An example of entrepreneurship, the kind this economy is in desperate need of, is the founding and functioning of the Tobago Gold Chocolate Rum Cream company. Like with so many other successful business creations, the chocolate-rum blend was first experimented with at a domestic level, in a home between two people: one grounded in the culture of the people; the other having a vision to create a unique product which could attract interest locally and for those outside of the culture of Tobago and Trinidad.
The outcome is a product which is on the local shelves of consumer outlets, and vitally important, it has been accepted in 18 countries and is earning foreign exchange for this economy.
Production of finished goods and services for export has been the major objective of economic growth and development in the post-colonial Caribbean. First, the requirement has been for the emergence of manufacturers, producers and innovators of all kinds to begin to perceive of business activity beyond that of being local agents for the products of manufacturers of the metropole.
A few have successfully done so.
Second, and perhaps most important after transitioning to an alternative to trading the products of others, manufacturer Lars Soderstrom and, very importantly, his helper at home, decided upon adding a flavour of the culture of chocolate to rum to create a unique blend.
The important point here is the use of the local knowledge and practices to manufacture something that has captured the taste of both connoisseurs and those who just delight in a good tasting chocolate rum. Innovating in challenging times has been a feature of our culture which has not been sufficiently ploughed for value creations; this time, a blender seems to have got it right.
In the instance of the rum-chocolate combine, it’s two well-valued products of our ancestral history, brought together to be enjoyed at home and perhaps in the West Indian diaspora and the generation after, who must surely have stored in their memory banks and bloodstream, even if forgotten in the day-to-day consciousness, the flavours of Trinbago rum and chocolate.
Like in the instance of the Tobago Chocolate Rum Cream, local entrepreneurship requires deep thinking and exploration of local materials and skills which can be combined to create new products and services. Manufacturers must then have the daring to take their products to the international markets.
We have not fully understood and developed upon the fact that the Caribbean, 500 years ago, was amongst the most developed import-export producers in the world. Unfortunately, the colonial mercantilist trade arrangements kept the region on the sidelines. The role that was then assigned to the colonial territories was to extract and produce raw materials to be shipped abroad for real value to be added.
Manufacturers and service providers of today have still not fully capitalised on utilising local materials to create finished products which can be sold internationally and at good prices.
One other lesson gleaned by Mr Soderstrom is the need, as he has experienced it, for investment capital and government incentives to produce the goods and services which can penetrate foreign markets. The obvious need is for dynamic entrepreneurship to vary and boost the local economy.