Good afternoon. I feel particularly honoured to be in the company of so many outstanding women, at this VMBS UK Women of Purpose Luncheon. I am humbled and inspired as I look around this room. I consider the achievements and the impact you have made in different sectors including healthcare, politics, education, religion, the arts, among others – and I am filled with pride and admiration.
Congratulations, ladies for the immense contribution you have made to your professions, your communities and to Jamaica. You are examples of Jamaican excellence and I encourage you to continue to be tireless and unyielding in your efforts to make a positive impact on this world.
In the words of the young and fast rising female reggae star, Koffee, we toast you:
Say we a come in wid a force (yeah)
Blessings we a reap pon we course ina hand full
We nuh rise and boast
Yeah we give thanks like we need it the most
We haffi give thanks like we really supposed to, be thankful!
Blessings all pon mi life and
Mi thank God for di journey di earnings a jus fi di plus (yeah)
Gratitude is a must (yeah)
Mi see blessings fall by mi right hand
Buss a toast fi di friends weh tek off heavy load
It is significant that we are gathered in June – which this year will be recognised here in the UK as Windrush Month. Many of the brave, pioneering individuals who came over from Jamaica as part of the ‘Windrush Generation’ were women and they and their families went on to be trailblazers. These women were instrumental in the creation of many institutions that exist today, including the National Health Service (NHS). I mention the NHS specifically because, as you know, it was born out of the ideal that good healthcare should be available to all regardless of social class or background – which in some ways mirrors the founding principle of Victoria Mutual.
In 1878, a group of clergymen founded Victoria Mutual with the aim to help hardworking but economically marginalised Jamaicans own homes. The idea was that nobody should be condemned to a life of poverty, but instead everybody who is willing to work hard should have access to financial independence. We’ve grown significantly since our founding. Today we are a strong integrated financial group which offers savings, loans and mortgage facilities, wealth management and financial advisory services, real estate and commercial property management services, money transfer, pension administration and investment management services as well as property, casualty and liability insurance. Our reach extends across oceans and seas – with representative offices not just here in the UK, but also in Florida and as of November last year – in New York as well. We also have a very vibrant brand presence in Canada. Even with this growth, our core mission remains unchanged. We exist to help our Members own homes and achieve financial independence – because the dream of home ownership and the freedom of being financially independent should be equally available to all.
Victoria Mutual has very bold ambitions. We know we must have the best people on our team to realise these ambitions. We are the happy beneficiaries of the hard work and dedication of several outstanding women who serve the VM Team at every level – from the board of directors to senior executives, senior managers and managers. We therefore understand very clearly the sacrifice made by the women being recognised today and the magnitude of the contribution you make every day in your respective fields.
May I encourage you, ladies, to ensure that you share the vast knowledge you have attained over the years with the next generation of women – and men – through either formal or informal mentorship arrangements. We must equip the next generation to take the baton and continue the race.
I’m happy to say that Victoria Mutual will soon be launching our own mentorship programme aimed at creating and sustaining linkages among generations of Jamaicans. We know that Jamaicans are ultra-talented, however, the younger generation needs the help of those who came before them, so that they can reach their full potential. If anyone here today is interested in being part of the VM Mentorship Programme, our team is happy to talk with you after the luncheon.
Friends, mentorship is important because as times change, even more will be required in the workplace. A McKinsey Institute study titled ‘The future of women at work: Transitions in the age of automation’, revealed that, while the age of automation and artificial intelligence offers new job opportunities, women in particular face new challenges in the workforce. Globally, between 40 and 160 million women may actually need to transition between occupations by 2030, often into higher-skilled roles that require higher educational attainments – because net labour demand will only grow for jobs that require a college or advanced degree.
So, how are we going to handle this? That is a question to be considered not only by leaders at London’s Westminster Palace or Gordon House in Kingston. It is an issue for us all to interrogate with the dedicated focus it deserves.
As our women and men face a period of disruptive change, it will be vital for them to develop:
- The skills that will be in demand
- The flexibility and mobility needed to negotiate labour-market transitions successfully
- The access to and knowledge of technology necessary to work with automated systems, including participating in its creation.
We need to encourage young people – especially our young men – to stay in school! Across developed economies including the UK, and in Jamaica, more women than men graduate with at least secondary-level education. And, even while staying in school, both young men and women need to match their skills as closely as possible to where the most job opportunities will be – professional, scientific and technical services.
The private sector can invest more in training and reskilling employees within their organisations or in partnership with academic and other institutions. For example, VM Group is partnering with MSBM to deliver management training to our middle management cadre. The private sector can also invest in digital learning platforms – such as the Harvard ManagementMentor programme used by VM Group.
FLEXIBILITY AND MOBILITY:
This is important so that persons can move across employers, occupations, sectors and geographies as needed in order to respond to the needs of an evolving labour market. However, women tend to face more structural challenges here than men. Women are less mobile and flexible because they spend so much more time than men on unpaid care work – three times as much. They must take advantage of technology such as teleworking. Also, more employers need to start offering flexible or remote working options. I’m happy to say that VM Group does this.
Women don’t have access to the same extent as men to networks that help them develop their skills, achieve career progression and transition into new jobs. Some companies are moving ahead on this front, but more needs to be done to create opportunities for women. VM Group offers formal coaching and mentorship and encourages our women to join service clubs and personal development groups like Toastmaster International.
Women also need to be more engaged in technology – they need greater access, to acquire more technology skills and be stronger participants in the creation of technology to thrive in this new world. Technology has the capacity to breakdown many barriers, opening up new economic opportunities, helping previously marginalised groups to participate in the workforce and navigate transitions in the automation age.
We are constantly seeking new ways to help develop our team, because we all need to be prepared to take on the demands of this fast-changing world – a world which Military leaders describe as The VUCA World.
V – Volatile
U – Uncertain
C – Complex
Volatile – rapid rate of change in politics, economics, society, environment – with markets leaders being regularly disrupted. Average life span of largest companies in the world now is 18 years versus 75 years in 1937. This volatility can throw you off track.
Uncertain – lack of predictability; things change at the drop of a hat. We have more and more surprises in new products from competitors, and new competitors.
Complex – in terms of the issues and chaos with which we have to cope. The business environment is ever-changing, situation is nuanced and has many interconnecting components. For example, there are generational shifts in the workplace, including VM Group. We have to understand how other generations access and use information.
Ambiguous – there is a haziness of reality. Due to automation and globalisation, it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between virtual world and reality. Some traits that may have been strengths before are now seen as weaknesses. We face unknowns daily and we don’t have any textbooks to guide us on how to respond.
What type of mindset do we need to succeed in a VUCA world? The experts share 12 critical competencies, but I will only cover four of them today. Let’s call this – ‘My VUCA.’ These competencies, I’m sure, can be of value to you – and to anyone you choose to mentor.
- Vision and Values – Vision is a powerful force. It is both an anchor and a moral compass that drives everyday attitudes, decisions and actions. In fact, a compelling vision is an important pre-requisite for any individual, school, community or nation to succeed.
A vision that is not driven by a larger purpose cannot move anyone.
“A vision is not just a picture of what could be; it is an appeal to our better selves, a call to become something more.” Rosabeth Moss Kanter
This purpose-driven vision is the type that stirs your blood every time you think of it; it is the mark that you hope to leave on the world or on those around you. Daniel Hudson Burnham once said: “Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”
Once you have clarified your vision, you must be resolute in keeping focused and not moving away from your mission.
Your values must guide all your actions. Every time you make a decision, you are showing your hidden values – what you stand for. It is important to clarify your values.
It is clear from today’s gathering that a key value for you all here is excellence. Victoria Mutual’s core values of integrity and excellence have guided the business for 140 years. Many competitors have come and gone but we have been getting bigger and better. Why? Every time a crucial or small decision is to be made, we are guided by our values.
What kind of values are we teaching our young people? The world’s economy is doing well as measured by the IMF and international banks, but when we think of the growing inequality and the many acts of corruption in the halls of power across nations, are we promoting commerce without morality and supporting politics without principle? When we think of the acceleration in cyber-crime and activities like scamming in Jamaica, are we encouraging our young people to acquire knowledge without character? Our young people are doing better in school than they used to, but the statistics still show that they are underachieving when compared with other ethnic groups in the UK.
Speaking of Vision, can we as parents and caring seniors inspire our young people to develop more robust visions for themselves and to be more ambitious and driven? In 2013, 53.3 per cent of Black Caribbean pupils in England achieved five or more GCSEs or equivalent at grades A to C including English and Mathematics, compared with 60.5 per cent of White British pupils and 60.6 per cent of all pupils regardless of ethnicity. Among pupils eligible for free school meals (used as a measure of low family incomes), Black Caribbean pupils outnumbered White British pupils by 36.9 to 27.9 per cent for boys and 47.7 to 36.8 per cent for girls in 2013. Perhaps we should teach them to sing what I read is Rev. Hudson-Wilkin’s favourite song by Labi Siffre “Something inside so strong, I know that I can make it. Though you’re doing me wrong, so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone, oh no
There’s something inside so strong.”
What about family life? We need to be more intentional in teaching our young people about the value of a stable family and that fathers must be present and active in the lives of their children.
Having settled on the values that will guide you, keep moving toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?” As Gandhi said “Your actions become your habits, you habits become your values, you values become your destiny.”
- Understanding yourself – In this VUCA world, you have to understand yourself – your strengths and limitations so that you can take advantage of opportunities that present themselves, close gaps and manage risks. Understanding yourself means that you know how you learn best, how you do your best work. To know yourself, take feedback from everyone – family, friends, those who are not even close to you – the more the better.
Self-aware people are authentic. They keep it real and make a difference in the world. If you truly understand yourself, you will take time to prepare yourself. There is a famous quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin: “By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail”. This captures the importance of preparation to the achievement of excellence. Preparation requires sacrifice. It means you will have to take the time to get ready for the tasks before you, well ahead of time.
Self-awareness and preparation also include spiritual health – for me, that means daily Bible reading and prayer. This keeps me connected to the source of power, reminds me who rules all creation and keeps me grounded, humble and focused. It ensures that I continue to grow. I have found that when I do this, my mind is always being renewed.
- We need courage to anticipate and create change – How much do you read and keep abreast of what is happening? In this world, it is best for us to accept that change and disruption are inevitable. This will lead us to not only seek positive outcomes from change but to use change and disruption to our advantage. Those of us who have leadership responsibilities need to constantly ask ourselves, how can we use our strategic foresight to create change before external change forces us to react? You can be the ones to create and lead change! We also need to remember to involve all stakeholders in the change process. One aspect of coping with change is remaining optimistic. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Being Optimistic is key. You may be down but not knocked out. Pick yourself up and try again. German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
- Agility – Be an agile learner. Open yourself to change and be eager to learn new things. When thrown into unfamiliar situations, embrace the change so that you can learn from the experience. Get comfortable with unclear situations because this is the new normal. Remain determined to succeed in spite of the uncertainty. So, even as we embrace new technology, we also need to be comfortable using alternative methods. This way, we execute regardless of the tools available to us. Agile learning also involves learning from mistakes and using that learning to shape future decisions. Sometimes, this means changing things about yourself when required – your attitudes, your disciplines, your biases, your problem-solving techniques. All of us need to constantly ask ourselves: ‘What am I learning here?’
As I close, in this VUCA World, we can prepare ourselves to win by having our own version of VUCA – pursuing a vision and being guided by sound values, understanding ourselves, having courage and being agile learners.
Ladies and gentlemen, I wish to again offer my sincere congratulations to you for your outstanding contribution to nation-building both here in the UK and back home in Jamaica. We have some special gifts for you tonight which will be presented to you at your tables, including some very special awards for a group of exceptional women among us whose purposeful lives are an inspiration to us all.
Thank you for being with us today and I wish you God’s richest blessings.