“Our economies may be broken, but the pieces can be put back together in the Caribbean.”
That was the rallying call from Prime Minister Kenny Anthony as he launched 3rd Regional Caribbean Growth Forum in his native St Lucia last week.
This year’s Forum aimed to highlight strategies and tools for a new road map for harnessing growth in the Caribbean, building on successes in and outside the region.
Convening representatives from government, private sector, civil society and the youth across 15 different Caribbean nations, the Caribbean Growth Forum offers a platform to provide local solutions to regional and country development challenges, as well as foster greater focus on results, transparency and accountability.
The initiative first started three years ago, after years of “anaemic growth” proved a powerful catalyst to kick-start a regional effort to pool knowledge and find a collective solution. While diverse in its cultures, languages and geography, the Caribbean nations face common economic challenges; namely:
· Low growth
· Small-scale economies
· High vulnerability to external shocks
“The first phase of the Caribbean Growth Forum has put the spot light on improvements in investment climate, logistics and connectivity, and skills. These are necessary foundations to harness growth. But, efforts need to be sustained to effectively respond to the changing economic environment,” stated World Bank Vice President for the Caribbean, Jorge Familiar in his opening remarks to the plenary.
Innovation to create jobs
“Chocolate does not come from Belgium,” reminded Eric Reid, chocolatier and SPAGnVOLA founder to the delegates.
This may seem to be stating the obvious and yet across the world Swiss and Belgian-produced chocolates are widely held as the highest standard attainable. Reid called for the Caribbean to reclaim its produce and to rival the international brands by growing demand for high quality, local specialities.
Such entrepreneurship and understanding of how to add value to Caribbean products, will be key if the Caribbean is to increase productivity and tackle the scourge of high youth unemployment which is a defining feature across the region.
Efforts to boost skills in upcoming industries such as communications, digital and the creative industries have already begun in a number of countries, with many countries undertaking reforms to ease starting and doing business. Moving forward, building the capacity to use and analyse data will be key to better understand and adapt to industry demand trends.
“A number of countries have already embarked on strategies that foster investment in competitive niche sectors to unleash innovation and creativity, including tourism, agribusiness, health services and creative industries,” said Sophie Sirtaine, World Bank country director for the Caribbean. “Continued reforms to restore fiscal sustainability and innovative approaches to boosting private sector growth are needed.”