Boosting regional resourcefulness: St Lucia leads off Caribbean innovation workshops

Caribbean history is the picture of a region lacking in physical and financial resources, but constantly finding ways to confront those realities through human resourcefulness and ingenuity.

St Lucia, like many Caribbean islands, does not have a history of economic reliance on extractive industries based on the abundance of indigenous minerals. Instead, the country has relied on tourism-related service industries as a main pillar of its national economy.

But a new project from the Ministry of the Public Service, Information and Broadcasting is encouraging non-traditional enterprise through sustainable innovation that incorporates new technology-driven approaches to business.

“Entrepreneurs need to eliminate the fear of failure and instead think of failure as a lesson in what not to do. Failure is not the end; it’s just another node on the learning curve,” said Christopher Roberts, St Lucia Caribbean Communications Infrastructure Programme (CARCIP) project coordinator, based in the Ministry of the Public Service, Information and Broadcasting.

Roberts was delivering remarks at a workshop on technology-driven innovation, held in Bay Gardens Resort, Castries on February 10th and 11th. Like several other speakers, he underscored the difference between systemic, sustainable innovation and personal spasms of creativity.

“Innovation represents a change in thinking, not just the creation or development of a new goods or products,” he said.

The workshop brought together some of the region’s leading minds in the fields of entrepreneurship, information and communications technology, leadership development and innovation. Keynotes were delivered by Bevil Wooding, an Internet Strategist with decades of experience bringing technology-driven approaches to Caribbean development, and Dr Farid Youssef, expert in neuroscience based in the Faculty of Medical Sciences, The University of the West Indies, St Augustine, Trinidad and Tobago.

The workshop is part of St Lucia’s deployment of CARCIP, which aims to harness the country’s innate creativity and stimulate a nationwide culture of innovation through the application of appropriate technology to real-world problems.

Funded by the World Bank, the US$25 million project includes loans to the three countries and a grant to the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), the Trinidad and Tobago-based organisation coordinating the project across the region.

The CTU met with government officials from the three countries and representatives from the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) in early February to share insights into how each country is tackling the region-wide challenge of developing its telecommunications infrastructure.

The ongoing series of workshops on technology-driven innovation bridges the gap between establishing critical Internet infrastructure and creating social impact in the countries of the region. The workshops will continue in Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines over the next two months. Governments of the three countries have been working toward harmonising the development of their telecommunications infrastructure to maximise synergies and avoid inefficiencies.

Delivering opening remarks at the workshop, Junior McIntyre, CTU CARCIP Project Coordinator, recognised the efforts of Ministry officials behind the St Lucia project, including Minister James Fletcher, Permanent Secretary Phillip Dalsou and the Director of Public Service Modernisation, Dr Cletus Bertin.

CARCIP’s scope is comprehensive. The first phase focuses on gaps in submarine cable infrastructure and landing stations, domestic backbone networks and national Internet exchange points (IXPs). The project is now in its second phase, which focuses on building regional awareness among governments, private sector and civil society of the potential for innovative and effective use of technology.

CARCIP also seeks to identify opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurship through the development of business incubators and technology centers in the Eastern Caribbean. But its ultimate aim is the whole sub-region.

"CARCIP will improve the efficiency of telecommunications infrastructure development across the entire Caribbean. The lessons we learn here in St Lucia will benefit the whole region,” said Junior McIntyre, CARCIP project coordinator for the CTU.