HOW MANY citizens can remember how they felt hearing David Rudder’s Trini to the Bone, celebrating the Soca Warriors' victory over Bahrain to qualify for the football World Cup, seeing Wendy Fitzwilliam being crowned Miss Universe before an audience of millions, or even sharing the agony of defeat when TT lost to the US in the 1990 football World Cup qualifier?
For those of us who can remember that feeling but don’t know how to describe it, that feeling is national pride.
Recently, though, with the mountain of negative reports, reviews and assessments of things related to TT, national pride seems to be in short supply. Murders, financial woes, political gimmickry and international crises occurring right in our backyard, seem to have weighed down on the psyche of TT citizens.
The TT Manufacturers’ Association (TTMA) intends to re-ignite the nation’s pride in itself and its people and its products, through its Proudly T&T campaign.
During a series of interviews, TTMA directors told Business Day the programme will not only boost national pride, but also benefit the economy and the manufacturing industry.
“We felt as a membership that TT had become very negative,” director Ryan Lewis said. “It is obviously a domino effect – when you have crime daily, then you have political issues and so on, the whole conversation and everything coming out of it is negative.”
TTMA directors said the negativity in itself has affected the nation's productivity and has contributed to a current manufacturing output of 60-70 per cent instead of 100 per cent.
National issues like crime and fear of crime has cost several manufacturers valuable time and money.
“Fifteen years ago an average company could have run three shifts. Because of crime now, no one wants to work late-night shifts. If there are no workers for one shift, that is at least 33 per cent of your capacity gone right there. And most of the workers at these factories are women, so we can’t blame them,” said TTMA CEO Ramesh Ramdeen.
“Even if the owners of the business say, 'Come out, I will hire extra security and hire a taxi for transport,' that is an extra cost. That would be a cost on the goods that we are producing.
"So how could we compete when the competition outside our country is bringing down their costs and we are raising ours?”
While developing the idea for Proudly T&T, the TTMA looked at the national pride displayed when celebrating major events or sporting achievements, or in the response to local and regional disasters. However, it noted that the expression of pride is staggered because of waves of negativity over the years.
Ramdeen also noted that competition can not only come from outside the country, but from home soil as well, since retailers also import foreign goods to sell.
The TTMA marketing committee teamed up with graphic artists at Label House to develop the logo, which can now be seen across the country on local products from companies participating in the campaign. The red, white and black colour scheme was used to represent the national colours, while the cog and shield were used to represent the TTMA and its devotion to manufacturing a better country.
Business Day was told the TTMA hoped to encourage customers to take pride in their country, take pride in their local products and make them the preferred choice when shopping.
Lewis said several people and entities have tried before to initiate a similar wave of change, but gave up.
“When you look at people who try to start new parties, or committees or stand up to someone – whatever they want to do – I think people just do it week by week, and after a while they just give up.
"I am tired of people just giving up. We just do what is expected of us and go home, and when something good happens and everyone is joyous and unified for the moment, then they go back to their day-by-day lives.
"But what are we doing on a national level to say we are ready to come out of this stagnant economy?”
Ramdeen said the Proudly T&T campaign would boost local manufacturers, build the economy and even save on scarce foreign exchange. He said buying local ensures the financial security of family, friends, neighbours, and fellow countrymen.
“When you buy a foreign item, 100 per cent of your money goes outside the country. When you buy a local item, understand the multiplying effect of that dollar staying in the domestic economy. You are also preserving foreign exchange, because distributors would not now have to find the US equivalent to buy the foreign product.”
“But it is not just about buying a pack of nuts because it says Proudly T&T on it,” Lewis said. “It is about understanding why we support a TT company to be successful.
“A lot of it is the business principles to it, but also, the person who lives next door could now have a job. You are ensuring your family members have a job. They can buy more and elevate their lives. And that is what we want to drive home.”
He said the directors also want to break the stigma that local products are of a lower quality than imported items, insisting that local goods meet international standards and, because they are manufactured locally, are sometimes cheaper.
“So when you come and ask what should I chose, and a TT product is $4 and the US product is $7, obviously you would take the cheaper alternative,” Lewis said.
“The goods that we produce locally are just as good as foreign products, and sometimes even better,” Ramdeen said. “When you go on the shelves in the global markets, you see local goods standing side by side with foreign goods. These goods have to stand up to international standards like FDA approval.”
Proudly T&T is not limited to manufacturing and services. Well-known athletes are also being called upon to encourage pride in local products, services and people in schools and other institutions. In fact, according to the TTMA, while it has not been able to put together any information on the quantitative results of the initiative, the members told Business Day businesses, schools and private institutions have been calling to find out more, and join in the initiative.
Now that Proudly T&T has put its stamp on local products, Lewis said the next step would be to build in creativity and sport.
Supporting national initiatives, like a beach clean-up in Chacachacare in the next coming weeks, will also be part of the plan.
But the TTMA needs support. Lewis said it is calling all people, whether in the private sector, public sector, sport, entertainment, or other areas, who wish to get involved, to join in manufacturing pride in TT.
“What we need to do is get the people who want to get involved together. You don’t want things to reach to a level of disaster. Why are we waiting until we have a problem, instead of taking the initiative now?” Lewis said.