With the economic development community stuck at home, fDi is reaching out to professionals on the FDI frontline as they grapple with the biggest global challenge in recent history.
Jamaica has had relatively few coronavirus cases in comparison with many countries and is only in partial lockdown. Many people are nonetheless working from home and country’s vital tourism industry has ground to a halt.
Diane Edwards, president of Jamaica’s trade and investment promotion agency Jampro, argues that the enforced pause provides time for reflection and a strategic rethink.
Q. How have you and the Jampro team been adjusting ?
I find actually find that the days are much longer because you don't have the commute! People are calling us with all sorts of issues they are having with investment approvals, but I’m really proud to see everyone in the team stepping up and making themselves available at all hours.
Q. Are investment projects still going ahead?
It's a variable picture and depends on how far the investments have already progressed.
We have a big agribusiness project that is going ahead. But projects in the outsourcing (BPO) sector have slowed down because the impact on the US has been particularly acute.
The tourism industry is unfortunately in total lockdown because of the situation with airlines and inability of people to travel. But what is encouraging is that we are still receiving inquiries for [new] tourism projects.
Q. To what extent are people still moving between Caribbean islands?
The intra-Caribbean passenger business has slowed tremendously. We're in dialogue with Caribbean Airlines and some of our regional partners – particularly Trinidad as well as the Cayman Islands and Barbados – to look at how we can move more cargo.
Some nearby islands have been facing shortages with supplies and we have been looking at how we can help some of our producers get into those markets.
Q. How have your priorities changed at Jampro?
Aftercare, retention and reinvestment is the first priority. Retention of the 40,000-strong BPO sector is a key priority. We have pushed the Jamaican government to declare the sector essential and despite some challenges are hoping that we can keep most of it open.
In the farming sector, we are doing a lot of retention. We’re using this time to rethink how to help the sector and how we can accelerate our export efforts.
Q. What is your advice to other IPAs and leaders?
Communicate with your clients and show that you care, because at this time people are feeling anxious and uncertain about the future. We've had to get involved in a lot of sectors and commercial issues that are not directly related to export or investments – you have to blur those kinds of lines.
People will remember once this period is over that you sent them messages of solidarity and assisted them in their time of need. Communicate with your staff, because it’s really important to maintain solidarity and empathy at a time when people are feeling isolated.
It’s important to be flexible and embrace new ways of thinking, to test new ideas and take a few small risks. We are certainly using the time to think outside the box.
Q. What are important leadership qualities in a crisis?
It's important to remain calm in a crisis, to think strategically and show empathy. You need to help people to look at things in a more objective way and remind them to focus on the future, there will always be calmer waters ahead.
Q. Would you highlight any positives from the crisis?
The positive for us and for many developing countries has been the acceleration of the digitisation of our economy.
One of the big takeaways is the realisation of the importance of food security – agribusiness needs a concerted and regional focus.
We also have to work with the people that around us to create more understanding of what is really important – human and community factors, not just on profit. It's a time for reflection and coming together.
Diane Edwards is the president of Jamaica’s trade and investment promotion agency, Jampro.
You can find the full archive of the fDi’s Virus Diaries series at the following link. If you work in economic development or investment promotion and you want to share your experience in dealing with the coronavirus crisis, get in touch at fDi@ft.com.