Should foreign advice determine local development?

Time to Recognize the Value of Local Expertise

Chris Anderson, Editor of Wired magazine, was one of the headline speakers at the Trinidad and Tobago ICT Symposium

The 2nd Trinidad and Tobago Business and Innovation ICT Symposium is ample evidence of that country’s willingness to invest heavily into the development of information and communications technology (ICT) as a platform for continued social and economic advancement. But in the quest for development, is Trinidad and Tobago overlooking its greatest natural resource?

By all appearances, the ICT Symposium, which took place at the Hyatt Regency hotel in Port of Spain from November 14th to 16th, was a success. It was well attended, with some 300-plus participants spanning the public and private sectors, including high-level business executives, technology professionals and academics.

The Symposium included a book-signing by Chris Anderson, author of ‘The Long Tail’

Its programme was packed with high-profile local and international speakers. Keynote addresses were delivered by overseas headliners Chris Anderson, Editor in Chief of Wired magazine, and Dr Soumitra Dutta, Professor of Business and Technology and Faculty Director of elab@INSEAD.

Trinidad and Tobago has had a long history of opening its arms to foreign consultants to deliver expert advice and services. But the country also has a long record of overlooking, or worse, ignoring local expertise and domestic service providers who often can contribute the same, if not better, more relevant insight and input.

Ironically, the apparent success of the Symposium could be a reflection of a continued reliance on external validation for local development, not just in Trinidad and Tobago, but also in the wider Caribbean.

“We tend to want to bring people in from abroad to advise us as to what to do,” said local entrepreneur Nicholas Galt, President and CEO of the Trinidad Systems Limited (TSL) Group, a Caribbean-based Information and Communications Technology (ICT) firm with businesses operations throughout the Caribbean region.

According to Galt, the question is not whether foreign experts can sufficiently address the developmental needs of the local ICT industry and eco-system, but whether they should be asked to in the first place.

“The private ICT companies [in Trinidad] find ourselves challenged from other corporations and the public sector, to be able to deliver services to them. It’s almost as if they don’t believe that our local players can deliver the kind of technology that they need,” Galt said, describing this mindset as “colonial”.

When it comes to leveraging technology for business innovation, Galt speaks with some authority, and the success of TSL speaks for itself. The company stands as an example of the resident capacity of local ICT service providers to provide a diverse range of technology services that is as competitive and as valuable as anywhere in the global marketplace.

“We have found ourselves exporting the services that we deliver into territories abroad because we just can’t find the market size here to support our organisation,” Galt said.

Speaking from his own experience as a locally based commercial software developer in the early nineties, Galt pointed out that it was simply unsound to make qualitative distinctions about ICT service providers simply based on their nationality. In fact, he advised locally based ICT service providers to expand the industry by aggressively seeking out and pursue to capitalise on opportunities presented by emerging needs in network technologies, including the Internet, especially in the regional and international markets.

That shift from the ‘colonial’ to the entrepreneurial and innovative mindset may well have been on the minds of the organizers of the Symposium, when they chose the theme, ‘ICT Innovation: Staying Ahead’. Hosted by the Ministry of Public Administration, in partnership with the National Information and Communications Technology Company Limited (iGovTT) and the e-Business Roundtable, the Symposium was part of the ongoing mission to lay the appropriate foundation for developing existing businesses, as well as encouraging the birth of new enterprises and opportunities.

In the opening sessions of the Symposium, presentations were delivered by Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, and Dr Hamadoun Touré, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), and Rudrawatee Nan-Ramlogan, Minister of Public Administration and President of the General Conference of Ministers of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), all of whom emphasised the importance of developing the ICT sector as a key part of the overall economic diversification strategy for developing countries like Trinidad and Tobago.

The Symposium, hosted by the Ministry of Public Administration, in partnership with the National Information and Communications Technology Company Limited (iGovTT) and the e-Business Roundtable, was part of the Trinidad and Tobago’s ongoing mission to lay a foundation for developing existing businesses and encouraging new ICT-based enterprises and opportunities.

The Trinidad and Tobago Symposium is the latest of several ICT development initiatives rolling out across the Caribbean. On the regional level, the CARICOM Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Steering Committee meets in Barbados this month to discuss the implementation plan for the Regional Digital Development Strategy. That implementation plan will be presented to the regional Heads of Government in early 2011.

For more information on the ICT Symposium, visit the official website at

About the ICT Symposium

The second Trinidad and Tobago ICT Business and Innovation Symposium 2010 is a meeting of minds that aims to bring awareness to the role of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Innovation in the transformation of Trinidad and Tobago into a knowledge-based economy. Themed ‘ICT Innovation : Staying Ahead’, the conference is hosted by the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Public Administration, the e-Business Roundtable, the National Information and Communications Technology Company Limited (iGovTT), and sponsored by First Citizens, TSTT, IBM, Microsoft, the Ministry of Trade and Industry, Illuminat, Fulitsu, Crimson Logic, CANTO, WInfosoft Esprit, World Wide Net, Flow, eTeck, InfoTech, the Telecommunications Authority of Trinidad and Tobago, the Caribbean Telecommunications Union and Teleios Systems Limited.


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