Caribbean Reflections on Soft Power

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Jo-Ann Hamilton, Guest Writer

What do China and the United States have in common? Global influence? Economic Hegemony? Let’s throw Qatar and Iceland into the mix. Any thoughts? The answer is soft power. China invests globally in infrastructure around the globe often in countries largely ignored by the international community. The Chinese government also gives away millions in scholarships to students around the globe to be educated in its Chinese universities.

Whilst traditionally the Americans have often wielded hard power in the form of military might, they have also pioneered the concept of soft power through their powerful media business, namely American cinema. Silicon Valley’s technology in the form of Facebook, Google and Twitter are just a few examples of the American brands associated with innovation and the American entrepreneurial spirit.

Qatar’s regional and international influence is being channeled through its state-funded global media network, Al Jazeera. The creation of the Qatar Foundation is the mini state’s approach to developing itself into a knowledge based economy whilst at the same time sharing this knowledge globally.

Lastly, there is Iceland, a small nation in Northern Europe. Unlike its powerful neighbours the UK and other countries in the EU it wields no great power. What it does have is a clever and innovative approach which sets it apart as a leader in fields as diverse as science, computer research and public health. They are not too dissimilar to its other Northern European neighbours, such as Sweden and Finland who are global leaders in the area of sustainability.

But what does this have to do with the Caribbean? The Caribbean is usually on the receiving end of soft power. What can the region do to leverage its soft power? How can it persuade and influence both collectively and individually to position itself as players in the global economy?

Brand Caribbean.

Brand Caribbean must be carefully orchestrated by each individual nation within the region but first it must gain significant buy-in from the citizens of each nation, who tend to possess a silo-ed pride. Like any good branding campaign, Brand Caribbean must position itself as being a source of inspiration, changing the world, doing good and developing its people.

One great example of this is in the United Arab Emirates. Its Vice President Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also the Emir of Dubai, recently released his UAE strategy for the Future, in which he stated,

“ As a nation, we have always been forward-looking and planning for the future, which has been a key driver of our success. With our future planning model, we will serve as a model for the world. The citizens of the UAE are our most important resource in building our future. To nurture their skills, we will strengthen education and training initiatives.”

This is a brand based on upliftment, where collaboration, strategy, education and an investment in its human capital is key to its success.

Brand Caribbean must speak with one voice and with a unified message. One may ask how can an entire Caribbean region which is so nuanced and diverse speak in one tone? How can this be achieved? The answer is simple, if the Caribbean region has a strong desire to propel itself and its people into the future, it has no choice. With the right leadership, enthusiasm, patience, confidence and discipline nothing is impossible. This is not a job solely for governments, but for the region’s intellectuals, culturalists, innovators,
entrepreneurs and changemakers, both at home and in the diaspora.

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality” Warren G. Bennis

Brand Caribbean should be infused in every aspect of our wider societies and communities, leaving no one behind and promoting a society for all. So, what exactly is Brand Caribbean? Brand Caribbean is the representational self image of regional pride and ambition, which will lead the region beyond sun, sand and sea. Many reading this will think, the Caribbean is not a superpower, it is not wealthy, it has no military might or
massive oil fields. Yes, this is all accurate but the beauty and brilliance of soft power is that it requires introspection, depth, emotional maturity and intellect. It is not measurable by any international standard it is merely a way to gain influence by using what you have. It is based on being who you are and begins with where you are.

Soft power affects behaviour, it changes attitudes and perceptions, which in turn attracts the right kind of attention and visibility. This power is influential and stems from knowing one’s own worth. Unlike relational power it does not seek to position itself by comparisons to a wider authority or through deference but through self efficacy and knowing that it indeed has something unique to offer the world.

Singapore is a small first world nation in South-East Asia, which was 50 years ago a member of the third world club. It was once dismissed as a nation barely surviving. Today it boasts world class universities, and is a global finance, commerce and trade hub amongst other notable things. It holds many firsts and exists in a world of superlatives.

“The most valuable of all capital is that invested in human beings.” Alfred Marshall

The Caribbean is the “Green Queen” which makes her a region for innovation on all matters sustainable from renewable energy to agriculture to fashion and all in between. She boasts the world’s best athletes, with a legacy spanning cricket, baseball and track and field. She has a vibrant literary, music and theatrical culture and she is a land of many people, living together for the most part peacefully resulting in every hue and cultural mix imaginable to the human race.

This makes her an example for diversity and cultural capital of all forms. Each nation has
something special. Her unique selling points are capable of solving some of the world’s biggest problems where the environment and diplomacy are concerned. Her music, art and culture can act as a hub for innovation centering peace and conflict resolution. Her diaspora is vast, therefore scope and reach are unlimited.

In the end the biggest convincers of Brand Caribbean are not outsiders but those inside the
community. We must first become our own early adopters and appreciate the diverse cultures, values and traditions we bring to the world.

What do all of the Caribbean nations have in common? There are no low costs reliable ferries or planes offering multiple daily services throughout the region. Island hopping is extremely difficult and in some cases impossible. In many instances most Caribbean nationals do not travel inter-regionally. If we do not know ourselves how can we set goals for our region and make decisions which enable and have a long lasting impact? If soft power rests on ideas which are appealing, how can this be accomplished if we don’t know each other? In the end what we think of ourselves, is much more important than what others think of us. May our self esteem lead us into a new era, where our region leads with soft power.

Jo-Ann Hamilton is a Caribbean-born, globally active freelance writer, UN Women Global Champion, consultant and the founder of SecretBirds which empowers women and young girls through entrepreneurship. You can follow her on Twitter at @JAlexandrHamil and read more of her work at SecretBirds Headquarters.

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