Jayme Hoyte, Director at SmartTerm Limited, and formerly with Trinidad and Tobago’s Ministry of Energy, speaks with IUKDPF’s Supriya Roychoudhury, reflecting on her experiences and learning from her participation in a programme on international management and global strategic leadership for sustainable development, sponsored by the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) programme in 2019. This interview has been edited for clarity.
SR: We’d love to get a sense of how your professional journey led you to apply for a course on international management offered by the ITEC programme. Why did you decide to apply for this course, and how did you come to learn of the opportunity offered by the Ministry of External Affairs?
JH: At present, I work with SmartTerm, an education management company that creates a virtual environment for students, teachers, school administrators, parents and the government to interact seamlessly on an online platform to release the power of virtual learning. Even in the current environment of COVID-19, the company is doing really well. When I sent an application for this management course at ITEC, I was working full-time with Lake Asphalt of Trinidad and Tobago – a company which mines the natural resource of pitch from the earth – under the Ministry of Energy. As a market research officer, my role was to investigate regional and international markets for the company’s products. When I learnt of ITEC’s international management and global strategic leadership for sustainable development from my friend at the Indian High Commission, I felt like this was something that would relate both to my work at Lake Asphalt, as well as to SmartTerm. Initially though, I’d brushed it off. I’d thought to myself, maybe I wasn’t qualified enough. But my friend at the High Commission encouraged me to give it a go. Thanks Sasha, because I am happy I did. I applied and was successful and I am really thankful to the Indian High Commission in Trinidad and Tobago for the opportunity.
SR: We’re curious to learn more about how the programme was organised and structured. Can you describe for us its primary mode of instruction? What did your average day look like?
JH: The programme lasted for about three weeks and the learning objectives were very detailed and comprehensive. We would start at 8am and finish at 3pm (with breaks). The programme focused on how international management strategies could be applied to government policy formulation. All of the participants were hosted at the Indian Institute of Public Administration in Delhi. Our host professors Dr. Pawan and Dr. Roma, organised field trips around the particular topic we were taught in the classroom. For the practical sessions, we often visited other institutions outside of Delhi, for example in Ahmedabad and Vadodara. The objective was to give a practical understanding of the theory. This was very insightful. I remember one visit to an institution where we did a module on entrepreneurship and innovations in rural farming. They took us to a rural area to show how cow dung is used to produce incense sticks, mosquito repellents, and other products. Taking the learning to a practical context was an exciting component of the programme.
“Taking the learning to a practical context was an exciting component of the programme.”
I had the opportunity to engage with government officials from places as diverse as Cuba, Suriname, Estwatini, and Uzbekistan. It was a really good international mix. I think one of the things they promoted through this programme was experiential learning. The instructors would divide the class into groups. They would ask us to analyse a particular issue based on how we would have approached it in our home country – based on our respective cultures, norms and values. How might we develop a solution to the problem, given those parameters? The approach was more like “let’s hear from you” and “how you would approach this?”. We would have to present what we came up with as a group; and commentary and feedback from the professors gave us a broader perspective. The group also gelled so well! Everyone was looking out for each other. We still keep in touch every day through Whatsapp.
SR: In terms of learning opportunities and outcomes, what would you say really stood out for you?
JH: The programme covered several new topics – blue ocean strategies, big data visualisations – but the one that really stood out for me was the module on gender-budgeting. Yes, we promote gender rights and gender equality here in Trinidad and Tobago. We have agendas that promote gender days put forward by the United Nations: during this time you will see governments, organisations, and institutions celebrating the cause of gender equality. But as a nation, I don’t think we pronounce it within our society as often as we should. On a day to day basis, it is less pronounced. So the module on gender-budgeting really caught my attention. In our own national budgets, you can see what the government is doing to promote gender equality, but there is more work to be done. Also, the course didn’t instruct us on gender-budgeting from a governmental perspective alone. It was also about applying gender as a lens to organisations. We had a really lovely lecturer, Ms. Aasha Kapur Mehta, who also shared some of her real-life experiences with us.
“The programme covered several new topics – blue ocean strategies, big data visualisations – but the one that really stood out for me was the module of gender-budgeting.”
SR: To what extent have you been able to apply key insights gleaned from the gender-budgeting module (and others) into your day to day operations and thinking?
JH: The gender budgeting module was something I really wanted to apply within Lake Asphalt, but as my contract ended soon after I returned to Trinidad and Tobago, I didn’t have the opportunity to do so. SmartTerm is a small team but women represents about 50% of our team and leadership. The other key learning that has worked really well for SmartTerm, especially now with COVID-19, is around the application of emotional intelligence. Before the pandemic, schools were educating their students within physical classrooms; there was not much technological integration happening. After the pandemic hit, students, parents and teachers found it very difficult to make the transition to the new norm of virtual learning. We had to exercise our emotional intelligence to assist students, parents and teachers to deal with this whole new domain, to really understand their needs, and to help them get from point A to point B. There were so many challenges: students not having the internet or the right devices to participate in virtual learning; teachers feeling frustrated and burnt out, single parents struggling. Our role was to find different ways to familiarise students, parents and teachers with the virtual learning platform, working at their pace. Something else we implemented within our organisation was Blue Ocean Strategy – learning how to adapt our business model to suit the times we are currently in.
“The other key learning that has worked really well for SmartTerm, especially now with COVID-19, is around the application of emotional intelligence…we had to exercise our emotional intelligence to assist students, parents and teachers to deal with this whole new domain.”
SR: How did the Indian High Commission continue to engage with you upon your return to Trinidad and Tobago?
JH: When I returned to Trinidad and Tobago, I was invited by the Indian High Commission on the occasion of the 56th ITEC Day to give a presentation on my experience with ITEC, and how I utilised that knowledge within my own organisation. The Indian High Commission also opened their communication lines for all alumni, including through the formation of a Whatsapp group, where previous participants of ITEC could network with each other. They have also granted us access to their many events and cultural celebrations.
SR: As someone who works in the interface of technology and education, where do you think the big opportunities lie for digital education?
JH: Prior to COVID-19, schools were not financially or emotionally ready to take on virtual education. Now, teachers and students are transitioning to this new norm, but they seem to be frustrated and tired. Engagement levels are low, but things are hopeful. We believe that out of situations like Covid-19 and the challenges it has brought, many new and improved solutions for the classroom can be developed. As a result, we have expanded our offering to include Caribbean-catered content, such as engaging videos and worksheets to assist teachers and students in the classroom. We are working with over 100 teachers to convert subject plans into a fun learning experience – with the help of cartoon characters we have developed – which makes the learning process more interactive. Previously, teachers would find content on YouTube on subject-related matters and share this with students. This is fine, but not all of the content available on YouTube is relevant for Caribbean consumption. Curating culturally appropriate content has made it a more interesting and interactive experience for students and this, I believe, is a big opportunity for digital education and for the Caribbean in general.
SR: Prior to your experiences as an ITEC fellow in 2019, you participated in the Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) administered by the US State Department, the previous year. Could you tell us a little bit about how these two experiences complemented each other?
JH: YLAI was an amazing experience. It was my formal introduction to entrepreneurship. The learning was great, I must say. The experience opened up a network of Latin American and Caribbean entrepreneurs whom we can lean on for support. The US embassy also provided funding for a few initiatives. One of the things that really stood out for me at ITEC was the combination of theory and practice, which was very similar to the structure of YLAI. The course content on Blue Ocean Strategy was also similar to what we learned at YLAI about business diversification. In terms of overall organisation and planning I would give a 100 percent to both programmes.