Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : February 11th 2016 Contents FEBRUARY 11 • 2016 www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG19
At 14 years old, Anthony was
asked by his older brother,
George, to manage their very
small store in Port-of-Spain.
Anthony had to drop out of
school since his father was
ill and had to seek medical attention.
Anthony recounts in his autobiography,
Sabga A Will and a Way: "Where I went, how
I replenished the stocks in the store, I don t
remember. We had no safe, no bank account.
When I sold anything, I put the cash in my
pocket and, at night, I hid the money some-
where in the store, under a box or in a corner.
One day I forgot where I put it, and George
gave a knock on my head, and told me, You
damn fool ." That "fool"---Anthony N Sabga---
has built a billion-dollar conglomerate and
has become one of the most influential
Caribbean business men.
When you are born to an unwed teenaged
mother and raped twice before age 14, the
odds are certainly against you. But, if you have
a talent like Oprah Winfrey, nothing can stop
you. How did she accomplish what she did?
Time magazine wrote, "What she lacks in
journalistic toughness, she makes up for in
plainspoken curiosity, robust humour and,
above all, empathy. Guests with sad stories to
tell are apt to rouse a tear in Oprah s eye. They,
in turn, often find themselves revealing things
they would not imagine telling anyone, much
less a national TV audience. It is the talk show
as a group therapy session."
That strategy has earned Oprah Winfrey
the titles of the richest black American woman
and, possibly, the most influential living woman
in the world.
The poverty problem
After all the billions that has flowed through
the economy of T&T, we still have high levels
of poverty. During a 2011 household survey,
the Central Statistical Office (CSO) says that
21.8 per cent of households are living below
the poverty line.
We have an extensive and generous social
welfare system. A state-funded pension of
$3,500 per month, food cards for the poor,
free education up to tertiary level, free health-
care and the list goes on. If you wanted to
start a business, you have low interest loans
from Nedco. Yet, despite all of this, poverty
exists for 1 in 20 Trinidadians.
Why this level of poverty? I offer a simple
explanation. The poor remains poor due to
The two entrepreneurs above---Anthony
Sabga and Oprah Winfrey---show a striking
similarity. They both started off life in chal-
lenging circumstances and found a way out.
They had a different way of thinking. I would
go further and describe them having an entre-
preneurial mindset. Can this mindset solve
our poverty problem? Can it be learned or
Poverty might be an environment where
the seeds of success might reside. When you
have the odds against you and you have the
desire to get out of a rough situation you are
in, the right-minded individual will try to find
resources. Resources others would take for
granted, an entrepreneurial mind would cap-
italise on. The typical person (without the
mindset) will complain, call the radio stations,
talk to their neighbours, fret and cry, bring in
up it in church but seldom find an innovate
When I speak about the entrepreneurial
mindset, I am referring not only about starting
a business, but using entrepreneurial thinking
in dealing with life issues, solving social prob-
lems (as an NGO should be doing) or dealing
with a corporate issue as if employees were
acting as entrepreneurs within an organisation.
Entrepreneurship is quite a broad field and it
just might hold the answer to many of our
economic and social ills, including poverty.
You can look around and see many people
start off as being poor and, after a few years,
some get rich and others do not change. Some
work hard and still end up fairly poor. It seems
hard work is not enough to get out of the rut.
Sabga and Winfrey did something through-
out their careers that many people, especially
the poor, seldom do. Entrepreneurs are cal-
culated risk takers. They find ways to cut risks
down, use cost cutting measures, experiment
in an innovate way, look for feedback to their
experiment from the real world and change
their original business ideas and models as
they go along.
The average Trini is terrified about risk tak-
ing. Our education trains us to look for a "safe"
job and studying in the classroom is the only
form of education we know. We think the real
world offers little for a hungry mind.
Our social welfare system also encourages
risk averse behaviour and a consumer con-
sumption culture that focuses less on capital
formation. For instance, it is easy to get a loan
from a bank or a credit union to buy a car or
go on a vacation than it is to start a business.
One would think that credit unions---who
make large consumer-oriented loans---would
try to liberate their members from the shackles
of pay-cheque-to-pay-cheque bondage.
Maybe they, too, are afraid of making riskier
High food prices and the rising cost of living
is the buzz now. Added to that, higher taxes,
cut backs and climate change, entrepreneurial
thinkers find a solution.
Here is a simple way for the average Trinida-
dian to cut their food bill. Start a grow box
garden (the Ministry of Food Production offers
this course of growing plants in raised beds
for free) in a small 20 x 20 foot area they could
save at least $500 per month in food. Not to
mention the other benefits: exercise and
healthy food. If you extend this idea to include
100,000 households (about 1 in 3 citizens),
the country can shave at least $500 million
of the $4 billion food import bill.
I see many of our poor purchasing things
they should not. Bottled water, for example,
is a big marketing hoax (bottled water is more
expensive than gasoline in Trinidad). WASA
water is good. If you want something "better"
then buy a water filter which would save you
hundreds per month and the poor environ-
Many of the poor buy take-out including
sandwiches. The poor have forgotten sand-
wiches were an invention of the poor. If they
filtered their water and prepared home-cooked
meals---entrepreneurial thinking---the average
household can save at least $1,000 per month.
If you eliminate soft drinks, including the
juices, more savings can be had. It is certainly
more healthy to eat a fruit than have a juice.
I have tried poverty and I did not like it. If
you think like an entrepreneur, things will
change. Remember, poverty, is all in the mind.
Sajjad Hamid is an SME consultant.
He can be reached at: entrepreneurt-
email@example.com and entrepreneurtnt.com
with Sajjad Hamid
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