Atiba Phillips is a young mover and shaker who has embraced the challenge of encouraging our youth through the use of technology, in areas such as agriculture. To that end, he set up a non-profit organisation in 2009, the Community HUB (Hope, Understanding, Belief) dedicated to this purpose.The HUB is an innovative social enterprise with a global vision for change through the development of youth and communities by leveraging Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs).
It is the medium through which Phillips and his board are determined to help build our youth capacity, by introducing underserved youth, especially through educational technology-based programmes, video, animation, digital media, web and mobile.The HUB works through a network of professionals in the ICT field as well as school principals, parents, and volunteers skilled in other disciplines who are advocates for youth.An ICT strategy expert, Phillips has served as chairman and CEO of the National ICT Company Ltd of T&T (iGovTT), where he was the State's ICT lead in prime ministerial missions to India, Brazil and the USA.
He also currently advises local, regional and international bodies on ICT matters through his firm, Infocomm Technologies Ltd. Phillips is also a member of the ICT Programme Advisory Board of the University of T&T and has lectured at the masters level in Strategic IT in e-Business and e-Marketing through the University of Greenwich, England.He holds an MBA from the University of California at Berkeley, USA, and is both a Fulbright and Haas Merit Scholar.
The programme that has recently engaged students at schools such as Success Laventille Composite (Team Agriology) and St George's College (Team Agri-Info), UTT (Team AgriTech), Costaatt and Team Bishop Centenary is the Agri-Hack Talent Competition which supports the development of ICT innovations and entrepreneurship in agriculture.Students were presented with six Caribbean challenges facing regional agriculture stakeholders from which to choose and tasked with developing an application to solve this. Their presentation included the elements of the problem, the proposed solution, the target audience for the application, clearly outlined benefits, and revenue streams.Since the HUB's start-up in 2009 it has engaged youth in the areas of ICT's and Education, ICT's and the Environment and ICT's and Crime.
Q: Tell us a bit about your early years: where were you born, grew up, and where did you attain your various levels of education?
A: I was born and raised in Diamond Vale and attended Diamond Vale Primary School. From there, I went to Fatima College where as a cricketer, as a fast bowler, I used to bowl down Lara when he came to practice with us (laughing). I was captain of the school cricket teams at the Under-16 and Under-19 levels, and I also qualified for the national Under-19 team.After Fatima College, I went to UWI, St Augustine, where I pursued a Bachelor's degree in management studies.I graduated from UWI with honours and picked up a position at the National Information Systems Centre on the Y2K Task Force. I then went to the University of California at Berkley on Fulbright and Haas Merit scholarships to pursue an MBA. Throughout all of my education, though they have business labels, each degree had a significant technology slant. I have been passionate about technology since my very early days and I have pursued it throughout.
What inspires you to do what you do? What was the motivating factor in starting the HUB and what challenges do you face?
During my stint at bpTT, there was an "Orphanage Project" which a group of us were invited to be involved in. When we visited the children's homes I was broken-hearted by what I saw. The teenagers were just as bright and with all the potential as any of us, but they didn't have money and a family structure around them to nurture that potential. Indeed they lived in very deprived conditions. I wanted to give the administrators all the money I had in order to assist, but I knew that that wouldn't even be close to enough.
I saw that beyond just giving cash what was needed was the harnessing of a network of the resourceful and talented to give back in a structured manner. So I vowed to myself that, as soon as I was able, I would set up an institution to help young people such as these, and that is how the HUB eventually came about in our attempt to bring hope, understanding and belief to our youth. Finding that steady and sustainable funding source, as well as a suitable place, a home to operate training programmes out of, continue to be our basic challenges. I'd really like the private sector as well as the Government to get more on board with us. We are open to partnerships and collaborations to get things done. When I look around the country and see how many men–young men–are vagrants on the street, it is disheartening. Men are supposed to be the head of the household, the backbone of society...why are so many of us destitute?
I have a theory that it can take as little as two consecutive wrong decisions to land a person into a destitute situation. I am motivated to help our young men and young people in general to make better decisions and have better outcomes.If you are going to get into this type of work, make sure that you are doing it for the right reasons. The populations such as the ones we try to assist have been abused. We try not to be yet another source of disappointment to our constituents. This is a highly sacrificial course. It is not something to pursue for personal gain or to earn points. The reward to be had is seeing the changed lives that area result of our ongoing interventions.
If someone only reads a couple lines of this interview what would you want them to know?
I think that I would like them to see the potential in our youth today. Time upon time we have seen young people who were destined to be involved in violence and other types of undesirable activity change course. Some have really excelled to the extent that we have been able to stay in contact with them and continuously expose them to new educational life experiences. In short, I'd like them to know that if you make time for our youth, they will yield for us the greatest return. The HUB has seen developments in participants that go far beyond the technology skills training and into the realm of personal and professional development such as enhanced co-operation and teamwork, increased sense of self-worth, better familial and community relations as well as much brighter and clearer career vistas.
And what other thoughts and information about the HUB would you like to share with our readers?
We strongly feel that competence with regard to ICTs, particularly for underserved youth, can be an avenue out of disenfranchisement, an avenue for research, skill development, innovation and career advancement no matter what career you choose. It's becoming a critical life skill and we don't want pockets of youth and communities left behind.
Who was your hero or idol growing up (fictional or real or both) and why? And who do you admire most today?
When I was growing up, it was the Incredible Hulk! I guess as a boy, I could relate to the internal conflicts and duality of the character, while admiring his physical strength. Now I admire everyday people who work hard and support their children and families to excel. Some of the parents of students who have passed through our programmes are real heroes. Through whatever hardships and challenges they faced, they ensured that their children attended every session. In turn, they are able to celebrate with us when they see the change in their sons and daughters and what they are able to accomplish, much beyond their expectations.
What advice would you give to the country's youths to create a better society?
At the end of the day, it's up to you. Our future is in your hands. Live with care and diligence, rather than be taken by the latest fad.
What was the most difficult decision you ever had to make?
To leave a steady job which I enjoyed to found the non-profit organisation and launch out on my own into business.
What daily motto/credo do you live by...your recipe for success?
Choose life, know your identity and recipe, hmm....eat lots of fruits and vegetables (laughs out loud)!
Describe yourself in two words, one beginning with A, the other with P, the initials of your name?
Future programmes? Contact info, social media etc?
In the new year, we plan to run a programme on Disaster Risk Management and Response Education and deepen our partnerships in the agriculture space to do more in that area. You can contact us at the HUB at firstname.lastname@example.org or via our Web site at www.mycommunityhub.org and our Facebook page www.facebook.com/mycommunityhub.org. Telephone number 683-6300. We are located 10 Eighth Street, Barataria.