Category: Reputation

Kingston take two

I’m sitting on the campus of the University of the West Indies, latte in hand, writing this. It’s time to continue reflecting on my recent impressions of Jamaica. How do they relate to my previous perceptions?

During this trip, I’m mixing with a certain kind of educated and privileged people. So my picture of Jamaica will reflect their world, not the world experienced by less advantaged sectors of society. That’s a side of Jamaica that I’m unlikely to see much of. But then I suppose the same could be said for many foreigners who visit here.

Over breakfast this morning, the conversation turned to social class. Rohan, a Jamaican Muslim from Mandeville, told me that Jamaican society is heavily class-based. People move in their own little ‘bubbles’, consisting of their personal networks of family, friends and acquaintances, It’s reminiscent of the Chinese concept of guanxi, or perhaps of wasta in the Arab world.

Within that bubble is where things get done. Those who move within privileged bubbles have access to the top levels of society. Perhaps they went to a good school with a classmate who later became part of the Jamaican government. That’s an important member of the bubble right there. Those from less privileged backgrounds still have bubbles, but they don’t have access to the influential classes. Getting a decent education is their best chance of making it.

Jamaica has a population of just 2.7 million. That’s a mere drop in the ocean. Thanks to the country’s small size, many people know each other. There’s a strong sense of community here.

Sabrina arrived from New York yesterday evening to join our group. At Norman Manley Airport, the guy on immigration asked her the purpose of her trip. She told him ‘meeting a friend’ and he asked which friend. So she flashed him a What’sApp photo of said friend, Hume, whom he immediately recognised from her numerous appearances on Jamaican TV and assorted other media.

So that gives some idea of the scale of life on the little island of Jamaica, compared to the bigger cities I’ve gotten used to. But that’s certainly no bad thing. As the famous Jamaican saying goes: ‘Wi lickle but wi tallawah.’ To me, Jamaica already feels like a small place with a huge character. In nation branding, having bags of personality means you’ve already gotten off to a good start.

And finally, I have to say, Jamaicans’ idea of a rush hour traffic jam is quite a joke compared to Istanbul or Jakarta! LOL 🙂




Kingston landing

As a nation brand specialist, I’m constantly aware of how my perceptions of a country shift and develop during the time I spend there. The process starts upon landing in the airport and continues from that point on. I’ve been in Jamaica for just over 12 hours. From reading local newspapers and quizzing the people I’ve met so far, I’ve already started to deepen and build upon my pre-existing image of Jamaica.

The first person I met in Kingston, Kerrith, a teacher and media professional who escorted me from the airport, told me that most Jamaicans don’t view people in terms of colour. Jamaica is 98% black. Another 2% or so of the population is made up by Jamaicans of white, Chinese and Indian heritage. All are considered equally Jamaican. The Jamaican motto, ‘Out of many, one people’, seems to ring true.

Kerrith also shared his opinions on the Jamaican attitude to entrepreneurship. According to him, the approach to education in Jamaica encourages young people to go straight into a career that relates strongly to their choice of degree programme.

He didn’t think the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship was particularly well-developed. He pointed out that, although Jamaica has a lot of desirable products, such as its coffee, limited efforts are made to market to the outside world. Sellers tend to focus solely on the domestic market.

But subsequent conversations with other professionals brought up contrasting views. Hume and Kamille, who invited me here for the Symposium, both pointed out that Jamaica’s informal economy is strong, and is producing many examples of innovation in small business.

Crime is a very real concern here. That part of Jamaica’s image – at least in Kingston – is unfortunately true enough. My host for the first night, Kathy, who works in public health, told me that crime has become a common response to an environment where many feel unable to get anywhere in life. She contrasts this with a past where people were forced into crime through more immediate problems such as poverty and hunger.

Kathy made another interesting point about the Jamaican attitude to modesty and interaction with the opposite sex. She told me about a notable dichotomy that exists between the way people behave in the dancehall setting (i.e. sexual, less inhibited), and on the street (where married couples may be reluctant even to hold hands). I found this an interesting cultural quirk in a hyper-masculine society like Jamaica’s.

So that’s quite a lot of insider info picked up in the space of just a few jet-lagged hours. It’s worth noting also that the Spanish Court Hotel, where I’m staying for the duration of the symposium (and slightly beyond), has some quite impressive touches. The in-room yoga mat, complete with yoga instruction card is my favourite one so far…

More to follow soon!

Mapping the island

I’m trying to figure out the best way to tackle a data story about Jamaica. I’m a newcomer to the world of data journalism, so I want to choose a plan of attack that’s not overwhelming but still gives me a good chance to learn and showcase new skills.

Here’s my first idea, which I’m currently in the process of fleshing out. I thought of creating a story entitled something simple e.g., ‘This is Jamaica’. It would have a map of the island at the top, which would include pinpoints using address data scraped from a page of Google search results. I could do this using for the scraping process.

Then I’d put the scraped data into a Google spreadsheet and finally use Google Fusion Tables to get it into the form of a map. There would probably be some data cleaning involved, which could be done once the data was safely in the spreadsheet. I’ll choose some data that isn’t too extensive, e.g. mapping all the coffee shops and bakeries in Jamaica that have wifi, for example’s sake.

After the map was ready, I’d like to make some graphs that display the country’s ‘vital signs’. These could include data such as GDP, employment rates, FDI, tourist inflows, amount of new businesses registered foreign aid, national debt, etc. A lot of this data could be taken from the World Bank’s website. It would give a overall picture of Jamaica’s present situation on the global stage.

I’m also interested in figuring out a way to visualise some aspects of data from the Good Country Index, but perhaps that’s better saved for another project altogether.