In a colorful gingerbread-styled school in the heart of Haiti’s creative city of Jacmel, an energetic six year old girl named Ti Solange learns to play the game of chess.
Sitting at a desk in a classroom that resembles a maker-space, she splits her attention between a notepad and a screen. Her mind works fast — taking only a nano-second to strategize three steps ahead before making her next move. Without realizing it, she had developed a mastery of time, and was managing it like an alchemist.
For the third time that day, she had outsmarted her opponent, a SuperComputer. Glancing at the clock and smiling, she finds comfort in between the milliseconds. This game means the world to her.
Only ten years prior, her mother, Dieula, had learned the game for the first time from a club of street kids who were learning to play from a visiting Nigerian anthropologist. Dieula, who hungered for this type of mental stimulation, would show up every afternoon to practice, immediately after selling her last vegetables at the market. She had mastered the game so fast, that she began dreaming of entering competitions with international players. Within a few months, she had saved enough money from her vegetable sales to buy a few books to improve her game, and built a chess set out of recycled wood and tires to practice with her neighbors and friends. Garnering support from her community, she eventually set off for Port-au-Prince to enroll in the country’s largest competition, and subsequently went on to compete in Russia, France, and Japan, carrying the title of World Chess Champion five years in a row.
The game had opened doors for Dieula in ways that she would have never imagined for herself, as she lived in a country where opportunities for farmers were limited.
Through the competitions, she traveled to places she had only read about in school books, eaten foods she never knew existed, and discovered agricultural practices that were not common in Haiti.
Crowned with the title of World Champion, Dieula gained influence in her city, and felt a strong sense of responsibility to open the same doors of opportunity for other young people like her. Leveraging her influence, she pushed for the incorporation of chess and formal entrepreneurship as a mandatory part of the national education system.
Ti Solange dreams of one day earning the same title as her mother, and continuing the legacy that Haiti holds as producing the top strategic thinkers in the world. She spends the next ten years practicing, strategizing, and growing stronger with every move.
It’s now 2030, and at 18 years old, Ti Solange is the youngest female to advise world leaders on policy and economic development. She is amongst the new generation of Haitians who have spent their entire academic career strengthening their cognitive abilities by mastering the black and white checkered board, and stretching their imagination beyond limits by learning to transform problems into entrepreneurial opportunities.
Her mother’s advocacy had succeeded, and for the past decade, young Haitians have risen to the task of innovating old systems, pressing ahead as thought leaders in astrophysics, bio-genetics, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and robotics – pioneering inventions that eradicated the very concept of poverty, making Haiti a model for other countries across the globe.
Throughout the island, over four million young Haitians had organized themselves into smart city councils, and devised strategies on how to continuously improve quality of life for their communities. These youth were motivated by their aspirations to attain collective prosperity; aspirations that they had been cultivating from a very young age. With intentional ingenuity, they introduced cutting edge technologies that would allow for decentralized governance of their city councils, allowing millions of entrepreneurs across the nation to consistently participate in co-building the Haiti they imagine.
The starting point must be simple
This story illustrates what success could look like if we implement simple initiatives that can have exponential impact on Haiti’s ecosystem in the present and future. Gleaning from the story above, three simple yet transformative initiatives include:
- Turning schools into innovation hubs and start-up academies, where young people engage in entrepreneurship from primary school to university. Programs like Citizen Schools and Build in the US, and Ready Set Work in Nigeria, are good examples of how to kickstart this.
- Creating competitive national programs that stimulate the youth to continuously exercise their brain muscle, and develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. In addition, these programs can open doorways for international exposure (chess competitions, hackathons, pitch competitions, innovation challenges).
- Organizing innovation town halls for every city, where citizens have the opportunity to provide insights on city services that need improvement, and inviting experts from around the world to provide perspective on models that have worked in other countries
These initiatives serve as examples of a starting point. However, as we set forth on a path to build an entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem, there are more complex initiatives that must be put into motion concurrently such that we can bridge the gaps of today, while setting the foundation to trailblaze into the future.
How should we approach this?
From vision to action — Three horizons for growth
Much like a startup at the bootstrapping stage, where the team focuses on rapid prototyping, product-market-fit, and a low-cost high-impact distribution strategy to get the product to the end user, the same approach must be applied to develop Haiti as a progressive and innovative digital nation.
In developing Haiti’s ecosystem, leaders would benefit from using tools like McKinsey’s “3 horizons for growth” as a guide to navigate decisions on how to balance and invest in present and future priorities.
The 3 horizons framework (used in corporate innovation) is based on the belief that “in order to achieve consistent levels of growth throughout their corporate lifetimes, companies must attend to existing businesses while still considering areas they can grow in the future”. Thus, the 3 horizon framework exists to provide “structure for companies to assess potential opportunities for growth without neglecting performance in the present. (McKinsey & Co)”.
The same framework can be used for nation building. By asking: What initiatives can we implement to solve our problems of today (horizon 1), and what new infrastructure can we deploy to accelerate growth in the medium term (horizon 2), and finally what moonshots should we be pursuing as we aim to leapfrog into the future (horizon 3), we would have created a roadmap for taking Haiti from point A to point C within a short decade.
Encoding an innovation mindset
The nature of work and global trade is changing. As we dive deeper into the age of information, the global labor market is becoming more and more automated through advances in the use of artificial intelligence and robotics. For Haiti to stay ahead of the game, we must invest in our youths’ ability to learn to observe and think differently, see things in multiple dimensions, process information and plan 3 steps ahead, tap into intuition, take calculated risks, and build patience while acting with a sense of urgency.
Haiti’s transformation depends on its citizens’ ability to think and manage resources effectively. By equipping Haitians with the tools to expand their minds and become productive, self-sufficient, civically engaged citizens who can effectively convert challenges into opportunities, and leverage their creative, technical, and business skills to design and implement solutions that can transform their environment in the short and long term, we can more rapidly guarantee progress as it will be manifested in a COLLECTIVE push FORWARD.
In subsequent articles, I will share what Revolution 2.0 will look like, with an entire nation on the Blockchain.