By Fabio Pittaluga
Today, as CARICOM Heads of Government meet to deliberate in Castries, St Lucia, trying to extricate their nations from the crosshairs of the deepest recession since the Community’s 1973 formation by the Treaty of Chaguaramas, the old clock is ticking still but with concern for its future: the digital clock is patiently waiting its turn in the hands of the Caribbean youth.
A staggering 86 percent of the Caribbean population is under 30 years old. This population is connected to the global social and knowledge society and skilled in digital work. However, the region has yet to fully embrace a digital economy and society model in which the youth could be the disruptive and innovative force. As result, with every batch of school graduates or dropouts who enter the labour market, youth unemployment continues to escalate, as most of them are no longer interested in agriculture and natural resource extraction, but in working with ICT and in a global interconnected environment.
This mismatch is putting the chances for sustained economic growth in the region at risk.
In spite of many efforts in the past to train and increase the skill levels of young people in the Caribbean, it is clear that more attention must be paid to ensure that their talents on working with ICT and with the global economic hubs are capitalized on, particularly by establishing links within regional and international labour markets. The youth could support the transition of Caribbean economies to competitive economies in the global markets.
This imperative led Jamaica’s Ministry of Youth and Culture, the World Bank, private local and international corporations and other partners, to launch Digital Jam 2.0 as the innovation event for the youth and by the youth. The vision of this new venture is to connect young citizens with global labor markets through opportunities provided by the global virtual economy. Powered by the energy, technical know-how and vision of the Caribbean youth, the Digital Jam 2.0 wants to craft a new reality not just in Jamaica, but within the ‘seamless economic space’ envisioned by CARIMAC through the CSME.
How? I suggest we take the advice of the Chief Information Officer of the Jamaica National Building Society, Shereen Jones: “In order to secure fundamental change — do not re-define, re-imagine.”
Digital Jam 2.0 has raised a lot of interest. The three-day launch event last week brought together immense brain power and talent with a clear agenda to establish the basis for digitalization of Jamaican society, the creation of a viable ecosystem for IT technologies to flourish, and the utilization of new virtual market niches for employment generation in a country where youth unemployment is at its historic highest.
Imagine a new Caribbean society re-shaped from this new hub in Jamaica focused on the youth and their support to develop a knowledge economy. It is a collective vision of a modern and competitive Jamaica in which the youth are the champions, the implementers, the innovators, and the “disruptive” force for creating a new social and economic model.
This will have multiple advantages for the youth including employment and skills development and for the economy with the creation of a robust ICT sector, efficient management of public records and by extension, seamless public administration processes.
Today is also ironically the 119th anniversary of the birth of Norman W Manley, one of Jamaica’s founding fathers who famously left the following words for a nation to live by.
“I say that the mission of my generation was to win self-government for Jamaica…And what is the mission of this generation? It is reconstructing the social and economic society and life of Jamaica”.
The clock is now digital, yet tempus fugit. If each one takes personal responsibility to re-imagine and re-define CARICOM’s economic space, they can re-discover growth and prosperity.
From the jump-start of Digital Jam 2.0 Jamaica can lead the way.
Fabio Pittaluga is a Senior Social Development Specialist for the World Bank’s Latin America and Caribbean region. He is also the coordinator for Digital Jam 2.0, a portal for youth employment via the virtual global economy.
Note: the opinions expressed in Caribbean Journal Op-Eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Caribbean Journal.