Members of the Cabinet of Barbados
Members of the Parliament of Barbados
Hon. Davidson Ishmael, M.P., Minister of Industry, Innovation, Science and Technology (MIST)
Other Visiting Ministers of Information and Communication Technologies
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Miss Francia Jordan, Permanent Secretary, MIST
Other Government Officials present
Secretary General of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) – Mr. Rodney Taylor
Mr. Kevin Cunnington, Export Advisor, Global Government Forum, UK
Visiting and Local Delegations
Specially Invited Guests
Members of the Media
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is a privilege and an honor to stand before you today as we gather for The Global Government Forum’s Caribbean Digital Summit and the Caribbean Telecommunications Union’s Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) Week 2023 being held from October 16 to 20, 2023 here in Barbados. These two events will allow us to celebrate our shared commitment to harness the incredible potential of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to the benefit of our Caribbean economies.
The theme for this week, “Embracing a Digital Caribbean: Opportunities for Growth and Innovation,” captures the essence of our collective aspiration. It underscores the transformative power of technology to elevate our region, drive economic growth, and foster innovation across diverse sectors. The development of ICT in our region can greatly assist us with the challenges we face as Small Island Developing States.
Challenges being faced by the Caribbean region
As Small Island Developing States, we are faced with a myriad of challenges which necessitates that we continue to diversify our economies for sustainable growth and development that would redound to the benefit of our citizens. For too long we have depended on too few industries including tourism and manufacturing to sustain our economies.
We are faced with unsustainable high levels of debt which significantly constrain our growth and development; there are high levels of unemployment and underemployment in the region . As SIDS, we are naturally prone to disasters and increasingly frequent and severe weather events which are being worsened by climate change. Wars, supply chain issues various health outbreaks and changes in the price of oil serve to further aggravate the challenges faced by the region.
The COVID-19 Pandemic tested the resilience of economies in the Caribbean. Barbados and the broader Caribbean region, like many other parts of the world, faced significant challenges, economic and otherwise, during the Pandemic. This underscored the importance of diversification, digital transformation, and sustainability for the region’s future economic well-being. It forced us into the digital age and many countries globally are using this experience to build more robust and diversified economies that can better weather future challenges.
So must we in this region.
Digitization has the potential to drive our economies forward, to literally transform our economies. We need to upscale our digital technologies which will present us with a host of opportunities to help us strengthen and diversify our economies.
Embracing digital transformation, that is, the integration of digital technologies into various aspects of society, including businesses, government, education, and healthcare, like in many other countries, can have a significant positive impact, and enable growth and economic development in the Caribbean.
In a world rapidly evolving towards a digital age, ICTs is no longer a choice but an imperative. The Caribbean region is ready for this change and there are compelling reasons why digital transformation must be at the forefront of our regional agenda. Economic Prosperity, Inclusive Development, Sustainability and Resilience and Global Competitiveness are but few of the reasons why we need digital transformation of our region.
The Caribbean’s potential for economic growth through digital transformation is boundless. By investing in digital infrastructure, fostering innovation, and supporting entrepreneurship, we open doors to new industries, attract investments, and create jobs.
Every citizen of the Caribbean deserves to reap the benefits of digital progress. Our diversity is our strength, and by bridging the digital divide, we can ensure that ICTs uplift every community, fostering social inclusion and equal opportunities for all.
Sustainability and Resilience
As a region exposed to environmental challenges, ICTs can be our ally in fostering sustainability. Smart solutions and data-driven approaches can help us conserve resources, mitigate climate change impacts, and build resilient communities.
By embracing digital transformation, we position the Caribbean as a forward-thinking region. We have the opportunity to lead in areas such as sustainable tourism, renewable energy, and innovative industries, attracting global partners and investors.
Essential steps for upscaling Caribbean Digital Technologies
The process of Digital Transformation is fraught with difficulties for us as small island states that make up the Caribbean. There is limited access to the Internet and high broadband costs, inadequate digital infrastructure, insufficient training opportunities for citizens, a growing digital divide and a lack of data and policy knowledge, inter alia.
Embracing a Digital Caribbean is not a solitary endeavor; it is a collaborative mission that unites us all. It is a journey that we must embark on and there are some essential steps that we must take as a region if we are to realize success. Among these steps are the following:
The region must invest in robust digital infrastructure, including high-speed internet access across the islands, connecting even the most remote communities.This infrastructure is critical for businesses to adopt digital technologies and for citizens to access online services.
Education and Digital Skills Training
The region must invest in digital education and skills development to empower our citizens, enabling them to participate in the digital economy. We have to upskill the workforce in digital literacy and technology-related skills. This ensures that the labor force can participate in the digital economy.
Innovation and Entrepreneurship
It is absolutely imperative that the region fosters a supportive ecosystem for startups and innovation, encouraging the development of technology driven enterprises. This is important for driving economic progress and competitiveness; thus innovation must be at the center of our growth strategies. This remains a main driving force behind progress in our economies.
Data Privacy and Cybersecurity
The region must develop strong data privacy regulations and cybersecurity measures to protect both citizens and businesses in the digital landscape.
Research and Development
We have to invest in research and development which will also foster innovation in emerging technologies, which can lead to the creation of new industries and jobs.
There must be close collaboration between our governments, private sectors, civil society and academia to drive digital initiatives forward.
Extremely important, we have to seek international collaborations and partnerships in order to leverage resources and expertise for the region’s digital development.
As SIDS we have to ensure that digital transformation initiatives consider sustainability and environmental impact.
Collaborative efforts on our Digital Transformation journey in the Region
Managing mobile roaming, local number portability, broadband services, a single ICT space, and harmonization of regulations and legislation is a complex undertaking in the Caribbean region due to the diverse range of countries and territories involved. However, there have been notable efforts and initiatives to address these issues collectively and foster regional integration in the ICTs sector.
The Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) has been working to facilitate reduced mobile roaming charges within the Caribbean region. Initiatives like “Roam Like You’re Home” have been implemented to lower roaming costs for travelers.
Local Number Portability (LNP)
LNP allows consumers to keep their phone numbers when switching between service providers. Many Caribbean countries have introduced LNP regulations to increase competition and provide consumers with greater choice.
The Caribbean has seen improvements in broadband services, with Governments and private sector players investing in broadband infrastructure. Initiatives like the Caribbean Regional Communications Infrastructure Program (CARCIP) aim to expand broadband access in the region.
Single ICT Space
The CARICOM Single ICT Space represents an ambitious initiative to create a harmonized framework for the ICTs sector in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) member states. It seeks to promote regional integration, provide uniform regulations, and enhance the digital economy.
Harmonization of Regulations and Legislation
Regional organizations, such as the CTU and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), have been instrumental in promoting harmonization of ICTs regulations and legislation. The goal is to create a common framework for ICTs policies, cybersecurity, and digital commerce. The establishment of model ICTs policies is one way to promote harmonization.
Efforts to address these issues involve collaboration among our Governments, regulatory authorities, industry stakeholders, and regional organizations. These initiatives aim to create a more seamless and efficient ICTs environment across the Caribbean region, reduce costs, increase competition, and improve the overall digital experience for consumers and businesses.
As we know our progress on our digital transformation journey will vary from one country to another due to differences in regulatory frameworks, resources, and infrastructure. Regional initiatives are critical to promoting a unified approach to ICTs development in the Caribbean, ultimately benefiting the entire region’s economic growth and digital transformation.
Leveraging Digital Transformation for Economic Development in our Caribbean economies
We in the region are on a journey that will serve to transform our economies. If we look at those countries which are ahead of us on this journey we can see the tremendous benefits that can accrue from digital transformation.
Smart Cities Initiatives
The Region can use digital transformation to implement smart city solutions so as to improve urban living, including efficient transportation, energy conservation, health and enhanced public safety.
Implementing e-government services can streamline administrative processes, reduce bureaucracy, and improve the delivery of our public services. Citizens can access government services online, which saves time and reduces the cost of in-person transactions.
Support for Startups and Innovation
Job creation and investment in our economies can be achieved if we encourage the growth of technology startups and provide a supportive ecosystem for innovation. This can attract both local and foreign investment in technology companies.
E-commerce and Online Marketplaces
E-commerce and online marketplaces will enable local businesses in the region to reach a broader customer base, including international markets.
The development of digital healthcare solutions can allow for telemedicine, electronic health records, and remote monitoring, enhancing healthcare accessibility and quality, all necessary as the region faces the various health outbreaks that prove detrimental to our growth.
Education and E-Learning
A digital society provides enhanced educational opportunities through e-learning platforms, making quality education more accessible for all.
Digital Financial Services
Digital banking and payment systems make financial transactions more efficient and secure.
Embracing digital transformation in the Caribbean will significantly alter the way we live and conduct our business. It will be a long process that will require regional cooperation, public-private partnerships, a commitment to investing in digital infrastructure, education, and innovation and global investment.
As we move forward, we must prioritize digital literacy, ensuring that every citizen has the skills to navigate the digital world. As Governments we must create an enabling environment for businesses, both large and small, to thrive and innovate. Additionally, we need to leverage digital technology to enhance disaster preparedness and response, thereby reducing the impact of natural disasters on our communities.
This digital age offers us in the Caribbean the unparalleled opportunities for growth and innovation. By addressing challenges and seizing opportunities in these areas, the Caribbean can build a brighter, more sustainable, and prosperous future for our citizens and the region as a whole.
Let us also remember that digital transformation is not an end in itself, but a means to achieve broader societal goals. It is a tool to improve the quality of life for our people, to provide them with better healthcare, education, and employment opportunities. Thus let us continue to work together, united by a shared vision of a Digital Caribbean, which will significantly aid in the growth and sustainable development of our region and redound to the betterment of our citizens.
As you debate the major challenges that may affect this vision, including the development and implementation of digital strategies to drive change, the benefits of using a Single Digital ID, the funding necessary for successful digital Programmes, developing the digital workforce and replacing outdated technologies, I believe that by the end of this week you will come away with solutions that will make our path towards a Digital Caribbean clearer, marked by collaboration, determination, and progress.