Developing Capabilities for Tech Innovation in the Caribbean

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad – Innovation as a vital source of private and social gains has been recognized the world over. Global policy debates, most recently at the OECD Global Forum on Development, have taken keen interest in the policy implications of innovation for inclusive development, addressing some fundamental questions.

The myriad challenges facing small island states of the Caribbean make the strategic management of innovation an imperative and the consequences of under-investment far-reaching. Indeed, Trinidad and Tobago, like the rest of the region, needs to take science technology and innovation and its potential contribution to development seriously.

There is a firm foundation provided by the past efforts such as the Caribbean Technology Policy Studies (CTPS) program, spearheaded by the late Norman Girvan in the 1970s and ’80s at the University of the West Indies, with important industry-level analyses by the late Trevor Farrell.

This important research program had these issues as its central focus, long before many other parts of the developing world caught on. The insights derived have since been left in abeyance (or forgotten). The CTPS program was in fact a watershed in Caribbean research as it provided a thorough deep analysis of the links between science, technology and innovation and the region’s developmental challenges.

These studies also demonstrated how home-grown institutions and researchers could add value to forward-thinking policy initiatives. Since the ’80s, however, the pace of technological change has been at breakneck speed, and the region appears not to have coped well, despite some efforts in ICTs and green technologies.

What is even more disconcerting is that the perception of Caribbean private sector firms as not being dynamic and able to seize opportunities, as well as upgrade capabilities, has become even more entrenched. In this respect, there are some bright spots in terms of public sector led initiatives and efforts to create specialist institutions concerned with innovation.


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