Sunday, June 20, 2021

Overcoming Low Economic Expectations

(First published in the Business section of the Jamaica Monitor June 13, 2021)

While some of us have high expectations some simply do not, possibly even satisfied with low expectations. The book Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, by economics professors Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo got me thinking about this. This not a new book, it was originally published in 2011, and it won the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, as well as being the Financial Times Business Book of the Year. In the book they shared a story that is worth repeating. 

Source: Bank of Jamaica

Banerjee and Duflo recount an attempt to reorganize the teaching in a Kenyan school, taking advantage of an extra teacher to divide the classes into two. Each class was separated by prior achievement to help each student learn what they did not yet know. Teachers were then randomly assigned to the top or the bottom track by a public lottery. The teachers who lost and were assigned to the bottom track got upset by their assignment, claiming that they would not get anything out of teaching, and that they would be blamed for their students low scores. Not surprisingly, the teachers adjusted their behavior accordingly. The authors recount that in random visits the teachers that were assigned to the bottom track were less likely to teach and were more likely to be having tea in the teacher’s room. If this sounds familiar to you, it probably is. Some of us don’t expect much from poor performing children, and so we treat them accordingly. But is the problem the poor performing child/student, or is the problem the adult/teacher and their programmed expectations? This is a serious question. Maybe it is that those who are in charge have low expectations of the powerhouse each of their charges could become; that it is possible that one of those struggling students could become the next magnate, scientist, or minister of government. No one wins here. Life is replete with examples that prove that humans are often wrong with our limiting expectations. 

Source: PublicAffairs, a Member of the Perseus Books Group

As someone who has an enduring passion for the creation and growth of businesses across the entertainment, culture, and creative industry (ECCI) sectors I found myself turning the story around to ask what are the expeditions we have of ordinary Jamaicans, who have roots in the cane piece, to evoke the spirit of departed professor Rex Nettleford, and their ability to function at the highest levels of business? Do we have expectations that they will manage, and not only manage, but thrive? What level of trust does our society demonstrate? Given some of the processes we put our fellow citizens through to access a business loan, or a mortgage for that matter, it is probably a very low level of trust when measured? Are we asking if our business processes are unduly onerous? And, are some of our financial institutions looking into ways that we can make these processes more dignified (or even just “first world”) and suitable to robust commerce built on mutual trust? I am not saying that due process and caution should be thrown away, far from it, but many of us know that some of the processes need not be so demanding/demeaning in 2021. 

In 2007 I was a part of a team that worked on a Creative Industries Development Plan for JAMPRO under the leadership of DPM International Limited. On the team we had economist Dr Kadamawe K’nIfe and at the time banker Beresford Grey, who later went on to co-found the Sygnus Group, in which Sygnus Credit Investments has been highly profitable (this past May they reported an 80% jump in net profits in that unit). One of the key points coming out of the plan was an examination of the linkages from the ECCIs with the traditional manufacturing, trading, and established service businesses. One of our challenges it appears was to treat the commercial possibilities of the ECCIs with the same level of seriousness as we treat traditional businesses like an ice cream manufacturer, a wholesaler, or a small hotel operator. Significantly then, one of the calls of the development plan was facilitating financial options for ECCI enterprises. This is something we are still struggling with today. I include this to make the point that we have had some of the brilliant minds of my generation apply themselves to putting forward solutions that are workable, yet their ideas get shelved. What accounts for that? But the track record of the Sygnus Group and what they do now exists objectively for all to see. [When the opportunity presents itself many among us are fully capable of surpassing any limiting expectations that had no place in the picture.] 

Source: Private collection

My use of ECCI refers to businesses in the sectors of music; events and festivals; radio; film, video, and photography; television and cable; telecommunications; internet and online media; electronic gaming; publishing and printing; sport and recreation; fashion; cultural and heritage tourism; amusement and theme parks; gaming and wagering; toys and games; performing arts; commercial art; cuisine and food culture. All in some way rely on, or trade on, some aspect of the Jamaica culture or our intellectual property for its sustenance. They sectors are not in every way discreet, a few functions overlap, but this structure helps in outlining what businesses we are talking about and how we might begin to organize them, particularly as we begin to dive deeper into how we can finance them in this technologized and globalized context. In this context finance needs to understand what entertainers, artists and other creatives are going on about, and so whatever we can do to simplify and cut through the esoteric the greater the chances of bridging the gap of understanding in order that we can build trust and defy the low expectations.

One love, and what I choose to call “One Love, Inc” is an unbelievable economic platform on which to reshape the economics of this country if we choose that path. Individual Jamaicans world famous our not have demonstrated that we are capable of greatness; it is within us. Let us expect more and reshape our institutions to deliver on those high economic expectations.

Kam-Au Amen has several years of combined industry experience across the areas of business management, brand licensing, media production, and eCommerce. He is a researcher of African and Caribbean entertainment and cultural enterprise management, and is a former Deputy Director of Culture in the Ministry of Culture, Jamaica. He has also served a member of the Entertainment Advisory Board. He is the conceptualizer and first coordinator of the pioneering BA in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

The Business of One Love

(First published in the Business section of the Jamaica Monitor in two parts - May 30, 2021 and June 6, 2021)

The poet Mutabaruka would often say on his Cutting Edge radio show, “The only way to defeat the other culture is to live your culture”, and that stuck with me. If you understand this simple statement, then you understand much about the politics of Mutabaruka and the message he has spent his life communicating to African people, and Jamaicans in particular. The saying comes from a long tradition of resistance to any oppressive idea, the metaphoric Babylon, that what we have or who we are is not enough and not worthy of respect or value. This tradition of positive reaffirmation of our own African diaspora identity, the validation of self and self-worth, has given to us, the lucky ones, the wholesome tradition of “one love”.

Jamaica’s worldview, music, language, food, Rastafari politics, aesthetics, and iconography have become a chosen medium of cultural expression in several international spaces. Indeed, the Jamaican notion of “one love” was immortalized by The Wailers group in their 1965 One Love ska recording and later re-released as a reggae recording by the “one love” ambassador himself, “Bob” Marley, who included the song on his 1977 Exodus album, is the song that was in the year 2000 selected by the BBC as the song of the century, as by then it demonstrated in no uncertain terms the global impact of Jamaica’s liviti – Jamaica’s wholesome “one love” was then acknowledged as unquestionably universal. 

Source: The Voice promotional video September 2020, NBC Universal

I tried, sometime in January 2021, to trace the origin of the use of the term “one love”, to ascertain at what point, and perhaps for what specific reason the term was coined. I was unsuccessful. But, regardless of its origins, there is no question that we Jamaicans have made it our own and, subsequently, gave it to the world. The popular Jamaican term was internationalized by Bob Marley, he did not create it. I came across sources that claim that it was actually used by Marcus Garvey, and there were some that suggested that it might have come from his movement’s motto “One God, One Aim, One Destiny”, but I have not seen anything authoritative that confirms any of this as its origin. 

On this question, a colleague of mine, Dr. Jalani Niaah, highlighted that the Rasta brejrin who were in the circle of Rasta leader Mortimo Planno often used the signature term, “one perfect love”, and that this would have influenced songs in the 1960s. Bob Marley would have been one of those who would have been under Planno’s influence as Planno was to serve as Marley’s manager and spiritual guide for several years. One other brejrin, Ras Kaimoh, communicated to me that, when he “arrived in Jamaica in January of 1970, the terms “one love” and “one heart” were common sounds—sometimes used as a greeting—heard to affirm solidarity in various kinds of social exchanges among bredrin and sistren.” Professor Rupert Lewis did point me to a 1971 publication titled One Love by Audvil King, Althea Helps, Pam Wint, and Frank Hasfal which was a collection of prose literary writings by four Jamaican authors. The publication is now out of print, so I was not able to dig in and see what might have influenced them to go with that title. So, at this point then, I still do not know the origins of the term. Maybe it is that this writing will encourage someone to contact me with some information that may lead me closer to an answer. 

Source: Bogle-L'Overture Publications (BLP)

Notwithstanding, what I wish to assert is that the phenomenon of “one love” sits at the core of an industry, in the technically productive commercial enterprise sense of the word. One in which Jamaica and its culture sit at the center if we can organize some of our key business enterprises to capitalize on the opportunity. Informally, I have used the expression “one love culture” among my peers as I seek to describe the essence of what the Jamaican resistance culture represents to the world. It is my attempt to describe the cultural and economic space that emerged from the liviti, the daily living of our culture, that is our own and is globally recognized as our own, even if we are reluctant to claim it. Bob Marley may have been the chief apostle, but it now rests with each Jamaican to make manifest the message of one love, this is indeed the world that Jamaica made. It comes from within us. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, the “one love” culture is informed by a Jamaican worldview, music, spirituality, food, language, lifestyle, history, and politics. And though each of these is a sacred aspect of our being, with its own existence despite the world of business and commerce, they also represent viable commercial opportunities that can help to sustain and perpetuate them on their own terms, the “live your culture” of Mutabaruka’s advice, if you will. 

In my last reasoning, published 16 May 2021 here in the Jamaica Monitor, we questioned why after 40 years Bob Marley’s brand was able to command the kind of earnings it now does. The fact is that the Marley brand answers to a need that customers have. And it is not just Marley the individual who addresses the need, but also the message of the music of an era coming out of Jamaica, that spoke to struggles, triumphs, hopes, and dreams, not only along racial but also class lines, of which the latter was particularly important to white audiences who did not readily identify with some of the racial references. So, Marley’s music, therefore, served as an opening to the Jamaican worldview for whole sets of new audiences, its cultural practices, the Rastafari movement, and Jamaica’s economic arrangements. 

Following Marley’s death on 11 May 1981, which we marked a few days ago, his estate has been able to capitalize on the awareness of his music and the messages to supply additional music, merchandise, and other commodities to a market wanting and willing to purchase products that have been shaped by this Jamaican worldview. Branding them as Marley therefore was a natural progression; but, I want to make clear that the culture is not unique to Marley, and that we, too, share in this cultural inheritance from our ancestors. There is nothing that says the Marley representation or expression (excluding the use of his image and name, of course) is the only way to brand Jamaican or Rastafari expressions of the Jamaican culture and liviti. But, having said this, I will say that it pays to understand and respect the branding canons and conventions until you are able to change them. 

It must be understood therefore, that when I speak of the “one love” culture and speak of Jamaican music, and the economy that Jamaicans have forged that is our music entertainment industry, I see this as the gateway to a larger economic platform. By larger economic platform I mean the proper integration into the international capitalist structure of manufacturing, production, and exchange where we are not simply marginal consumers and producers, but that we take a greater share of the production of goods and services that purport to be expressions of Jamaican culture. So, a case in point is if some Clarks footwear are to be produced and branded as Jamaican, they could have been done under license from a prominent Jamaican artiste for argument’s sake, so that licensing revenue in the region of 5-10 percent could have been coming to a Jamaican who has a stake in the success of the brand. Then a portion of that 5-10 percent revenue then becomes available for investment in another business, filmmaking maybe, or a new hemp project. 

Lest we think this is only about music, it is my hope that one of our top athletes, before the end of their career, begins to conceive of their own athletic line to rival Puma. After all, we also use sporting goods. Of course, these kinds of ambitions have implications for the kinds of contracts they can sign, but that is why we expect that they must also have smart management. There is no question in my mind that one such huge opportunity was missed before, but the future is unknown. What flavor could a Jamaican-themed athletic line add to the world of the Nikes, Adidas, and Pumas of this world? And who doubts that a pan-African brand positioning could not make a significant dent in any of their businesses? 

Source: Jamaica Football Federation

You may have seen the story recently of the Bob Marley-inspired jersey leak to fans of the Dutch Ajax Football Club. Fans could not wait to purchase their jersey, and all they had seen were leaked Bob Marley and Rastafari-inspired designs. There are more of these stories, and our culture and our politics are at the center of it – but we are not. We need to figure it out. Hopefully, we have noticed that African music is here, and behind that will be the world of sports and entertainment, complete with a significant portion of fans who want anything Jamaican they can lay their hands on. But which Jamaican businesses and industries, traditional or entertainment-focused, are lining up to serve them? 

The forward-thinking leadership at GraceKennedy made the bold leap into Ghana in 2012, distributing “Grace-branded beverages Tropical Rhythms, Mighty Malt, Ginger Beer, along with corned beef, as well as GraceKennedy's range of spices.” This kind of export too in my view falls within my widened scope of what is produced and exported within the realm of a “one love” culture, because of who is doing the branding. Our worldview matters because it impacts paths and outcomes, and so, too, does the language, food, aesthetics, and iconography we employ in deciding what makes the final packaging.

Source: Grace Kennedy & Co Advertising

GraceKennedy has had to adjust its business model since being in Ghana, downsizing its operations due to operational challenges, but they know better than to withdraw. Because they know that West Africa is a market that is coming, it is not in retreat. We and they are what we call emerging markets. And, in emerging markets like Jamaica and West Africa, investors can see far better returns on their investments over time, when compared to the often smaller return that investors would be satisfied within developed markets in the north as a tradeoff for less investment risk. 

The “one love” culture of which Jamaica sits at the center is a phenomenal gift bequeathed to this nation by our ancestors. Owed to their struggles and their triumphs, we have a glorious opportunity to conceive and execute our vision of “one love” that lifts us emotionally, spiritually, and economically among mankind. Our investors, business leaders, and our creatives and sports personalities turned investors are being encouraged to help us live our culture in the modern dispensation, and it benefits us all if they share in the vision. One love. One perfect love! 

Kam-Au Amen has several years of combined industry experience across the areas of business management, brand licensing, media production, and eCommerce. He is a researcher of African and Caribbean entertainment and cultural enterprise management, and is a former Deputy Director of Culture in the Ministry of Culture, Jamaica. He has also served as a member of the Entertainment Advisory Board. He is the conceptualizer and first coordinator of the pioneering BA in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona.