to keep up your excellent work.

 

As I close, it is my hope for the recipients of these Grants today, that I will soon be seeing your products or services, not only on the shelves in Trinidad and Tobago or Caribbean but across Latin America, Europe, The US and China. Our aim should be to become a Global brand. We can create another “Coca Cola” or another “Amazon”. I encourage you the young innovator, entrepreneur, SME’s and our larger businesses to take full advantage of these opportunities. If only we can transform ourselves and our own mindset, then together we have a real opportunity transform our economy and our country.

 

Thank you.