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Prime Minister, Dr. the Rt. Hon. Keith Mitchell Caribbean Union of Teachers Regional Education Conference Leadership in Times of Crisis: Promoting Sustainable Development

It is my distinct pleasure to welcome all of you here this evening, particularly our visiting teachers.

As a former teacher myself, it is always a heartening experience to interact with those who have been entrusted with the critical task of educating our children, the future of our respective nations, of the region, of the world.

The role of teachers is not one to be taken lightly; it is to be admired, respected and emulated. On the flip side of this, teachers must conduct themselves in a manner deserving of such accolades.

The incredible mandate of teachers makes them an invaluable component of any country’s development process. And as we strive now to promote sustainable development, your role takes on added significance because as we all know, children are the best change agents, and education is the best tool to bring about positive change.

It is important that we develop in them, from very young, an innate desire to adopt a wholistic world view, to always look at the broader picture and to have a long-term vision for growth.

Sisters and brothers, over the next few days of your conference, you will be focusing on the theme “Leadership in Times of Crisis: Promoting Sustainable Development”.

I firmly believe that the starting point of any discussion is understanding what it is you are talking about. In this context therefore, we must understand what is leadership, what is classified as times of crisis and what is sustainable development.

What is leadership, sisters and brothers? Undoubtedly, leadership might mean different things to different people but as one leadership expert rightly stated, “leadership is the ability to transform vision into reality”.

On any given day, being a leader can be quite challenging and in a period of crisis, it becomes even more so. Crises are an inevitable part of our existence. The difference between a crisis and a resolution is our human reaction. By that, I mean, how do we, especially as leaders, react to the crises in our daily life?

I have long held the view that leaders are not necessarily born - they are made, shaped by circumstances and time. A crisis is a perfect opportunity for the making of a good leader. Why? Because a crisis demands particular qualities, such as effective management, calmness or level-headedness, the ability to rally public opinion by sharing information, decisiveness, and a passion for realising the best results in the interest of the greater good. These characteristics might only be revealed when tested.

In September 2004, we in Grenada faced an enormous crisis when Hurricane Ivan wreaked havoc across our island, destroying a significant proportion of our building stock, leaving many of our nationals homeless and unexpectedly unemployed.

As leaders, whether in business, church or school, despite dealing with personal losses, we had to motivate our people; encouraging them to see hope in a seemingly hopeless situation.

Last year, the region faced a phenomenal crisis with back to back Category 5 hurricanes affecting multiple islands and causing unprecedented damage and destruction. As the then Chairman of CARICOM, I visited some of the affected islands as a sign of solidarity with my fellow Caribbean leaders.

It is not easy to see your brother or sister hurting and feel so helpless because the sheer magnitude of the disaster makes anything but a magic wand, seem absolutely inadequate.

But having experienced a similar crisis myself, I could genuinely empathise and offer advice based on the Grenada experience, sharing what we have done to rebuild and recover and to promote sustainable development. With increasingly unpredictable weather patterns and storms of increased intensity becoming the new normal, we are equally likely to experience more crises of that nature, which inevitably puts leaders to the test and requires us to adapt to this new normal.

As leaders, we must ensure that there is complete understanding of the overall impact of the decisions and actions that are taken during such periods. It is important that decisions are not made hastily but with considerable thought, particularly as it relates to the potential impact and consequences.

Importantly too, leadership involves serious consultation - being equipped with the relevant facts of the situation and talking to persons to obtain diverse views from which to draw an appropriate conclusion or devise solutions to a particular problem. This is particularly important in situations where unpopular actions need to be taken.

In situations where conflict exists, there must be a clear understanding that there is no complete righteousness on any side of the fence. Good leadership requires a willingness to compromise, to understand that solutions are found in the ability to be flexible and by considering that there is a greater good at stake.

As leaders, our decisions must be able to withstand the test of time, therefore, critical decisions should always be sustainable over the long term. This is directly related to promoting the sustainable development of any country.

Sustainable development speaks to employing elements that will collectively and over the long term, facilitate progress.

The goal is to maximise the use of available resources to achieve the greatest benefit, and to do so responsibly so that you do not threaten future development; bearing in mind that future generations should have similar access to them to facilitate further growth and development.

To ensure that leadership is sustainable over time, requires firm conviction – you must believe that the decisions you make, are intended for the benefit of the majority and not only for a select group of persons. Backlash based on some decisions and action is inevitable but that is where your conviction comes into play.

My friends, leadership is not a popularity contest. It is not about who likes or dislikes you.

This is extremely important. If we are in leadership and we want everybody to like us, we will destroy people and nations.

It does not work sisters and brothers. Sometimes you have to stand alone – stand alone and be counted. When you are right, time will always prove you right. You may be cursed today but you will be praised tomorrow.

I am speaking as someone who has passed through enough. For some decisions I made, I was vilified and cursed but you know, when you believe something, you don’t change just because you are being cursed; you have to stand for something.

It is easy to fall into the trap of doing what might be popular, or what might appeal to a particular group. That is always easy, especially in politics, you want everybody to like you. The challenge is to see the bigger picture and to be ever mindful of the way every decision affects another person.

The bigger picture is not always initially visible or even visible at all, to everyone concerned. But, leadership also demands that the bigger picture must be explained. People might not always agree with your decision, but they will respect it as long as they are armed with information and it is seen as fair.

This helps them to better understand why you, as a leader, felt compelled to make that decision in the interest of the greater good. My experience as a leader over the years is simply this - decisions must be well explained and they have to be fair to all concerned. Leaders must stand for what is right regardless of the personalities involved.

My friends, crises provide teachable moments and are therefore considered opportune times to accelerate required action. The existence of a crisis tends to add greater impetus to the decision-making process; it gives a sense of urgency to getting things done.

Sisters and brothers, here in the region, time and recent crises, mainly natural, have indeed taught us that our approach to development must be sustainable. We must adopt the right policies; incorporate the right practices and adequately leverage our resources to facilitate sustained development over the long term.

My friends, the times in which we live demand visionary leadership, from leaders who make decisions through reasoned thinking; those who show a heart of compassion for their constituents, their wards. At the end of the day, the key is that through all of this, leaders must ensure that the people around them - their community or the institution they have the mandate to lead, emerges stronger and more stable in the process.

For you, this might mean your students, who are ultimately the future of our societies. In other words, everything you do must take into consideration the impact on students, everything else must be seen as secondary. What impacts on them negatively today, will hurt all of us tomorrow.

For us as politicians, it means our broader constituency. Together, we are collectively responsible for our community’s sustainable development, and we must never take this lightly.

In the end, a leader is only as good as the community or institution that he or she represents. Sisters and brothers, keep this in mind as you deliberate over the next few days.

In doing so, it is my hope that you will achieve the stated objectives and create a pathway that will support the goals of the Caribbean Union of Teachers and that of its member agencies including the Grenada Union of Teachers. After all, you hold our future - our sustainable future - in your hands.

Knowing the importance of your role and the significance you hold in the future of all our islands, I can only wish you the best. I will always consider myself first and foremost a teacher, nothing less. Without good teachers and good parents, I would not be standing here today. Therefore, you will have my continued support.

With the problems now existing, let’s stay at the table, we will find the solution that is just for all and sundry. I thank you for this special invitation and I wish you all the very best. When I spoke tonight, I spoke from my heart, you may not like everything I said, but if I don’t say it, I will not be me.

I am still your friend, every single one of you, especially the President of the Grenada Union of Teachers, he is my very good friend.

I thank you.