The Caribbean Development Bank and UWI

Changing to Compete in a Global Environment

By Dr. Wm. Warren Smith

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I went to university in the United States in the 1970s – a very exciting time in the world. It was the period of the oil crisis, the Vietnam War and Black Power consciousness. It was a period of continuous change.

That environment had a great impact on my worldview. As a young Caribbean person, I was extremely nationalistic - not in a narrow sense, but in terms of my commitment to the Caribbean. My very strong desire to see this region realize its potential was my main motivation to return to the Caribbean. When the opportunity presented itself, I left the United States and returned to the Caribbean.

My expectation was that the Caribbean, a region full of very creative people, would develop our economies and social systems and provide a high standard of living for the majority of us living here. I realized that we did not have the same endowments as other nations and that the path to development would not necessarily be the same for each country. I also felt that, with the quality of our human resources, we were capable of developing strong economies; and that none of our countries would be left behind.

The reality has been different; and at sixty years of age, I would not be speaking truthfully if I did not say that I feel some disappointment about where we are as a region today.

Before joining the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), I worked for over three decades in several parts of the Caribbean, including the Eastern Caribbean and my own country, Jamaica. I also worked in both the public sector and the private sector. My career path, therefore, has pretty much tracked our region’s development experience so far. We have had patches of success in terms of our economic growth, education, health and other social objectives, and in our ability to address the problems facing us as developing nations.

Yet, when I look back at the last 10 years, in particular, there are signs that we have begun to fall behind. When faced with challenges of external origin, we have been slow to set in motion the transformation that would enable us to overcome these challenges.

For instance, there was no doubt that the preferential trade agreements that the Caribbean enjoyed in sugar and bananas in European markets, would have, at some point, come to an end. We talked frequently about the devastating social and economic effects that the impending loss of preferences would have on the Region.

However, for unexplained reasons, it took a long time for us to make the required changes. Even those Caribbean countries which had the potential to improve the competitiveness of the threatened industries took too long to begin the transformation. We also delayed making the shift into new industries with greater prospects. As a result, we now find ourselves having to play “catch-up” in an unusually tough economic environment.

The Region is at a delicate stage of its development; and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) can play a critical role in helping the Region to address its major challenges.

CDB is a development finance institution established in 1970 to assist, mainly the poorest members of our region, transform their economic and social circumstances, with the objectives of reducing poverty and creating sustainable growth. What makes CDB different from other development institutions operating in the region is that we are much smaller and our entire focus is on the Caribbean. These two features enable us to be more agile in responding to the needs of our borrowing member countries and to have a very good appreciation of the local problems, priorities and perspectives.

The majority of our professional staff studied at The University of the West Indies (UWI), giving the Bank added advantage in terms of knowledge of what is going in the Caribbean and the connections and networks they are able to establish with important stakeholders across the region.

The University and CDB share something else in common. In this changing environment, if we do not change the way in which we work, we risk becoming increasingly irrelevant. At CDB, we are very cognizant of this possibility and keep our product offerings and policy advice provided to borrowing member countries under constant review in order to maintain our relevance.

The education landscape at UWI is being transformed right before our eyes. The operation of offshore universities has brought new challenges and highlighted the importance of UWI and other regional institutions revamping the conservative approaches of the past in order to remain or become more competitive.

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