Connecting Caribbean Leaders

Maybe it’s luck.

With over 200,000 mobile handsets andless than 100,000 people, maybe the nation of Antigua and Barbuda was just bound to have a mobile application development revolution last year.

Maybe that’s why, in November, 50 young people, ranging in age from 12 to 21, developed a mobile app called ‘In Antigua’, designed to promote the island as a regional and international tourist destination.

The young developers created the app from scratch, an achievement made all the more remarkable by the fact that some of them were fresh from their end-of-term exams and most of them had no prior programming experience.

At the end of the workshop, 15-year-old Tara Spencer from Lightfoot, remarked, “This was fantastic! At first I thought it was going to be hard, but the facilitators really made it easy. I can’t wait to get together with my friends to start making our own apps.”

For Dr Noel Woodroffe, Tara’s speaks with the voice of many young nations of the Caribbean region, still full of hope in our search for innovative solutions, but still not fully aware of our potential to leverage collaborative action to produce swift and vast results.

Woodroffe is President and Founder of Congress WBN, the parent organisation of BrightPath Foundation, which is the non-profit that facilitated Tara’s training. BrightPath is committed to delivering values-based technology and digital content training to youth, communities and governments across the region.

Brightpath’s iCAN Mobile programme, now rolling out across the Caribbean, is designed specifically to encourage the proliferation of mobile content and applications that are relevant to this region. For example, mobile apps like ‘In Antigua’ represent a bridge between the region’s economic dependence on its reputation as a tourism destination and its exploration of diversified revenue streams from alternative sources, like the burgeoning ICT sector.

But Woodroffe believes something much more purposeful than historical serendipity is at play here. The mobile app revolution, he says, is not about technological advancement but human development.

“It’s a symbol of this region’s ability to conquer an apparent lack of resource through the application of new and creative ideas,” he said.

Overcoming resource limitations is part of the ethos of the BrightPath programme. And it’s woven into the fabric of the identity of Congress WBN itself.

“Congress WBN is a global network of professional groups, educational institutions, businesses, individual national leaders and university students. We’re Caribbean-birthed, Caribbean-envisioned and primarily Caribbean-led,” Woodroffe explained.

“Sometimes we describe the Congress in terms of its vast and complex global structures but, really, the Congress is ordinary people—like a teenaged Tara in Antigua—people who come out of the same situation that confronts CARICOM and our region’s island nations.”

A man of faith, Woodroffe lives in Trinidad and pastors a church there. He and his wife June, who have been happily married for 36 years, have three daughters.  The Congress WBN tagline, “Ethical Initiatives for Nations Development”, arises from Woodroffe’s personal conviction that the same values and principles that direct his spiritual and family life also find relevant application to the reformation of economic and social systems.

“We’re not just talking to people on an individual and community level. We’re building global leadership initiatives and we’re building nations development thrusts. We deal with Governments; we talk to systems all across the nations of the earth, particularly Governments in the developing world.”

Woodroffe has held consultations with national leaders from Liberia, Kenya, Vanuatu, Fiji, Zimbabwe, Antigua, Belize and Jamaica. Closer to home, Congress WBN is currently working in partnership with the Caribbean Examination Council (CXC), seeking to introduce a number of technology-based improvements to the administration and delivery of primary and secondary education throughout the English-speaking Caribbean.

“We started in Trinidad in 1993 and now have operations in over 90 nations of the earth. Along the way, over the last two decades, we discovered that powerful and effective leadership is the master key to sustainable development.

“That’s why we steward and build the leaders of tomorrow. We envision young people from the Caribbean—some of them not so young—and we gather them into a global network of collaboration, with the ultimate intent of bringing beneficial impact upon their lives.”

Another Congress WBN initiative is the Global Leadership Interlink (GLI), an international non-profit organisation promoting values-based leadership development and ethical nations-transformation. In July last year, Jamaica became the latest country to join GLI’s network of thousands of professionals and university students spread across the globe.

GLI members from across the globe followed the launch on Twitter and Facebook, and GLI Chapter Leaders from Fiji, New Zealand, USA, South Africa, Antigua and the UK delivered pre-recorded greetings to their Jamaican counterparts.

“While some professional organisations gather around their area of core competency, GLI gathers professionals and students around a core set of values: equity, justice, integrity, accountability, collaboration, service and excellence,” Woodroffe explained.

The composition of the gathering for the launch signaled the strong potential for broad-based partnerships in future national development initiatives. Among the 400 people in attendance at the launch were several Jamaican Government officials, businessmen and professionals.

A State official from the Office of the Prime Minister who spoke at the event welcomed the arrival of GLI in the context of his Government’s commitment to build a dynamic social compact with the private sector, organised labour and civil society.

 “We will need leadership in every sector of society,” the senator said.

Woodroffe responded in his keynote address: “We seek to partner with the Jamaican people to move the nation and the region forward, just as we are doing elsewhere across the earth.”

Connecting Caribbean is central to the mission and mandate of the Congress.  

“I have a dream in my mind,” says Woodroffe, “of a global conference where these young leaders from the Caribbean can gather with young leaders from across the world and begin to describe and articulate the architecture of the planet’s future.”

I wondered, maybe out loud, whether such a thing were even possible.

“Well, why not?” Woodroffe said. “After all, it’s free to dream!”