Review of Events

Review and Impressions of

International Women's Forum (IWF)

Cornerstone Conference

“Music as an Instrument for Change”

By Gillian Rowlands

Jamaica played host to its first International Women’s Forum (IWF) Cornerstone Conference, from May 29-31. 2013, under the distinguished leadership of the founding President of IWF Jamaica, Pat Ramsay and Deedee Corradini, President of the wider International organisation. Both leaders can declare the event a resounding success and the accolades pouring in from across the world must be sweet music to their ears. Pat Ramsay however, must stand particularly proud as she spearheaded the local arrangements and along with her dynamic team demonstrated the kind of organizational talent and creative excellence that Jamaica can deliver to the world.

As a Jamaican and guest at the Conference, I was impressed by its global reach and content, as well as the high energy and interest it maintained from start to finish. Corporate and political leaders, artistes musicians, television producers, academics, entrepreneurs educators, representatives of NGO’s and change agents from over 48 countries gathered around the theme “Music, An Instrument for Change”.

The Conference not only delivered insightful and dynamic presentations around the theme, but also played the music and made us dance to it, move our imaginations to it and changed forever how we look at its creative force and capacity to facilitate social and economic development. The theme of course was a brilliant choice for Jamaica, drawing on the strengths of the country’s musical and creative endowments, as well as its recognition as a global leader in music, which transcends cultural differences and has the power to create “One Love.”

Our artistes did not disappoint in candid interviews which exposed their rich experiences and charisma, Rita Marley, Marcia Griffiths. Marion- Lady Saw and Etana shared their musical odyssey across the generations and how it shaped their lives and provided opportunities for them to influence change and give back to their communities and the world.  I immediately seized on the opportunity to ask them to do something special for the children of Jamaica and yes I did take photographs with them, networked and tapped into their power to shape change. Actress, singer, philanthropist and Broadway star, Sheryl Lee Ralph also gave a powerful account of how her Jamaican roots have been an anchor in her life and career. She introduced her book DIVA, which was quickly sold out before I could get a copy. She has however promised to come back and do a special book signing and launch, which I am looking forward to.

The men in the Industry also held their own. Internationally renowned producer Chris Blackwell, legendary Jamaican guitarist Ernest Ranglin, Herbie Miller, Cultural Historian and Curator of the Jamaica Music Museum Winston “Sparrow” Martin and Music Director for Alpha Boys School all assured us that the music is alive and still evolving and shaping our cultural consciousness.  Winston made the call to replicate musical institutions like Alpha Boy’s School all over Jamaica. This I think is an excellent idea, which would reap benefits both in terms of the cultural socialization of our youth, (particularly many of those who are at risk and maginalised), as well as a stimulus for employment, wealth creation and development. Darren Young, performing with the Kingston Philharmonic Orchestra demonstrated how this could be achieved, as members of the orchestra, mainly drawn from Jamaica’s poor urban communities displayed their awesome talent and confidence in performing classical music and other genre. I took the opportunity to ask Chris Blackwell, when and how we were going to promote classical music in the same way we had promoted Reggae and he spoke of the need for training and identifying outstanding talent. Jamaican classical concert pianist and international virtuoso Orrett Rhoden came to mind. His career was nurtured by the late Mrs. Rita Coore and trained to become world class. I also thought of London based composer Dr. Shirley Thompson, who was born in England of Jamaican parents and whose natural talent was honed into one of Britain’s and Europe’s most successful composers. She composed the Symphony “New Nation rising” for the Queen’s Birthday and has created many other works both for television and performances in the most prestigious music centres of the world. Jamaican talent and musical DNA I felt therefore is not and should not be limited to only the popular genre.

Mark Johnson, the visionary, Grammy winning Producer, Engineer and Award winning Film Director behind Playing for Change was also impressive in his motivation and success in using music to unite people. We learned how by employing a mobile technique for recording street musicians, he had succeeded in capturing the artistry and culture of musicians around the world and promoted peace through music. He also demonstrated how to give back to communities and stimulate development and global understanding through music. Naturally I put in a word for Jamaica, especially once again to help the children and he left our discussion on a positive note… so look out Jamaica.

I was also thrilled to meet young composers, artistes and musicians, including Ahmed Azzam from Egypt,  Ash Koosha and Negar Shaghaghi from Iran and Nicola May, an Australian dance coach living and working in Myanmar. Their stories of courage under the theme “Between Rage & Grace: Music Protest and Global Change”  recounted their struggles and life threatening risks, in the face of political censorship. This was made even more poignant and inspiring by their references to Jamaican music as a source of inspiration with Bob Marley as a universal icon.

One of the most interesting “Behind the Scene” highlights for me, was the opportunity to meet with two outstanding talents in the Jamaican Film Industry, Jamaican Film Director Storm Saulter and Independent Film Producer Justine Henzell. They shared their experience and innovative approach to movie making in Jamaica. Storm Saulter received critical acclaim for his film Better Must Come in 2010 and through his work explores social issues of violence, corruption and injustice. Justine Henzell carries the creative DNA and legacy of her father Perry Henzell, but has been putting her own stamp on her art, producing “One People” a documentary about Jamaicans of excellence at home and abroad, in honour of Jamaica’s 50th Anniversary of Independence. I found them both highly talented, articulate and yet down to earth. What impressed me most was their passion and commitment to tell the stories of Jamaica in the authentic voice and setting of the island and I feel that they are already playing a leading role in developing Jamaica’s film Industry.  I hope they will get all the support they so well deserve.

As if this cultural feast was not enough, Jamaican and international academics, and media professionals lent their voices to themes such as Creative Leadership: Solving Society’s Most Intractable Problems. Targeting the Marketplace Competing in a Global World, Creative Industries and Economic Development –Jamaica and Beyond. Jamaican innovators intellectuals and business leaders including Dr, Marcia Forbes, Dr, Carolyn Cooper, Dr, Verene Shepherd, Dr. Donna Hope. Ms. Carol Francis, Helene Ms. Helene Coley Nicolson, Ms. Karyn Brown, Mr. Jimmy Moss Solomon, Mr. Chris Blackwell and Mr. Earl Jarrett helped to enrich the discourse and shared interesting perspectives.

One of my favourite overseas presenters was John Kao, who spoke on the theme “What Music Teaches Business. Described on the programme as an “innovation activist” he delivered a very innovative and interesting presentation on how music like Jazz provides space for creative interpretation and freedom to improvise and innovate, which can be emulated by business. The real challenge as he put it was to lose what we know to gain something new and to go beyond invention to innovation in which value is created. I would love him to come back and help us to turn Jamaica’s creative inventiveness into real value, particularly as I noted that he has worked with Governments and regions including Finland, Singapore, San Francisco, Abu Dhabi, the USA and The European Union.

Andrea Rhone, Co-Anchor of 9 NEWS NOW on W*USA in Washington, DC brought the flair of international media to the event and facilitated an interesting discussion on the theme “Micro Targeting what Music Teaches Politics and Enterprise

In summary, This conference not only had dynamic presenters and stimulating presentations around the theme “Music , an Instrument for Change”, but it also immersed us in the music itself, from the opening reception, through the opening ceremony, the introduction to sessions, lunch time music and two fantastic evenings of entertainment, sponsored by Scotia Bank. In the special evening of entertainment, sponsored and hosted by Scotia Bank, Jamaica, I could have danced all night and I did to Karen Smith’s fantastic cabaret act and wonderful renditions of Jamaican and international favouites which had everyone on the floor. The grand finale dubbed Beach Party – Island Chic also had us gyrating to sounds of a youthful steel band, who wowed us with their endless energy, talent and charisma.

I enjoyed every aspect of the conference and must not fail to mention that I met many wonderful people from all over the world who now form part of a network of talent and generosity of spirit, which I can tap into for inspiration and change.  I was also extremely proud of their response to the conference and Jamaica, describing their experience in wonderful term and declaring it “the best”.  I certainly felt that it was the most creative and high energy conference I had ever been to.

Thank you IWF for a landmark conference and special congratulations to Pat Ramsay and her team for an outstanding job and to Deedee Corradini and the international body for making it Jamaica.

Gillian Rowlands is founder and Managing Director of Hamilton Knight Associates Limited .She is a a career and human resource specialist, motivational speaker, free lance writer and broadcaster and also Chairperson of the NGO Hear the Children’s Cry.  Please email comments to and visit her company website

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