By Aadra Gunashekar
During a recent CARICOM meeting,[i] Prime Minister Perry Christie of the Bahamas spoke on the subject of youth unemployment saying that it was the scourge of the times, and that the need of the hour was ensuring that Caribbean youth get a sound education,are integrated into the formal economy, and can reap the benefits of mobility and equity.[ii] Youth unemployment coupled with high crime rates,[iii] low tertiary education rates,[iv] high migration rates,[v] and relatively high rates of teenage pregnancy[vi] and HIV[vii] are common challenges in most of the Caribbean territories.
Alicia Barcena, United Nations Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, predicted a mere 0.5% growth rate in the region during the 5th Ministerial Conference for the Information Society in Latin America and the Caribbean. She posited that any improvement could only be achieved via technological innovation and renewed partnerships among governments and markets.[viii] A recent survey clearly demonstrated a shift in attitudes toward inclusive, socio-ecological development via innovation and an institutional shift in leadership among young professionals aged 18 to 29. Attitudes and awareness toward climate change among youth revealed that over three quarters of youth across the Caribbean believe that protecting the environment should be one of the top priorities of the region.[ix] Respondents showed increased enthusiasm toward innovative ideas for sustainability, renewable energy, and protection and preservation of the natural environment.[x] One third even indicated that they would not do business with environmentally irresponsible businesses.[xi]
In a bold step towards youth engagement and participative governance in the Caribbean, CARICOM youth ambassadors from across the region met up with CARICOM Secretary General Ambassador Irwin LaRoque in an initiative called #askSG, held on 29th June, 2015. The focus of the discussion was entrepreneurship, opportunities for product export, regional expansion of the agricultural industry, monetizing creative arts, and youth opportunities for regional certification and travel. Speaking about entrepreneurship Ambassador LaRoque said, “The entrepreneurial spirit of innovation, creativity and risk-taking is essential to succeed in an ever-changing and increasingly competitive global marketplace.”[xii]
Challenges faced by entrepreneurs in the region include unfavorable market regulations and poor access to finance and digital technology. infoDev, a global program within the World Bank Group that explores the nexus of technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, launched the Entrepreneurship Program for Innovation in the Caribbean (EPIC) in 2013.[xiii] The program focuses on mobile innovation, climate technology, and women-led entrepreneurship in the region. The Caribbean Climate Innovation Center (CCIC) was established in 2014 and hosted a Proof-of-Concept grant competition for entrepreneurs in July 2014. The 11 winners of the competition won more than USD 400,000 in concept grants. The successful applicants will receive grants of up to USD 50,000 to develop, test, and commercialize locally relevant climate technology solutions.[xiv] At the next stage, the EPIC program is to support and partner with local ‘nodes’ in the region to foster more entrepreneurial operations. This is definitely a space to watch out for ground-breaking new developments!
Aadra Gunashekar is a student in the Masters of Development Practice program at Columbia University in New York, USA. She is spending the summer in Kingston, Jamaica, supporting the Caribbean SDSN.
[vii] World Bank Health Indicators http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.DYN.AIDS.ZS
[ix] Web article assessed on July 7th, 2015. http://caribjournal.com/2015/07/02/beyond-climate-change-in-the-caribbean/#