Innovation in The Caribbean: Now is the Time to Jump

Updated: Jun 6, 2019

I was recently was a speaker at a conference of the Caribbean Institute of Management Consultants, a group of regional professionals of which I am a member. This group meets annually to address pressing issues for consultants in the Caribbean. This year there was more of a global approach to the conference. 

My topic was about how branding is used to add value. A particularly significant topic in a business environment which may extend beyond one's geographical borders.

The issue of border less competition is at once freeing and scary.

A lot of the conversation in the region is around a singular shared issue that we face in our respective countries - how to ensure that local consultants have access to and are awarded work on large consulting projects. That means that we not only need to have the necessary expertise but also that we are known for having that expertise. In other words, expertise must be part of our collective brand. 

One of the most interesting presentations at the conference was from Therese Turner-Jones, the general manager of the Country Department at the Inter American Development Bank. Turner-Jones’ presentation showed a grand vision for the Caribbean: powered by renewable energy, maximizing our potential in human capital development and being a center for creative thinking and leadership. 

Left Behind

Moreover, it addressed one of the issues that I think has held the Caribbean back for many years - an apparent unwillingness to embrace innovation. As a young adult, I often wondered why my country, The Bahamas, seemed like it was technologically a few years behind other countries. I don’t mean crazy futuristic technology like what one might find in China or Japan, I mean basic technology like having a drivers license that was not handwritten.  

In hindsight, what I did not consider was the high cost of bringing technology to small markets and then implementing all of the additional operational changes, especially in an industry like commercial financial services. This is not only the case in The Bahamas but also across the region since the Caribbean does not operate on a single financial platform. Rather, we have operated mostly as separate trading blocks which do not typically realize economies of scale or create opportunities for ideas to easily be exchanged.

A Narrative of Innovation

For many years, innovation an openness to trying new ways of doing things wasn’t part of our daily discourse. We didn’t question how we could use technology or design to improve how our societies operate and to enhance our competitive offerings. We became complacent, seeing the market and competition as all within our geographical borders. 

Not cultivating a culture of innovation meant that many people who did feed into a narrative of innovation and creative thinking left their Caribbean homelands to contribute their talents somewhere else. In The Bahamas, this figure is approximately 60 percent. Essentially, this brain drain resulted in a slow down of the development of our localized human capital - the workforce that we need to drive innovation and build the knowledge base.

I hope that this is the old guard. Technology is changing in ways that we did not anticipate even 10 years ago. It’s easier and faster to implement the technology that we need to compete with the rest of the world as individual markets and, moreover, as a region.  

A blockchain, originally block chain, is a growing list of records, called blocks, which are linked using cryptography. Each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp, and transaction data. By design, a blockchain is resistant to modification of the data.

At the CICMC conference John Rolle, governor of the Central Bank of The Bahamas spoke about the organization’s planned use of blockchain to reach underserved markets in commercial financial services. One of the other attendees seated near me said that he didn’t believe the region was ready for this technology. What does that even mean??? This is part of the problem, in my opinion. Blockchain isn’t controversial and there are proven benefits to using it. So once all the analysis is done, why wait?

Turner-Jones’ message was about a reimagined Caribbean where innovation is the currency on the path to a better future. As a region we need to be prepared take the proverbial jump towards this direction. This point was underscored by the young Prime Minister of Curacao, Eugene Rhugganaath, who emphasized the importance of regional economic development and acknowledged the role of the creative industries. Things are changing in the region and now that another generation is ascending to power, I hope that there is more of an embrace of technology and global thinking. Now is indeed the time to jump. 

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I'm a strategic marketing communication consultant who works with premium brands to tell compelling brand stories, guide perception, drive engagement and build loyalty to win hearts and wallets. Find out more about me at, follow me on Twitter @royanndean and Linkedin.

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