A comprehensive vision for Internet-enabled Caribbean development is being advocated by Bevil Wooding, Caribbean Outreach Liaison for the American Registry for Internet Numbers and Special Advisor to the Commission of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States.
Addressing a capacity audience at the 23rd Sir Arthur Lewis Memorial Lecture in St Kitts on November 7, 2018, Wooding said that the same Internet technologies that are creating big changes to daily life across the world can also be harnessed to amplify the region’s capacity, productivity and efficiency.
“Caribbean development goals cannot be fulfilled without development of robust domestic digital economies across the region,” he said,
Around the world, Internet evangelists like Wooding use the term domestic digital economy to refer broadly to a range of positive developments that ensue when technology users shift from merely consuming digital content created or hosted outside of a country, to producing local digital content and facilitating local transactions, all run on local networks. But realizing the domestic digital economy cannot be divorced from resolving longstanding issues of Caribbean identity, vision, leadership and values, he said.
“Market forces alone will not generate the societally optimal level of local ICT-enabled investment. There are things the policy makers can and must do to translate the ICT-promise into development reality. This acknowledges that there are enabling functions that our entrepreneurs and innovators-in-waiting cannot perform for themselves; and there are investments the private sector will not make.”
He outlined a vision in which every sector plays a role in the move to generate more local digital content, create local value chains, and support more local electronic transactions. The comprehensive approach entails a spectrum of responsibilities, requiring a collective effort.
“Like the Internet itself, a Caribbean ICT-enabled revolution cannot be centralised. Government must lay the tracks, accelerating the policy and legislative changes needed. Our academic institutions, in closer collaboration with industry, must lay the education pipelines. Importantly, our leaders, at every level, must model the change we wish to see. And our media can celebrate the progress by putting a spotlight on incremental achievements, creating a sense of positive momentum and amplifying the underlying values.”
In spite of the many challenges facing the Caribbean, Wooding remains optimistic that the promise of technology-enabled Caribbean development is achievable. He issued a call for Caribbean leaders to unleash the potential of the region’s youth.
“Across the region, our youth, entrepreneurs and innovators are already brimming with ideas about how technology can be used to tackle these challenges and create new opportunities. Let us unleash them with fearless confidence. We must not hold back our people simply because what they are proposing to do through ICTs is different or unfamiliar from what we once knew. ICT-based development is never about ICTs; it is about human development. And, ultimately, the Caribbean is the only legitimate architect of its development destiny.”