This article first appeared in the Event Publication for the 2023 Caribbean Investment Forum. Learn more at www.caribbeaninvestmentforum.com
I sat in a public consultation a few years ago where some swanky investors presented a beautiful vision for the redevelopment of one of our island communities. I’d prefer not to share the island. :) As a lover of all things economic development, I certainly didn’t need convincing.
The slide presentation was impeccable. From the return on investment (ROI) projections to the meticulously planned project schedule and the extensive research studies, it was all very well thought out.
This was not some run-of-the-mill venture cooked up over drinks with buddies. This was real money. Real opportunity to partner with an established team.It felt like a new day was coming and I couldn’t help but be optimistic.
As the presentation came to an end, the floor opened for discussion and feedback from the community members present.I sat quietly as questions and comments were fired off at the investment group, each one more fiery, more accusatory, more pointed.
After about 20 minutes of this verbal onslaught, it became painfully evident that this was not going to end well.
A TALE AS OLD AS TIME
The conversation around regional investment is not new. If you visit any primary school in the Caribbean, you'll find that many students can offer insights into ongoing projects in their communities.
They hear about these discussions at home, on the radio, on social media, and from folks on the streets. It's a tale as old as time - an investor is coming to town with money and jobs.
It's an opportunity. We should all be excited and thankful.Foreign direct investment's pivotal role in the economic and social development of our communities cannot be overstated. Nevertheless, there is a bigger question at play.Is money enough to build the bold new Caribbean?
In my opinion, it is undeniably useful and important.But on it’s own, it is not.Caribbean people will build the Caribbean.
They will shoulder the responsibility of bringing the vision to life, safeguarding the investments, and shaping the narrative regarding the value to their communities.
They are the most valuable investor we must court. Their buy in will make or break us.And yet, so many Governments and projects coming into the region, miss the mark.
The success of regional development agendas hinges on our ability to prioritize managing the dialogue surrounding government initiatives and investor-backed projects in the Caribbean.
It all begins with the stories we choose to tell our people.
The investors and government officials who faced the barrage of criticism during that public consultation learned valuable lessons – lessons we can all apply to enhance the success of our investment agendas.
MAKE IT PERSONAL
Capturing the support of regional communities starts with storytelling that transcends mere monetary figures and data.
We must connect with people on a human level. What will the project mean for the community?
How will it affect their children, retirement, and quality of life? We have to tell stories about our projects in a way that resonates with the fundamental needs people are striving to meet - things like building a better life for their families and earning the respect of their community.
A public consultation or official engagement should not be the community's first interaction with your project or your team.
Go out into the community, knock on doors, visit local media outlets, and engage in meaningful conversations to understand their hopes, fears, and motivations.
Develop a robust and visual storytelling strategy using relevant and relatable communication tools.
Every Caribbean community has loud mouths and champions.
In some cases they are one in the same. :).
Find the champions who can positively amplify the story; integrate them into your local communications strategy.
Champions wield influence and have established platforms and networks to generate more support for the project.
FINALLY, DO IT WITH ALL WITH LOVE
I never heard much about that project after the public consultation. As it turned out, the consultation was merely the prelude to a well-coordinated campaign aimed at halting the project in its tracks.
Their message was simple. We Love our community, we love our people and you, with your money and research and powerpoint presentation, you do not. It is impossible to win in an argument against LOVE.
Connecting the work of Caribbean regional development to a deep love for Caribbean people is essential for success. Our investment initiatives must transcend facts and figures to touch the hearts and lives of the people they intend to impact.
Caribbean people will build the bold new Caribbean. It's our duty to share this message with them.