is to the engine of economic growth what oxygen is to the
ignition engine. Without adequate quantities of oxygen the
engine would stutter even in the face of a plentiful fuel/energy
The immense challenge facing us today is the fostering of
an environment of invention, innovation and commercialisation.
The rationale for this is simple and compelling economics.
In terms of job creation per dollar, small companies are far
more cost effective than mega-sized ones.
While it is recognised that retail businesses do create employment
and are therefore necessary, they do not create wealth for
the country, for they are a drain on foreign exchange. What
must be emphasised is the type of businesses that develop
and offer products and services to external markets.
Developed countries have been a dominant force in this regard
and this is why they are worried about the rise of China and
In the case of the former, Chinese products are now flooding
the world markets. They have utilised their cheap labour to
the hilt. The latter has used both cheap labour and new technologies
to create new business opportunities. Both have utilised their
competitive advantages to fast-track their respective economies.
Here, at home, we boast a good but limited supply of energy,
and a population with an innate creative disposition. Both
must be harnessed for sustainable development to take place
such that not only this generation but subsequent ones also
will be the beneficiaries of the national patrimony.
There can be no doubt that the proven gas reserves must be
exploited. The extent to which this should be done should
be the subject of public debate so that the population would
not only be properly informed of the industrialisation policy
but would also have the opportunity to make inputs in its
In addition to this, there should be a programme to strengthen
the technological depth and expertise in the traditional energy,
services and manufacturing sectors and a new one to focus
on development of new products and services.
In other words, a deliberate programme to foster the creation
and support of a new class of entrepreneurs, called technopreneurs,
one that has its roots in the creating, developing and commercialisation
of new technologies.
In a recent visit to India, I first came across the word technopreneuer.
It was in an advertisement through which the state was inviting
those so classified to apply for grants.
The focus here at home, through various state agencies, has
been and continues to be, in the main, on traditional
entrepreneurs. This programme must be broadened and
deepened to include technopreneurs.
One very positive point in this regard is the new UTT whose
mandate is to do just that. One can only hope that the UWI
comes to the recognition that it must also engage in similar
activities in a meaningful way. Well maybe it might just happen.
Nothing gets the feet moving like competition.
For this new programme to be successful the emphasis must
not only be on putting in place the requisite legislative
and financial infrastructures but also programmes to foster
technological invention. This is the more difficult part and
requires a much more sustained and focused attention for the
output of this programme must result in the population crossing
the required self-belief threshold.
When it comes to sports and entertainment, we produce world
class. There is no lack of belief there and indeed the international
community recognises and appreciates these talents.
Compare this with the fact that, at the GCE levels, our students
do as well as or better than many other students worldwide
who also write these exams, and that in spite of the fact
that our engineering graduates excel worldwide in both academia
and industry, we are not noted for technological or academic
As noted by a UWI valedictorian a year or two ago, the society
needs to start honouring and appreciating scholars, inventors
and technocrats a lot more like we do for sportsmen and entertainers.
Another hurdle to be overcome is the need to encourage, from
the primary school level, scientific and technological experimentation.
There are a lot of scientific toys and simple labs that can
be used in this regard. Students must be encouraged to have
a hands-on approach.
If one were to compare the level of sophistication of the
final-year projects, and let me confine my discussion to mechanical
engineering, of our students and to those of, say, North American
universities, the conclusion would be that theirs are superior.
This is so not because the students there are better but rather
they have better access to technology and generally have more
This is a deficiency we must correct. By the time our teenagers
reach university they should feel comfortable with mechanical,
electrical and mechatronics technologies.
Persad is chairman of Swaha Inc