“Design Thinking Can Help Caribbean Countries Recover from COVID-19”, says Trinidadian Professor, Lesley Ann Noel


A report by Howard Campbell for South Florida Caribbean News.

Living and teaching in New Orleans, Lesley Ann Noel has got used to the “new normal” caused by COVID-19. The Trinidadian academic plans to use some of her American experience to help the Caribbean recover from a devastating pandemic.

Noel is professor of practice at The Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking at Tulane University in Louisiana. This summer, she will conduct two virtual seminars dubbed “Introduction to Design Thinking” at the Arthur Lok Jack Global School of Business at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago.

For Noel, Design Thinking can be critical to Caribbean countries looking to rebuild key sectors, most importantly, their economies.

“Design Thinking is actually ‘shorthand’ for a combination of approaches; some borrowed from anthropology, some borrowed from art and design pedagogy. Some of these approaches we already use. When I talk about Caribbean people using Design Thinking, I’m suggesting that they use collaboration, creativity, and user-centerdness (and a combination of the approaches above) more specifically and intentionally in the development of goods and services, in both public and private sectors,” Noel explained.

She added that, “We already use some of these approaches in our creative work like at Carnival, and in our music, but I’m advocating that we bring this innovation, creativity, collaboration and user-centeredness to business, policy, national and regional strategy etc, developing local responses to local needs. This approach is not necessarily new to Caribbean people, but we don’t seem to work this way when we are developing policy and business ideas.”

Design Thinking is rarely discussed in Caribbean commerce. But in major economies like the United States, Canada and India, it is used with great effect like IBM and PepsiCo.

Noel, who previously taught courses at the UWI and Stanford University, believes an inclusive approach would benefit the Caribbean recovery.

She has followed COVID-19 developments in her homeland, but admits that besides updates from family and friends in Jamaica and Barbados, her knowledge about the recovery process in those countries is limited.

“From the outside looking in, Trinidad and Tobago seems to be doing a good job with the COVID-19 efforts. The communication has been clear and open. The public has received regular updates throughout,” she said. “I tuned in to quite a few of them in the earlier weeks of the crisis. I know we are moving into a phased re-opening of the country and it seems like that is going well. Where the Design Thinking/creative thinking is needed is in planning our lives, businesses, policies, etc, until there is a vaccine, since it’s not business as usual.”

Noel was born in Port of Spain, the T&T capital, to a Trinidadian father and Jamaican mother. She is a graduate of the UWI and earned her PhD from North Carolina State University.

Tulane is located in New Orleans which has been one of the most active COVID-19 locations in the United States, accounting for almost half of the 2,661 deaths in Louisiana.

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