To commemorate World Creativity and Innovation Day, on Tuesday 21 April 2020, the Permanent Mission of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, under the leadership of H.E. Ambassador Rhonda King, hosted a roundtable discussion under the theme “And the Caribbean Women Leaders Gather: To Discuss Women and Creative Leadership.” This event, explicitly focused on Women and Creative Leadership, attracted participation from 103 women leaders across CARICOM member states, including Permanent Representatives, Deputy Permanent Representatives, Special Envoys, experts, and administrative professionals, assigned to the Permanent Missions to the United Nations and the United States. In addition, women leaders currently serving, or who have previously served as part of the senior management of The University of the West Indies, joined and participated in the conversation. In this regard, Professor Rhoda Reddock, Emerita Professor of The UWI, St. Augustine Campus was the keynote speaker for the event, and Professor Opal Palmer Adisa, read a poem, she created specifically for the event.
The evening began with opening remarks from host and Chair, H.E. Ambassador Rhonda King. Ambassador King provided context for the emergence of UN resolution 71/281 on WCID, sharing with participants the value of assessing how women mobilise creativity and innovation in leadership and why this focus is all the more necessary as the world seeks solutions in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This was followed by the keynote presentation in which Professor Rhoda Reddock noted that:
• Women’s access to leadership is a right
• The world needs creative leadership to harness potential even when this potential is difficult to see
• Creativity requires assessing one’s environment and strategizing beyond what we might imagine is possible
• Creative leaders see possibilities where and when others don’t
• We must be open to the creative ideas of others; in our homes, at work, on our team and in our organisations
• Integrating art into work activities, such as staff and team meetings was a means through which to mobilise the creativity of one’s team.
Building on these insights, the follow discussion ensued among participants:
Openness to the creative ideas of others was a key theme revisited throughout the discussion. Professor Mohammed added that we must have faith in those we lead to teach us new things, and Professor the Most Honourable Eudine Barriteau reminded us of the importance of creating a community of creative cooperation, constantly consulting with colleagues and communities, and communicating incessantly.
Professor Adisa’s poem illustrated the very point made by Professor Reddock that drawing on the arts catalyses creativity in leadership. This point was later expanded by Special Envoy of Barbados, H.E. Dr. Annalee Babb who expressed support for the use of the visual and performing arts in unlocking the creative possibilities of leadership.
Every speaker pointed to the need to reimagine our communities, societies, regions, our world post-COVID-19. In the midst of this hurtful, harmful, tragic set of circumstances, speakers like Dr. Babb, H.E. Ambassador Elizabeth Thompson, and Judge Dr. Diane Roberts, Dr. Denise Peroune, Professor the Most Honourable Barriteau, Dr. Natalie Kanem (UNFPA) and H.E. Ambassador Missouri Sherman-Peter, all pointed to our need to envision the opportunities which exist to nurture the best of ourselves; the need to constantly innovate even while we respect the enormity and complexity of the current circumstance. According to Barriteau, we cannot afford to be immobilized by the current situation, but must be incentivized to lead with creativity and innovation, now more than ever.
COVID-19, according Dr Kaneem and Professor Reddock, has forced states, communities and the world to confront the sharp inequalities that are amplified in this period. It is in this moment that we need to draw on our creativity in leadership. There was a strong call for us to work to confront the harms associated with sexual and reproductive health, sexual and gender-based violence, and poverty that are exacerbated during crises.
There were several references to empathy and compassion as speakers like Judge Roberts, Professor Mohammed and Dawn Callender reminded us of our commitment to secure social justice. Reimagining our future involves deliberate decisions and actions to reshape, reorder and reorient our societies. In this regard, Special Envoy Dr. Babb called on us to work collectively to reengineer our societies for future generations; to think about how we use what we have to create a new and better world for all.
This was central to the question posed by Ruqayyah Scott, a young woman leader, about how we engage young women to ensure durable change. In her wrap up to the evening’s event, Dr. Deshong suggested that the strategy to ensure youth engagement must be deliberate and inclusive of young women in their diversity to continue to dismantle existing arrangements, that have been historically anti-youth, anti-poor, and often anti-women. It requires what Sunity Maharaj, in her intervention, calls on us to do, which is to prioritise real world experiential education throughout the entire education system to ensure we are equipped with skills and strategies to meaningfully and ethically exist.
H.E. Ambassador Penelope Beckles reminded participants of the impact of Caribbean women’s leadership across the United Nations system, and the need to celebrate our success. However, she advocated for the need for this mainstreaming work to continue. There were strong oral calls throughout the evening, as well as those made via the Zoom chat function, for follow-up events as means through which to support and reflect on women’s leadership in the Caribbean.