Palfrey’s Jamaica Report

October 16, 2005
Pegasus Hotel, Kingston, Jamaica

i left Alex, Diane and Jackie last night looking sharp in company with Kevin and Amilcar, heading to the Quad for a taste of Kingston night, and awoke this morning fully refreshed. Email from John Palfrey greeted me. John had come to Jamaica with Ethan Zuckerman to lead a session on Google Juice for our CyberStrategy conference. As i read his email, i recorded, mixing, pausing in spots to think, interupted by a phone call from Alex. They’d come in at 4 a.m. and were a bit slow in rising, breakfast in 15. Here is JP’s email (with his permission). But first – Thank you JP, for your support and leadership. This is for me a work of art. What a champion you were when you were here. The high point of the whole event was your riff on the welcome Jamaica gave you, medium and message woven in narrative integration of the entire event.


From: John Palfrey
Subject: Jamaica

I’ve always held that Charlie is the most exceptional teacher I’ve ever had. I left Evidence, circa 1999 or so, with three things: 1) the power of narrative in all things related to the law; 2) the fact that it’s fiction that the law can come by any single, reliable version of the truth; and 3) that it pays off to think big, to take intellectual risk, particularly when you’re thinking about things cyber-. (OK, so I didn’t learn all that much about the hearsay rule in Evidence; just as well since I did not become a litigator anyway).

During my time at the Berkman Center, I haven’t gotten the Jamaica project. I’ve wanted to. I’ve listened with interest when Charlie’s come to talk about it. I’ve enjoyed meeting Trevor Rhone, Kevin Wallen, Commissioner Reese, and others who have come through Cambridge. I loved Becca and Wayne‘s blog entries while they were there, in the year or so before they got married. But I’ve struggled to make heads or tails of the project overall; it does not fit my image of a Project, for which a Proposal can be written, and Benchmarks set, against which Metrics can be achieved.

I’m awfully glad to have had the chance to go to Jamaica this past week, and deeply grateful to have been invited. It’s a remarkable place.

Charlie has around him an extraordinary group of people — that’s the main message, about the people. I also got the very clear sense that the Jamaica project has a trajectory, that it’s going someplace, if Charlie sticks with it, and that it has a real narrative to it. There’s intellectual risk all over the place, and too many things to try to string together easily, but a great deal of promise. What specifically?

* There is just an amazing corps (core) of people that Charlie’s drawn around him. Marguerite Orane, HBS 1985 or so, is at the head of the line, in my view, for sure — she is a dynamo, a great partner to Charlie, as organized as the best advance guy in the Clinton Administration, hard-working, charming, devoted. Right there with her are Kevin Wallen and his best friend, Tafawah, both born leaders, first-rate public speakers, young articulate men, passionate about their country and their culture, cyber-savvy — each would make a compelling candidate for party leader of a young, reformist movement. The Commissioner of Corrections, Major Reese, who spent two days straight with us, as far as I could tell, believes in what Charlie is trying to do, and is leaning into it with his staff and his own time.

* The event went beautifully. Read Ethan’s live-blog post, if you haven’t yet: , for color and for the dead-on description of it as a “geeky academic benefit concert.” Marguerite and her partner Robert pulled together 90 people, and a half-dozen or so sponsors, who paid real money, to spend a day talking about cyber-strategy for companies, for the tax authority (long story!), and for the country. The proceeds went to Kevin’s non-profit, SSET, that’s training prisoners to use computers. John Deighton of HBS was absolutely perfect for the crowd, which was lively and intelligent and engaged. Charlie’s vision of a fund-raiser — raising Jamaican funds, to be clear, not aid from the US or elsewhere — seems to have come to fruition (I haven’t seen the books on it, but there certainly seemed to have been money churned up). It was a complicated story to tell, of brand/identity/cyberstrategy for companies benefiting prisoners who need job skills and the fulfillment that creativity using computers can provide, but it came together, amazingly enough.
* It couldn’t have been better to have Ethan there, who knows his stuff, both technically and in terms of the challenges facing developing countries. Very impressive performance on the substance, but also just such terrific company.

* We met a lot of people who have keen interest in using “cyber” strategies to grow their businesses and to make new connections between different people. We heard about Super-Plus, the 35-store grocery chain, still a family business, which has set up a remittance system where you can pay for groceries online in Brooklyn or North London and have them delivered in Montego Bay; RJR Communications with its three radio stations and one television station and now an internet presence that streams cricket matches and World Cup qualifiers for a subscription fee around the world; and What’s On Jamaica, nowhere on Google but which I’m convinced could pull off a great local Craig’s List play. The local merchant bank, DB&G, has a senior executive team that’s got vision and interest in using cyberstrategy to accomplish their goals for growth.

* Perhaps most important of all, Charlie has three students on the trip, doing clinical work. Alex, Diane, and Jackie are interviewing people involved in the prison system. I can’t imagine a richer, and more raw, place to learn about the law in a way that we never, ever, could do by reading Goldberg v. Kelly. Charlie says it was Fern’s idea, which I credit, but it’s also no doubt his inspiration. I have no idea what they’ll come up with, and hope of course they’ll be safe as they go about their work, but I am confident that they’ll learn something that they otherwise would leave law school without experiencing.

Bottom line: I don’t claim to have “gotten” the Jamaica project in during 42 hours in Kingston. But I did see Charlie in all his glory there, with lots of promise in terms of ways to make his projects in Jamaica have impact. It’s made me (re-)think about how we define success in what we do. If we can declare victory where we’re learning and teaching in innovative ways about our field of inquiry; taking some intellectual risks; creating networks; and stimulating thinking, the Jamaica project certainly fit the bill this week.

-JP


John Palfrey
Executive Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Lecturer on Law, Harvard Law School
 jpalfrey at law.harvard.edu  href=”http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/palfrey/” title=”http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/palfrey/” target=”_blank”>http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/palfrey/

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