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The University of Life

Image of Bud Slabbaert
Image of Bud Slabbaert
By Cdr. Bud Slabbaert

DO you consider yourself to be smart or intelligent? Teaching one plus one is two is called education and leads to knowledge, not intelligence. An attempt to teach one plus one is three would be considered an absurdity. Yet, just the effort alone to turn one and one into three, requires either being intelligent or smart. An insane statement? Be careful now! Studies have shown that the same gene that makes you smarter also makes you more likely to go crazy. And you know what? Being brainy-smart and crazy-cool can lead to more revenue and benefits. It has been proven in business and artistry. In business the brainy-smart outdo the competition; in artistry the crazy-cool create new styles and trends. Typical is that both outdo their equals by coming up with something better, new, or even innovative.

What do St.Lucia and Lindau have in common? They are both islands and they both have a Nobel Laureate event. Never heard of Lindau? It is an island located in Lake Constance and part of Germany; it’s the fraction of the size of St.Lucia. I lived close to it on the same lake in Switzerland; beautiful area. The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting only takes six days but it is packed with intelligence. I’ldlike to tell you a bit more about this event because it may give inspiration and result in new ideas. No, don’t copy, just initiate something along that line of thinking, so to say. It may support the vision of getting St.Lucia on the map as a Science and Technology Hub and encourage intellectual tourism or the establishment of an innovation incubator or a thinktank.

The aim of the Lindau Meetings is to foster interaction between Nobel Laureates and young researchers. Typical meetings are attended by around thirty laureates and 600 young researchers from 60-70 countries. The predominant types of events are presentations given by the laureates in the framework of plenary sessions, and seminars, closed meetings between laureates and young scientists, throughout the afternoons. Additional formats include panel discussions, scientific breakfast meetings. And of course there are evening social events including concerts. The opening of each meeting is a festive occasion that includes further guests of honour, typically science ministers from various countries, and representatives of foreign governments, scientific institutions or science-related foundations. Some of these Nobel Laureates have been criticized that they use the platform given to them to present questionable ideas outside the mainstream of science. Wow, the media love it. Something different or even controversial can make headlines. Lots of international journalists in attendance. Imagine that happening on St.Lucia?

One of those past meetings in Lindau included Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and of the Bill Gates Foundation, which aims globally to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology. Sir Richard Branson founder of the Virgin Group has been on Saint Lucia recently. He may be one of the world’s greatest motivators and an inspiration for young people and professionals in the industry. Matt Damon had a major private party on Saint Lucia in the past. Matt Damon is founder of the Water.org, a nonprofit organization that has transformed hundreds of communities in Africa, South Asia, and Central America by providing access to safe water and sanitation. Nothing wrong with trying to invite them for a significant event in Saint Lucia. One of the get-togethers in Lindau was sponsored by the Republic of Singapore. Saint Lucia has ten embassies and sixteen consulates that may be approached to explore a possibility of some kind of involvement of the country they represent.

Organizing major events cost money. Where did find the Lindau Meetings find support? They have a long lists of Maecenates (15), Patrons (18), Donors (60), and Friends (84). Imagine if these financial supporters as a gesture of gratitude are each given two tickets for a social event, then you have 344 guests for that particular event. Just imagine if this magnitude of event was organized on St. Lucia, you would already need 177 hotel rooms just for guests of honour. I cannot give you all the names of companies and individuals, just a sampler: Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche (cars); Microsoft; Lockheed Martin (Aviation); Siemens; Mars (candy, food); Merck, Novartis and Bayer (pharma and chemical); Swiss Reinsurance Company; National Research Foundation Singapore; OPEC Fund for International Development; McKinsey (multinational consultation). Lots of big names and significant funding. Mind that, if they send a guest of honour representing them, they will occupy and pay for a five star hotel room.

By the way, what happened to last week’s five year old astronomer and her interest in Uranus? Every time I talk to her dad on the phone, she climbs on his lap to say ‘Hello’. I take the opportunity to ask if she discovered any new stars. It is important to encourage an interest. What a child wants to be as an adult can change many times. It doesn’t mean that a child is all mixed up or doesn’t realize what it is saying. They are saying things spontaneously but based on observations or information. They are exploring, independently thinking, and finding answers. Via her dad, I sent her an email with a link to an article about one of the moons of Saturn that is frozen over, but it is assumed that under the ice might be an ocean. The article says: “Imagine the bottom of an ocean. The water is icy cold and impenetrably dark, without even a glimmer of sunlight. But in one patch of the ocean floor, a jet of hot water spurts upwards out of a rocky vent. This water is laced with life-giving chemicals, and around it a collection of strange microorganisms has gathered.” How is that processed in a child’s mind and what conclusions may it lead to? She could all of a sudden put her interest in Uranus on a backburner and gets interest in oceans or micro-organisms. Her future career may become a marine-biologist or oceanographer and maybe more needed on St. Lucia than an astronomer.

We have to nourish the appetite of young people for knowledge and exploration. Yes, already at the age of five, and keep on doing it as long as we are around them. Never ridicule them. One day they may become a Nobel Laureate, and Saint Lucia will be proud of them. We should not just focus on the young ones who are in a fortunate family environment to get exposure and support. We should also try to find the young people of less fortunate surroundings and reach out. Being born poor and growing up in a poor circumstances doesn’t say anything about hope, talent or intelligence. They need a helping hand to create ambitions, and once they are getting somewhat established later, they can help and support their relatives. Some of these youngsters are getting a hard lesson of life early, or rather too early. Yet, some successful professionals and business people are proudly claiming that they learned from the University of Life.

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