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Caribbean: Making ‘Growth’ more than just a Buzzword

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  • Caribbean growth initiative to spur job creation and better economic opportunities for region
  • Region-wide forum to provide platform for knowledge sharing and solutions-oriented discussions on sustainable growth
  • Caribbean youth will be key aspect of growth initiative to bring about change in region

KINGSTON, Jamaica, June 15, 2012 — 'Growth', the most sought-after currency in the current global economic scenario, will be at the forefront of a pioneering initiative for the Caribbean to jumpstart the region's stalling economies.

A joint venture by the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank and the Caribbean Development Bank, the Caribbean Growth Forum (CGF) will bring together key players within the region --private sector, the youth, civil society as well as the wider Caribbean Diaspora. The aim: to inspire a collective and inclusive solutions-led discussion about the future of the region and its potential for growth.

After several decades of below average growth -- excluding the Dominican Republic, the median growth in the region has stayed below 3 percent-- it's clear that the backdrop for the first meeting of the CGF on June 18 is rife with challenges. But the region, which in recent years has registered high unemployment, crime, and unequal access to services and education, is brimming with potential ready to be fulfilled, experts say.

"The catalyst is a collective sense that something different can happen," explains World Bank Country Director Françoise Clottes. "It is not a forum to get depressed and talk about unresolved longstanding issues," she added.

Challenges are, indeed, great for the Caribbean. But so are opportunities. Strategically located, with a strong brand name and an educated population, it ticks all the right boxes when it comes to potential.

Also, the region's desire for change is palpable, according to Clottes.

"Here and there you find skepticism that lots of things have been tried, but there is energy in the Caribbean to talk about what can be done differently for different results," she said.

Defining sustainable growth

Experts agree that growth for growth's sake is not what is needed but rather strategic decisions, which take into account individual economic realities.

"We must make sure that opportunities for creativity are supported and nurtured, but that they are also right for the economy, rather than having hundreds of jobs advertised for which there are few qualified applicants because they did their training in fields no longer demanded by the market," says Juliette Wedderburn, Director of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung for Jamaica and Eastern Caribbean.

Improving the prospect for growth also needs to be tailored to the realities of the region. As social entrepreneur Georgia Love notes, the Caribbean, comprising of small, developing island states, isn't like its North American neighbors. What is needed is a new model, one which respects both the region's recent colonial past and economic present.

"We want to be developed, but our development doesn't need to look like everyone else's," she explains. "For example, a pet peeve of mine is how much water we are bottling. Yes, it's big business, which creates huge jobs, but for a small island are we sufficiently looking at the long term implications?"

Love's is a crucial question. Launching in the same week as Rio+20, the CGF shares a vision with the UN conference – to identify a form of growth which increases equality and sustainability, while at the same time providing a future for the Caribbean's large youth population.

But seeking to increase growth in a risky global environment can appear as challenging to decision makers as the search for the Holy Grail. Structural obstacles must be tackled systematically balancing both strategic goals and practical decisions. In the Caribbean, for example, this means improving connectivity, lowering the cost of logistics and addressing the challenges of doing business by expanding access to credit for small and medium enterprises and updating the skills offer.

Young people are key

In Jamaica, youth unemployment is double that of the national rate. So, it is vital that any economic growth includes creating suitable and sustainable jobs which transcend social divides. A challenge, certainly, but one that young entrepreneur Michelle Harris feels may offer some of the best opportunities.

"In other countries where you have more developed sectors, more services, more products, it's all there. Here, there is still a chance to bring things that are important to help people live more comfortably. Wherever there is a problem, it could turn out to be an opportunity for a business – and there are a lot of problems, there are a lot of gaps."

And herein lies the region's greatest asset: the depth of talent and creativity found within the youth population, particularly within growth sectors such as ITC, which is the focus of Digital Jam 2.0 in Kingston at the end of the month.

"A vast majority of young people have Blackberries and Facebook at their finger tips. The technology is in their hands and they know how to manage it," notes Dominican journalist, Nester Phillips.

Orientated towards making change happen, the Caribbean Growth Forum aims to reach out to these innovators, a coalition of the hopeful and those who are looking for change. As Clottes notes, just because "things haven't been resolved in the past doesn't mean that they can't be resolved in the future. The world is changing and the Caribbean is also in the process of changing."