The future of the Caribbean depends on the development of niche industries to compete with wealthier nations, two Caribbean officials told a lunchtime group at the Kennedy School of Government (KSG) yesterday.
“We have to contribute to the world economy—not just to music and culture,” Jamaican Minister of Commerce and Technology Phillip Paulwell told 20 people at a lunch run by the KSG student group Caricom Caucus. “We haven’t been able to blend business, science and technology. We have to improve productivity by integrating them.”
Norris Prevost, a senator from Dominica, a Caribbean island four times the size of Washington, D.C., told the group that globalization makes it hard for Third World countries to keep up with richer nations, so the Caribbean must specialize in order to compete.
“We need to attract new capital into the Caribbean. It’s hard to benefit from anything we attempt to do in competition with the first world,” he said.
Both officials identified certain sectors, like software development, education and healthcare, where they thought Caribbean countries could develop niches.
“Jamaica is not going to be an industrial giant but there are things that we’re good at,” Paulwell said. “We need to start with what we have. We’ll be able to use information and communication technology to get into emerging technology.”
For example, Paulwell said that Jamaica was attempting to get Indian software companies to establish themselves in Jamaica.
Prevost said that one of the current problems in the development of the Caribbean is that the government has not solicited enough help from academics.
“Academia has to get into the heads of politicians,” Prevost said. “We need more studies from our intellectuals so that we can establish business opportunities and implement policies.”
Paulwell concluded the lunch with a plea for some of the audience members originally from the Caribbean to return after their time at Harvard.
“The region is screaming for talent,” he said. “Many of our best talent is overseas. Hopefully some of you will come back home.”
Wayne Parrish, a mid-career KSG student, said that the talk was helpful in furthering her introduction to the region’s issues.
“The potential is extraordinary as long as they don’t sacrifice long-term growth for the short-term,” she said.