The head of Barbados’ main development financier has thrown out a challenge to Prime Minister Mia Mottley and her fellow leaders to produce more inventors and creative minds to help solve lingering and emerging challenges affecting the Caribbean.
At the same time, President of the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Luis Alberto Moreno said that institution stands ready to offer assistance.
Moreno told the opening here of the IDB’s ninth annual consultation of Caribbean governors forum: “As we begin our conversation today, I want to urge you to consider the need that we have to harness the untapped potential of all the citizens of the Caribbean.”
Recalling that it was Barbadian Alan Emtage, who created the world’s first internet search engine, Moreno said now was a “promising time” for the region to produce the people who would help solve a range of issues including the impact of climate change and natural disaster, crime and economic challenges.
Moreno told the forum, held under the theme Inclusive Caribbean at the Hilton Resort on Thursday evening: “I share Alan’s story because I want us to think about how many others like him there are who are growing up right here in the Caribbean, right here in Barbados.
“The question of course is, are we doing everything we can to give these future inventors the opportunities they need to reach their God given potential?
“These are exactly the kinds of people that need to solve our biggest problems.”
Stating that the challenges were urgent, Moreno added: “We also need to better exploit domestic and regional markets, increasing integration within the region.”
He said while the task ahead would not be easy, regional leaders can no longer afford to put off dealing with the issues they face. He called on the forum to “get to the heart of what it will take to move the Caribbean to the next level of development”.
The development banker said that many Caribbean citizens lacked the skills to contribute productively to the economy and many small business operators lacked the credit needed to expand their businesses.
“It is time therefore to diversify our economies and expand beyond growth that is led by natural resources while still continuing to invest in tourism,” he declared.
The two-day forum was expected to examine inequality and inclusive growth, discuss the experiences in Latin America and the Caribbean, pick apart issues in education, healthcare and financial inclusion, examine best ways to create more opportunities for citizens, and come up with plans to help regional economies to become more sustainable.
Prime Minister Mia Mottley said she was aware of the need for the creation of opportunities for young talented individuals, pointing out that if this was not done “they are likely to fall off of the precipice of opportunity”.
Making reference to the successes of former cricketer Sir Garfield Sobers and international superstar Rihanna, Mottley said while they were not born into wealth they were “world-class” because of the “openness and encouragement of the society”.
But acknowledging that more needs to be done, Mottley told Moreno: “I take your point completely because in a very real sense we have to guard against anything that will hamper the chances of ordinary citizens from being the best they can be.”
She gave the assurance that CARICOM leaders were committed to making life better for citizens, pointing out that the traditional level of stability the region had was linked to its commitment to education, public health and affordable access to health care.
“To a lesser extent we have tried with housing. We have not been as comprehensive in our success there but we have created the opportunities to allow our citizens to be able to move to the next level,” said Mottley.
At the same time, she called on fellow leaders to collaborate more on tackling some of the common issues, while recommending that the IDB allow countries to use “shared resources” to access funding instead of creating new proposals each time for the same issue.
She acknowledged that a lot of work was needed in tackling issues relating to climate change, non-communicable diseases, groundwater shortages and the sargassum seaweed, adding that the tourism industry was in need of more funding.
The Prime Minister said: “The untapped potential of growth is being strangled by the lack of oxygen of financing, and we believe the Inter-American Development Bank for the Caribbean constituency has a role that it can play.”
Since Barbados joined the hemispheric bank just over 50 years ago, it had carried out some 174 IDB-funded projects. Mottley said that she was especially pleased about projects in education and coastal protection.