UWI honour for Kay McConney
March 23, 2017
The University of the West Indies (UWI) is the destination for most young people in the Caribbean aspiring to pursue higher education.
It was no different for Kay McConney who expected to attend the Cave Hill campus in Barbados close to where she was born and raised.
“At the time, it was what we knew,” said the former diplomat who will be recognized with a UWI vice-chancellor award at the eighth annual Toronto benefit gala on April 1 at the Ritz-Carlton, Toronto. “It was the aspiration of almost everyone that you either got a scholarship and went outside of Barbados or you go to UWI.”
An outstanding athlete in high school, McConney won silver medals in the 100-metre hurdles at the 1982 Central American and Caribbean junior championships and the 1983 Caribbean Games and became one of the youngest student athletes at the time – 16 years old – to enrol in Eastern Michigan University.
Graduating with honours in international trade, she secured an MBA in international business and represented her country with distinction for seven years as Barbados’ top diplomat in Toronto, as an international trade negotiator at the World Trade Organization and senior United Nations representative in Geneva, Switzerland.
“I feel as if any opportunity would have been a good one for me,” she said. “On this occasion, opportunities came together at once and it was great for me because I wanted an international career and having international exposure was an important part of that.”
As the only strong functioning unifying instrument in the Caribbean, the UWI has contributed significantly to the intellectual, cultural, social and economic development of the English-speaking Caribbean in the latter half of the 20th century.
McConney is honoured to be recognized by the regional institution.
“When I look at the kind of minds, scholars and contributors that UWI has produced, many are leading in the Caribbean and have been leaders throughout my lifetime,” she pointed out. “To think that an institution like that might consider anything that I have done as a daughter of the Caribbean to be significant is such an honour that I don’t take lightly. What this has done is give validation for the work I have done in the past.”
In addition to working to strengthen ties between Barbados and Canada, McConney brought a new and refreshing dimension to the diplomatic portfolio, establishing several initiatives to benefit Barbadians at home and nationals in Canada.
She helped launch a Caribbean-Canadian Literary Expo in 2003 that featured established and emerging writers, poets, storytellers, publishers and illustrators of Caribbean heritage and the Barbados Charity Ball to raise funds to provide access to post-secondary educational opportunities for Barbadian students as well as resources for HIV/AIDS program for youths.
In its 14th year, the charity ball has raised thousands of dollars that have gone to Barbadian international students and young people of Barbadian heritage pursuing higher education in Canada, the Caribbean SickKids Paediatric Cancer & Blood Disorders Project (CSPCBDP) launched in 2012 to assist with the building of health care capacity in Jamaica, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago and the Bahamas by training health care professionals, providing consultation and diagnostic expertise and developing and expanding access to treatment and supportive care, and other health initiatives in Barbados.
“I think every community has to be committed to its own growth and development,” said McConney who also served as dean of the CARICOM consul corps. “That’s an initiative that has allowed us to really leverage our own relationships with our partners in Canada and include everyone as the Barbadian community continues to do great things for itself as part of a bigger Canada.
“I am extremely proud of what it has done because it was set up so that the community would take over and run with it. The intention was that it would be transitioned from out of the consulate and it engaged partners from a number of different organizations and also individuals who had a unique interest in contributing to education, health care and the evolution of our community as part of the Canadian mosaic. That the community has now taken ownership and is moving forward with this in our best interest is perhaps what I am most proud of.”
Always seeking out opportunities to advance Barbadian and Caribbean people, McConney hit a home run in 2003 at a reception hosted by The Netherlands Consul General in Toronto. During a conversation with a York University official, she learnt the university was looking to expand in the Caribbean. She pounced on the opportunity, suggesting that perhaps the university might want to consider inviting Barbadian high school students to take part in its Emerging Global leaders Retreat.
McConney made a convincing formal presentation to the university, resulting in 30 Barbadian students coming to York. In 2004, Barbados became the first country to host the retreat.
Students from Jamaica and other Caribbean countries attended the York retreat in later years.
After completing her diplomatic assignment in Geneva, McConney returned to Canada to live.
“The values and culture of Canada are very muck akin to that of the Caribbean,” she said. “I think this country has the right idea about how to exist as a global citizen at a country level as well as at individual level. I closely identify with the values of this country. My daughter was born here and because of family ties here, I chose to stay here as well. I can’t think of another place other than my home country Barbados where I would rather be at at this particular point in time. Home is where your heart is and my heart is definitely here because of the values of this country and because of how it shows up in the world.”
McConney is the chief executive mind of The Executive Mind Inc.
“We are a human capital development company focussing on training, coaching, consulting, specifically as it relates to preparing leaders for the 21st century,” she noted.
Other vice-chancellor award recipients are entrepreneur & philanthropist Wayne Purboo, cardiologist Dr. Vivian Rambihar, Ontario Court of Appeal judge Michael Tulloch and neurosurgeon Dr. Renn Holness.
Bishop Desmond Tutu will receive the Luminary Award, the G. Raymond Chang Memorial Award will be presented to senator Murray Sinclair and Grace Kennedy will be the recipient of the Chancellor Award.