Strategic steps…. Project Barbados – steps towards catalyzing a national conversation that sweeps Barbados on how we can create one vision for the future continues.
It is very easy to write a vision and talk about leadership, but the real test is articulating a realistic way forward from where we are today. That is, having actionable solutions that can restore the economy, drive economic growth and build sustainably for the future.
In my view, there are three contiguous and concurrent things that could be pursued to start the rebuilding process. Generate an immediate injection of foreign exchange, implement immediate actions to create efficiency in the country and pursue opportunities that will propel longer term investment.
One of the areas that we need to increase significantly in Barbados is remittances. We need to galvanize the diaspora of Barbados around the single idea of building Barbados for the future. We therefore need to present a project to them for investment in Barbados, where there is a medium to long term return for them and their families and which, at the same time, gives them a chance to play a part in contributing to their Barbadian heritage.
This could be an immediate fillip to the economy. One such idea could be the restoration of Farley Hill House to an entertainment museum and performance centre named after a popular Barbadian entertainer with international appeal in music, movies and fashion. This can become an increased revenue earner through being a more meaningful tourist attraction and an international draw for indoor and outdoor performances.
The restoration would result in immediate employment locally; persons in the diaspora would be encouraged to buy shares in this project, and it would also be opened to local investment as well. However, the idea would be 80 per cent funding from the Barbadian Diaspora to earn immediate foreign exchange. A team of resource persons can go on a road show visiting all of the major centres, Toronto, London, Boston, Brooklyn etc. to sell the idea in town hall meetings and focus groups. This could become a real project of Barbadian pride. A new listing for the Barbados Stock Exchange and perhaps the start of an investment and trading culture locally.
We could have a similar intervention for the Empire Theatre or a renewable energy project linked to transportation transformation. The key is identifying a revenue generating project that will provide consistent revenue streams and profits that can return a dividend to its investors. The graph of remittances shows a comparison between Jamaica and Barbados. Between 1980 and 1993, there was a not significant disparity between Jamaica and Barbados.
However, after 1993 there was a dramatic increase in remittances to Jamaica as a contribution to GDP rising as high as 16 per cent of GDP, whereas Barbados’ remained flat around the three per cent mark. We can create a similar result for Barbados, if our effort is strategic, coordinated and deliberate.
The second strategic step is a focus on making two or three arms of government more efficient, the Port of Barbados, the registering of any kind of documents for business start-up or obtaining personal identification – Passport, Barbados ID, or any kind of license – liquor, marriage etc. The idea here is to select two or three agencies of the public sector that the Union and Government can sit together and agree to focus on making these areas work so well, that they spur confidence throughout other areas of the economy.
This could catalyze making the private sector more efficient, make other government departments work better and stimulate a wider confidence by sending a message to the local and international business community that something has changed, and Barbados is opened for business. It could even have an impact on those persons in the diaspora we are simultaneously talking to, and asking to invest their money in the country. Their next touch point with Barbados, would be seamless, whether trying to obtain a passport, buying shares on our local exchange, opening a business, obtaining a marriage license or birth certificate.
The process would be so well engineered and seamless that it appears Barbados is truly practicing a new and different kind of business ethos. This step is critical. I am not suggesting trying to change the entire public sector in three (3) months but focusing on two or three selected areas that can have the most impact.
Finally, we need the longer-term outreach for foreign direct investment in International Business and new manufacturing opportunities, so the third strategic step is to get trade teams on the road to sell our country, along the lines of health care infrastructure and pharmaceutical development.
This is where we start to become targeted and focused in building the future that we want for ourselves, which I submit to you is in building health care capacity. This should be both a private sector and public-sector led initiative because the idea is to build new industry that does not exist today. That is how we will grow this economy sustainably for the future.
These are the immediate steps to get us going, don’t forget we can chew gum and walk, so all the while we need to be setting up our workforce teams to be working on primary school curriculum reform and fixing our transportation system, two of the key pillars in future Barbados that not just works but works deliberately, efficiently and sustainably.
We are only 300,000 people, 135,000 labour force, a very skilled, well-trained and disciplined population of people that can be easily unified in one direction, under one vision. We can do this, and these are some suggested strategic steps to get the journey started.