Former UMSU President goes on to international career
Notable alumnus returns to Winnipeg to talk diplomacy and influences
Winston Dookeran [BA/66, LL.D./91] recently returned to the University of Manitoba to share stories of a fulfilling career in economics, politics, and academia. In the talk, Small States in Today’s World of Diplomacy, Canada was depicted as both a model and advocate to the Caribbean states. Dookeran provided examples of how small states can function successfully in a global world and described foreign policy initiatives he contributed toward. His visit also provided an opportunity for Dookeran to reflect on his career and appreciate how his time at the university helped shaped his future choices.
Dookeran came to Winnipeg in the 1960’s as an international student following in his brother Ivan’s footsteps to study at the University of Manitoba. He quickly adopted his new country and surged forward with a positive attitude and boundless energy embracing his surroundings, immersing himself in student life.
Three individuals stand out for Dookeran, “K.J. Charles taught me my very first course in Economics and gave me an appreciation of the nobility of public service”. Clarence Barber, the Department Head at the time, taught Dookeran that economics is a science, “he focused on the methodical side – the data, the facts – and how that grounds all the decisions we would make”. Peter St. John introduced him to the balancing act between local and global policy. He says, “Through an International Relations course, I learned of global issues and how those issues influence us locally, whether it was here in Canada or considering how it affected my home of Trinidad and Tobago”.
His studies and his growing interest in making a difference, led him and some friends to campaign for the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) leadership. “We recognized that the community in Manitoba and here on campus was made up of many different nationalities. We needed to grab people’s attention,” said Dookeran. To help themselves be noticed, they produced posters featuring many different languages hoping that students would be attracted by their own language and stop long enough to learn about their campaign. It worked. Dookeran became the first international student voted in as President of UMSU. “UMSU ignited a confidence in me. This, along with the opportunities I had to learn from Duff Roblin, Ed Schreyer and others in Manitoba who treated me with respect and regard really made a difference.”
While many of his friends stayed in Manitoba after graduation, Dookeran felt the need to move on. He obtained a master’s degree in Economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science and then began his first job as a researcher in the Prime Minister’s Office of Trinidad and Tobago. He recalled, “My goal was to make Trinidad and Tobago like Canada. But, I soon realized that the solution didn’t lie purely in economics.” Manitoba’s political climate again influenced Dookeran’s career decision. “Manitobans have patience. They build in stages, systematically. Leadership also requires patience and steadiness. I took this premise and decided the best way for me to improve my country’s economic development was to take a personal risk and run for office.”
This decision took Dookeran on a winding path. He has had a varied and storied career in both economics and politics having served in numerous cabinet posts in the Government of The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, including Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Finance, and Deputy Leader. He did this serving under three different parties, one of which he formed himself. During his time in office, Dookeran launched a series of programs designed to jumpstart the economy and steadily improve economic conditions. He never strayed far from his economics roots, taking turns as a lecturer at the University of the West Indies (UWI), a Senior Economist at the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and Governor of the Central Bank of Trinidad and Tobago.
How can today’s students relate to Dookeran’s experience? Going back to those three individuals who started Dookeran on his path, “I’ve learned that a vision must be structured by facts and data. A visionary without data will not make change. Hold on to that vision, but don’t stop learning as you work to make it happen.”
Dookeran, awarded an honorary doctorate from UM in 1991 for distinguished public service, shows no signs of slowing down. His newest book will be released later this year and he will be back teaching International Diplomacy at UWI in the fall. He adds with a smile, “I am grateful for my experience and my health in both mind and body. What’s next for me? We shall see where I may best be able to help.”