Saturday, February 24, 2018

Slow pace of innovation in T&T


RAISING AWARENESS: Planning Minister Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie, centre, shakes hands with global innovation expert Gabor George Burt during an Innovation Forum entitled “Harnessing Human Integrity” at the Hyatt Regency (Trinidad), Port of Spain, yesterday. Looking on are executive director of the Council for Competitiveness and Innovation Dr Rikhi Permanand, right, and Council chairman Richard Lewis. —Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

Mark Fraser


This one word is how chairman of the Council for Competitiveness and Innovation (CCI) Richard Lewis yesterday described the pace of innovation and competitiveness in Trinidad and Tobago.

“The pace is slow because people feed off of the good times of the Government; they don’t really have to be super-competitive to be able to be in business. When things got tough in 1986 people became very innovative because they realised if they didn’t, there was no free lunch anymore. And maybe that’s not going to happen now but we need to get that mentality. We need to change our models,” he told the Express yesterday at the CCI’s Innovation Forum at the Hyatt Regency (Trinidad), Port of Spain.

Lewis said the country needs to be serious about how innovation can improve competitiveness and change the country. 

In this year’s World Economic Forum’s competitiveness index, the country fell from 84 to 92 out of 148 economies. The country was also classified as a high-income, innovation driven economy, yet was ranked 123 in its capacity for innovation.

“We have a lot of industries and strengths but if we apply better methodologies to how it is delivered we can at least generate more jobs and more competitiveness. We need something that other people don’t do—not business as usual,” he said.  

The country also needs entrepreneurs...and it needs to support them. 

“When entrepreneurs want to start a company, we tend to give them all the reasons they shouldn’t and that’s probably the worst thing you can do. (We need to) allow them to grow and let them make mistakes, tell them what they should, not shouldn’t do. 

“We are trying to create institutions from the universities where they can start and move into accelerators where their business ideas can be assisted,” he said.

Lewis also noted the stiff timeline the council has to work with. 

“We have another 15 months in which we are supposed to have reached a long way into our plans. Truthfully it has to go by the government in power because it’s a Cabinet-appointed committee. 

“Realistically, we need to create an institution—almost a public/private partnership—that will give it longevity whether in the universities or chambers of commerce that will institutionalise it and get funding outside Government and help it grow on its own along the lines of whomever is supporting...but not dependent on (one person or government) but whether the customers and suppliers are benefitting,” he said. 

The council is looking to raise awareness now and in six months or so reach out to get buy-ins from various stakeholders.