Olympic 100-meter champion Usain Bolt trails far behind the beaches in the results of image searches for Jamaica.
Google image searches first show hundreds of beaches, followed by Bolt, bikini-clad girls, Bob Marley and then more paradisiacal beaches. On the web, Jamaica cannot seem to move beyond these stereotypical images highlighting the country’s tourist attractions, sensuality and Olympic prowess.
For a nation where half of all income depends on tourism and related services, diversifying can be a daunting task. But Jamaicans are discovering that the same technology that type-casts them offers a universe of employment and business opportunities, without the geographic and economic limitations of the island.
Let’s call it Jamaica 2.0. In tandem with governments, the private sector and international organizations, Jamaica and other Caribbean nations are working to ensure that home-grown talent fulfills its potential in the virtual economy.
The region hopes to become a technology hub like that of Silicon Valley or Bangalore. It plans to provide services to the virtual economy through the development of smartphone applications, technical assistance (through call centers, for example) and even more daring proposals, such as digital animation.
At Jamaica’s KingstOOn Fest last June, judges were blown away by the quality of the animations, comparing them to those produced by other top-level hubs.
“Many people have told me that what I do (animation) is just a hobby rather than a job,” said freelance animator Coretta Singer.
But when the major animation studios praised Coretta’s work and offered to continue to support training of Jamaican youth, many people realized that they were witnessing the birth of a new industry.
In this field, Caribbean countries have advantages in that they share the same language with some of the world’s largest technology centers, are strategically located (near the United States) and have a growing number of young professionals. One strike against them is that one in five youth is unemployed.