Sunday’s Pan Trinbago Elections presents the steelband movement with an opportunity. Beyond the hype, there were some distinct inputs into the electoral process that could potentially contribute to the building of a stronger steelband organization. I offer four such possibilities as discussion points.
Development is a medium-to-long term phenomenon. The mandate of the new Pan Trinbago Executive is to plan for both the immediate and the longer term. One imperative of such planning is to establish a succession framework for today’s leaders to pass the baton to the leaders of tomorrow.
There must always be a time and place for tradition, but there must also be space for new ideas that bring excitement and energy to the steelband’s public projection. In this regard a disturbing paradox has emerged, namely that while the critical mass of today’s pan players are young people, the age profile of steelband’s audiences is migrating steadily upward.
Test cricket has faced a similar dilemma and has addressed the age paradox with innovations such as 20/20 cricket. The cliché that change is a constant, implies that everything - from the instrument itself to how it is projected and protected - will have to be transformed over time in order to keep development in sync with today’s rhythms.
It was therefore very gratifying to see so many talented and well-qualified young persons offering themselves for executive service and also being represented on the recently-elected Central Executive. The hope is that constitutional reform will institutionalize a Pan Trinbago Youth Arm, not as a token adjunct body, but as an integral subset of the Central Executive. For its long-term survival the steelband has to continually make itself relevant to younger audiences and who best to drive that transformation than young people themselves.
Women in Leadership
Today’s political, economic, and cultural landscape is populated with several instances of institutional failure, and in this regard both leadership and participation models must be re-examined. It seems that the division of labour that spawned the Industrial Revolution some two hundred odd years ago, has reached its logical conclusion in the organizational sphere, whereby the masses have subcontracted leadership and decision-making power to small cadres of elected/selected leaders. And even the term ‘subcontracted’ may be stretching it, because in so many instances the rank and file has completely surrendered decision-making power to small cadres of leadership. As a direct consequence, without the participation and supervision of the rank and file, self-serving leadership cliques have emerged that seem to forget or choose to ignore where the real power should reside.
There is also a cultural dimension to this separation between leadership and rank and file. The nomenclature – ‘Chief’, ‘Big Man’ and ‘D Boss’ all describe a macho variation of male leadership, which demands obedience and avoids scrutiny. Women on the other hand, have less historical experience in the D Boss role, and as a consequence they have, in general, developed less of the machismo that goes with the it. The election of four women to key Central Executive positions could well offer some respite from the machismo culture of leadership and serve to introduce a greater degree of empathy and openness to the decision-making process.
Whether the above analysis proves to be correct or not, we cannot forget that in the final analysis change is an investment. While our elected officials have their distinct roles and responsibilities, we are all leaders in our own right and the price of progresses is eternal vigilance and participation. The more time we invest in the stewardship of our affairs, the greater will be our rewards and the fewer will be our surprises.
Bringing Skills to the Table
The impressive array of skills and experience contained in the profiles of the various candidates for executive positions begs the question, “Why have we, so far, been unable to utilize this broad spectrum of skills in furtherance of our organizational goals?” Business executives, entrepreneurs, accountants, managers, teachers, lawyers, musicians, pan tuners, security and rehabilitation professionals, community activists are all represented and if we dig deeper and factor in the support staff we would find engineers, IT professionals and a range of master tradesmen as well.
“Willingness to serve” can be narrowly defined as ‘winning a post’. However, imagine what could be the impact if we could find a mechanism of inclusion that would allow all those who professed to be willing-to-serve to contribute in ways that would utilize their particular skill sets.
Also given our recent governance and management issues it was satisfying to see management professionals with a track record of implementation, numbered amongst the recently-elected Central Executive Officers.
A lot of the crisis that precipitated the call for a new direction in Pan Trinbago was centered around Panorama issues, pertaining to outstanding payments to bands and pan players. This is somewhat unfortunate, in that as important as those payments are to persons and steelbands with outstanding bills to pay, somehow the concept of a $1000.00 stipend as an annual benchmark of individual worth, seems to be selling ourselves and our potential way too short.
In the election campaign a number of the manifestos identified the steelband industry as a legitimate option as a growth pole for economic diversification. As much as we celebrate our Independence on August 31st each year, the fact is, that our developmental template is still framed by traditional trading patterns and relationships that predated our Independence. North America has superseded Europe as our principal trade destination, but our focus is still northward, with some expansion in Caribbean markets. Energy too, is still our paramount income earner, although natural gas has supplanted oil for pride of place as our principal source of foreign exchange.
Our common cultural antecedents have predisposed the steelpan instrument and its music to be a legitimate product, for trade and for the building cultural bridges, with the peoples of the vast continents of South America, Africa and Asia. Of course, we recognize that our local steelband industry must have the capacity and the product integrity with regard to standards, and our human resource would have to be specifically trained, if we are to put ourselves in a position to exploit those markets.
But those are investment and implementation issues. That is not where the problem lies. The fundamental issues are conceptual. We continue to hang on for dear life to our diminishing energy lifeline, in a world environment which is transitioning away from oil and gas to clean energy options. At the same time, we continue to still see the creative industries and sport as peripheral.
An investment in a Ministry of the Creative Arts would be a recognition of that our export potential in this area is growing even as our energy potential is diminishing. It would be a recognition that seeds must be planted before the plant manifests itself above ground, just as plants become progressively weaker before they wither and die. A Singapore or a Dubai would have sized upon such potential long ago. We however, despite political Independence, have been slow take bold new steps. But politicians have their job to do and we have ours. And we must shoulder a part of the blame for our inability to articulate a clear vision of the economic potential of the steelband industry.
I am still a believer in the possibilities of the Steelband Panorama. It is not the Panorama’s fault that its economic viability is so dependent on state subsidies. But I truly believe that even a modernized and revamped Panorama, cannot and should not, be the principal economic focus of the steelband movement. Sport and the Creative Industries, with the steelband playing a very prominent role, can become our new principal export foreign exchange earner if we systematically put the infrastructure in place so to do. Perhaps, this is where the likes of Lawford Dupres and Robert Amar can make an input.
Team Pan Trinbago
Challenges will always be there, but the way forward depends on recognizing and seizing upon our opportunities.
The membership requested change and change was delivered through the democratic process. Madam President, Beverley Ramsey-Moore, there is much to be done. All hands on-deck will increase the scope of what can be done. With structure and negotiated policy frameworks, persons can contribute without getting in each other’s way. Congratulations on your first successful step into national leadership at this level and wishing you many more successful steps in your quest to make a difference.
To the other experienced members of the Central Executive, your example will be important. Succession planning demands that you pass the baton by sharing your experience and endeavouring to empower the generation of leaders to come.
To the younger members of the new executive, ‘Welcome aboard!’ Your mandate is to bring more younger persons on board and to bring your energy and youthful perspective to the table of governance.
To the other candidates, leadership is a state of mind and not an elected position and as such your continued support and contribution are needed.
And to all the rest of us, the steelband movement’s strength resides in the totality of ideas, skills and the collective energy of the rank and file. So, let’s pledge to stay involved and help to build a brighter tomorrow for our beloved movement and instrument.