Find out more about applying for the Rhodes Scholarship

Find out more about applying for the Rhodes Scholarship


The Rhodes Less Travelled

Tuesday 26 May, 2020

by Dr. David Walcott

Nine years before this pandemic ensued, I did two things that changed my life. I attended the University of Oxford on the tenure of the Rhodes Scholarship, and I read ‘The Alchemist’ – an allegorical novel by Paulo Coelho. Little did I know that those two seemingly unrelated events had more in common than I could imagine.

The Alchemist tells a story of a young shepherd boy embarking on a pilgrimage to realize his ‘personal legend’. Along the way, he runs into many unexpected challenges and the journey quickly evolves into an adventure that matures his perspective. As I reflect on the current path that life has carved for me, being at the forefront of the global fight against CoVID-19 within the World Economic Forum and Caribbean, I am stunned by the extent to which the forces of life - through challenge and victory - over the past 8 years have transformed my journey, beliefs and trajectory. Perhaps the most significant driver of this metamorphosis was my experience in the hallowed halls of Rhodes House.

Rhodes Trust allowed me to find my personal journey and take the road less travelled

Engaging with the multitude of Scholars and diversity of intellectual perspectives, livelihoods and belief structures challenged my convictions; I was suddenly forced to question many of the assumptions with which I was raised. This allowed me the breathing room to confront – and in so doing - voluntarily embrace my own personal code. It is said that ‘It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it’ and the intellectual rigor at Rhodes House taught me to both defend my perspectives and realize that apparent misalignments in belief-structures are often deep-rooted, multifactorial and perpetuated by miscarriages of communication. This seed of insight evolved into a profound sense of tolerance for different cultures, stirred an avid curiosity and culminated in a courage to openly and staunchly share independent thought – including early opinions on the global need reassess use of masks in the pandemic and Mental Health in CoVID-19.

Rhodes House helped to mature my vision of harnessing global resources towards solving healthcare problems

As the scope of education extends its tentacles beyond geographic and cultural borders, our increasingly globalized world calls for a new type of learning and we each face a calling to become a global citizen. I found myself ruminating on the need to adopt global perspectives and develop my own identity in response to the increasing reality with which a global village exists. This was particularly jarring for me, hailing from a small, emerging state such as Jamaica, where the levels of cosmopolitan influence are relatively low and insularity is easily tolerated. I initially struggled to find my footing and found Rhodes House a welcome sanctuary through which I could develop my intellectual pursuits. Through discussions with my fellow Scholars and the Wardens during my tenure – Dr. Don Markwell, Dr. Andrew Graham and Mr. Charles Conn – I soon found myself believing in the possibility of contributing to the global tides of a changing healthcare ecosystem.

Over the five years at Rhodes House, I completed a Master’s Degree, Ph. D and business studies at Oxford & INSEAD respectively. This ultimately expanded the scope of my perspective and gave me insight into practical ways that I could pursue my vision for navigating a diverse ecosystem of economies and healthcare system infrastructure. Oxford provided the cultural diversity that culminated in a curiosity for languages and, over time, my ability to converse in 6 different languages with varying degrees of competence. I embarked on my personal pilgrimage travelling to over 50 countries learning about their healthcare systems after completing postgraduate studies in Immunology. Little did I know that this combination of specialized knowledge would shape my involvement in what is the greatest healthcare catastrophe of our time. 

With CoVID-19, I have found myself in a global fight against CoVID

The late Michael Manley - one of the most magnetic state leaders in Caribbean history and son of the late Rhodes Scholar Norman Manley - famously proclaimed that Jamaicans who opposed his policies could migrate on the ‘five flights to Miami leaving Jamaica daily’. After reflecting on my vision and the competences that I gained at Rhodes House, I decided to oppose the forces that be, take a chance and take one of those five flights back. I felt an injunction to leverage the intellectual and experiential assets accrued through my international pilgrimage, return to the Caribbean and contribute to the development of a region.

Paradoxically, I have found that returning to my home country has allowed me to contribute on a scale far beyond my original intention. Having returned to the Caribbean with a vision of attracting investment into the regional healthcare, I have co-founded a consulting firm that is designed to bring best-practices and international insights into the Caribbean, while running an investment platform that connects international capital with the region and convenes a global-reaching community controlling over US$100B in capital. The musings of a global calling that spawned at my earlier days at Rhodes House were given oxygen over the years and evolved into a career that brought opportunities to drive regional change, culminating in an invitation to participate in the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos. All these experiences have created a potent network of influence and resources, driving dialogue, action and change in the CoVID-19 fight. Rhodes House was indeed the fire that had spawned the alchemy of my original vision and I relish the thought of being faithful to the proverbial charge to by Rhodes Trust “to fight the world's fight” as we tackle the greatest biological threat of our century.

David is a Medical Doctor (MD. Ph.D. MSc.) and Entrepreneur with over 5-years experience as a Founder, Operator and Consultant to several businesses in the Caribbean. His academic profile includes a Doctorate of Philosophy at Oxford where his research focused on drug development in Crohn’s, a mini-MBA at INSEAD and healthcare business studies at Harvard Business School. Professionally, he is committed to attracting world-class healthcare resources into the Caribbean and driving investment into the region.

Less Travelled

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