“One of the greatest challenges facing the Caribbean is getting people to believe in the value of ideas,” said Bernadette Lewis, Secretary General of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU).
Lewis was speaking at the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines leg of a series of workshops to encourage greater technology-enabled innovation in the Caribbean.
“Unless we can change mindsets, the returns on ICT investment will be small,” she said.
The workshop series is part of a broader World Bank-funded initiative called CARCIP, the Caribbean Communications Infrastructure Program, which is coordinated by the CTU.
The thrust by CTU to accelerate Caribbean entrepreneurship through technology-driven innovation builds on the work of their Caribbean ICT Roadshow, which encourages Caribbean citizens to harness the power of innovation as the engine for ICT-enabled development. The Caribbean ICT Roadshow has been held 21 times in 18 Caribbean countries.
Moderated by local CARCIP coordinator Roxanne John and regional coordinator Junior Mc Intyre, the two-day workshop in Saint Vincent brought together local professionals in the field of telecommunications and regional experts in Information and Communication Technology (ICT), entrepreneurship, leadership development and innovation.
The government of St Vincent and the Grenadines, host for the event, was represented by Camillo Gonsalves, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Trade, Commerce and Information Technology.
“The ICT revolution in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines is happening now,” said the minister. “In the current environment of rapid technological development and opportunity, our private and public sector shortcomings can be met, solved and eradicated quickly by the innovative application of ICT to our unique Caribbean particularity.”
Gonsalves explained that the CARCIP workshop was part of an ongoing thrust by his Ministry to develop the country’s ICT sector through updating its laws, establishing knowledge parks, setting up an e-government system and continuing to liberalise its telecommunications sector.
“The true measure of the usefulness of Government’s large investments in these programs will not be in our improved rankings in various development indices but in tangible benefits to Vincentians,” he said.
His message was underscored by the lead facilitator for the event, Bevil Wooding, Internet Strategist with U.S.-based non-profit, Packet Clearing House. In identifying the challenges that confront the region, such as its outmoded physical and institutional infrastructure, diminishing global competitiveness and the hemorrhaging of its qualified human resource, Wooding pointed to the need for Caribbean innovators to respond by using and creating technology to design relevant solutions.
“Caribbean problems are real, but the problems all have real solutions,” Wooding said.
Other presenters were Norman Gibson, an expert in science and technology for rural development and environmental management in the Caribbean region; and Ramlochan Ragoonanan, CEO, National Entrepreneurship Development Company, Trinidad and Tobago; Ayodele Pompey, CEO, Digital Spark Global; and Petrus Gumbs, Head of IT, St Martin Secondary School.
CARCIP is a partnership between the World Bank and the governments of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia and Grenada, alongside regional organizations such as the Eastern Caribbean Telecommunications Authority (ECTEL) and the Caribbean Knowledge and Learning Network, CKLN, all under the coordination of the CTU. The programme aims to improve the efficiency of telecommunications infrastructure development in the Eastern Caribbean and ultimately, throughout the wider region. Through the World Bank’s International Development Association, CARCIP was allocated a total disbursement of US$25 million, including loans to the three countries and a grant to the CTU.
Building on the foundation of upgraded critical Internet and telecommunications infrastructure, CARCIP aims to clear the path for local innovators and entrepreneurs to develop world-class, locally-driven, technology-enabled services that address the needs of Saint Vincent and the wider Caribbean.
The St Vincent event was held at the Buccament Bay resort on February 26 and 27. The next CARCIP Innovation workshop will take place in Grenada in March 24 and 25.