Above: Image by sakkmesterke/DepositPhotos.
Some might argue the semantic here. Purchase requires earning, some might say, but in this day and age where you can get a loan to finance a Carnival costume that might impress people for 2 days, purchase these days also means potential earning. It means robbing the future to pay for the present in that case, or as we know more basically – living outside of our means.
Silicon Valley, rife with it’s own problems, is largely run on venture capital – money loaned to create value in one of many businesses. Venture capital firms don’t invest in just one company – they play the odds, they invest in businesses knowing that at least some will fail. The success of one company may offset all the losses of the others.
Largely, this allows companies that will fail to live outside their means. It’s a luxury afforded those who impress venture capitalists – an increasingly difficult thing to do. Some might even argue that successful companies that were established with venture capital might no longer qualify for it now.
I write all of this because, after a year of being back in Trinidad and Tobago, I see some technopreneurs trying to live that dream, and that dream is workable only because of one thing: The investment in human capital, where a failed company’s talent is snatched up by another company. It means that experience is developed locally.
In this larger context, the future is not purchased – it is earned. Outside of technology here in Trinidad and Tobago, importation businesses make money by buying largely what they decide is what their customers will buy and mark it up accordingly. They keep an inventory whose value fluctuates not only with the foreign exchange rate of the TT dollar, but also with how inconvenient it is to get that money.
The money used to purchase these goods, if we were to track it, might have come from the people who worked in oil and gas when the prices were high. That is diminished. The largest employer in Trinidad and Tobago is the government, through state run companies and more. It’s no secret that the government is low on money.
At the core, the real issue is that as a nation, we’re not bringing in as much foreign exchange as we used to. As someone who is involved in agriculture in a small way, I’d like to say that we could export all manner of fruits and vegetables, but we’re held back by two main things: Lack of dependable data and the fact that our agricultural land mass is much smaller than that of our nearby neighbours in South America. The former is fixable, if we choose to. The latter, on the other hand, is not.
So, one might think that technology should be a focus, and one that we could easily build with good best practices in both the private and public sectors. It means earning the future by building our abilities. Sure, we can partner with all manner of foreign corporations to get going, but in the end if we’re paying a franchise fee, like that Starbucks coffee and Uber rides or that box of dead at KFC, for using software licenses – we’re not necessarily moving forward as fast as we could and we are only building a capacity that requires a dependency, It’s the company store at a national level.
Where do we start? Well, we kind of started. We have websites that desperately need to meet the present, even as we celebrate allowing Linx payments in the Licensing Offices – 90s technology meeting 2017. We have apps that might have been good enough for a passing grade for a freshman at UWI that already have become a bit of a joke (don’t get me started or I’ll write those reviews).
Probably most importantly, we have some lip service to the Open Data Initiative through the National ICT plan that severely needs to be worked on in a world of data analysis – it begs the question how a government of any political stripe could have or can make good decisions with bad or non-existent data.
And most importantly, we need a generation that is willing to earn the future rather than purchase it and we need previous generations to let them.
Taran Rampersad has over three decades of experience working with technology, the majority of which was as a software engineer.
He is a published author on virtual worlds and was part of the team of writers at WorldChanging.com that won the Utne Award.
He is an outspoken advocate of simplifying processes and bending technology’s use to society’s needs.
His volunteer work related to technology and disasters has been mentioned by the media (BBC), and is one of the plank-owners of combining culture with ICT in the Caribbean (ICT) through CARDICIS and has volunteered time towards those ends.
As an amateur photographer, he has been published in educational books, magazines, websites and NASA’s ‘Sensing The Planet’.
These days, he’s focusing more on his writing and technology experiments. Feel free to contact him through Facebook Messenger.