We all need challenges, and let people take charge to lift a finger

If you are a good manager, you are always looking for ways to motivate those who work with and for you. So, too, if you’re a parent with regard to finding ways to develop a child’s abilities. It’s often the case that the bizarre is what is needed to add a spark or get things moving. So, it is in my mind with the now famed ‘ice bucket challenge’. When I wrote about this previously, I could understand the base instincts that made it work, one of which was it’s seeming unique. Now that people have been doing it for a while, and the ALS Foundation has become awash with funds–over US$110 million, I last heard–people have started to focus on how the instincts could be diverted to other worthy causes.

Jamaica has many needs and most of them can be addressed with money, at least, though they often need much else, such as manpower, and intelligent approaches to avoid their recurrence. Last week, I was infuriated by a television program (on ‘Live at 7’) about the appalling state of ‘Jamaica’s heritage’. It showed dilapidated buildings, including the offices of the Jamaican National Heritage Trust–all peeling paint, rotting wood, broken windows, and more. It showed images of the beautiful Ward Theatre in downtown Kingston, and had people talking about this and that project, none of which had gotten very far. Discussions focused on lost Taino artefacts, and heritage sites for Rastafarian culture. The part missing in most of the efforts was money, not least that the Trust had no capital budget. Well, it may as well pack up?

A country with a whopping public debt burden, as Jamaica is, cannot look toward government to solve many of the problems that face it, even if many of them came from government neglect and misuse of borrowed funds. It’s water under the bridge. We can feel angry and bitter about it, and even look to blame a bunch of politicians of either principal colour. Truth is, it’s the fault of the collective. The population let these things happen, either by commission or omission. So, to change the population also needs to  take charge.

Over the weekend, we had what has become the ‘sport’ of choice. The Gleaner hosted a 5K run/walk. These have become very popular fund-raising events in Jamaica. What do they show? That people, offered a personal challenge, will put themselves out and put money behind efforts. Sure, many will be there for the social and the face-time. But, so what? Some will be there to test themselves, either as committed runners, or budding runners, or those on fitness regimes. Again, so what? The Gleaner committed to put part of the funds raised towards worthy causes. That motivated people, as do the other 5Ks. All quite normal. The event probably mustered several thousand people.

Now, here’s the irony. A blood drive was mounted the same day by media personality, Fae Ellington, to mark her 40th year in media. From what I saw, and I am ready to stand corrected, the take up was small. She wanted 100 units of blood. She got 50, but I noted that 40 members of the JDF gave blood, which suggests that ordinary folks were few. Some challenges do not draw people in. I suggested to one of the proponents that it perhaps needed to be named the #bloodgivingchallenge, to tap into the wave of interest that ‘challenge’ may create. There’s always an opportunity to give blood. (I’m usually a donor, but stayed away this time, as I was recently vaccinated against yellow fever.)

So, here’s the challenge. Jamaica needs to challenge itself. Jamaicans need to challenge Jamaicans. But, we need to focus our challenges on righting many of the wrongs that have taken hold and become too much part of the fabric.

I could suggest, glibly, “I challenge all gun men to take their weapons to the police and never fire another shot”. Great idea? How could it work? Criminals would have the incentive to keep their guns , thinking that others would surrender theirs.

But, we need some focused an manageable challenges, similar to what some churches do, with a food drive: bring in a tin or box, and contribute to fighting someone’s hunger.

The heritage failings is one area begging for challenge help. In truth, the country has so many challenges that we would get fatigued thinking about them. Truth is, also, that many people and organisations are working on overcoming the many challenges we face–and I’m thinking of foundations run by the likes of Digicel, National Commercial Bank, Scotiabank, LIME, and others. But, maybe, they seem too much like big people waving around big money.

This coming weekend, we have the kind of challenge that some people are also seemingly willing to take on. It’s a weekend for international coastal cleanup. I have no idea how much garbage will be collected. I hope it’s little, but I suspect it will be heaps. When we’ve finished, we’ll probably drive home, past more heaps of garbage on roadsides. We probably won’t stop to pick it up. A friend last week spoke about taking home garbage collected at an event, which did not have any receptacles for rubbish. OK. We can sway “Duh!” but would we put trash in our car? Some of us have?

Jamaica’s fixes are lots of little things that need to get done, but there are so many of them that they seem insurmountable.

Look around. Find a challenge.220px-Hibbert_House_01 Take it on. Better still, challenge a friend or neighbour to do the same. If some money can be raised in the process, Bravo! But, make the change visible. How many people and tins of paint, and cement, and putty, would it take to restore and repaint the Jamaica Heritage Trust’s offices? I suspect very little. Bureaucracy aside, has JNHT thought of just issuing a ‘restoration challenge’?

I put it to you that the solutions are not that far away.

Just as I finished writing, I glimpsed Jean Lowrie-Chin’s column in the Jamaica Observer, which notes that a school water tank challenge has begun in Jamaica. Perform 10 push ups and donate $500 or donate $1000 with no push ups or if you cannot complete 10, the funds going towards water tanks in schools. Give me 10! It may not seem like a lot, but it will go a far way. Counting, 1, 2…

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)