May 12, 2015

Highlights from the Forum on the Future of the Caribbean

[Please note: The opinions expressed below are my own and not representative of the Global Shapers Bridgetown Hub or any of the other youth representatives pictured below.]

Last week, I attended the international “Forum on the Future of the Caribbean” at the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the Hyatt Regency in Trinidad and Tobago, by special invitation on behalf of the Global Shapers Bridgetown Hub. The University of the West Indies, the United Nations, the Commonwealth, CARICOM, the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, the OECS and a number of other organisations teamed up to host the forum.
Caribbean Heads of State and international thought leaders from the US, China, Thailand, Nigeria, Malta, the UK, and Chile were  were brought together to engage in a vigorous debate and discussion under the forum banner of: “Disruptive Thinking. Bold Action. Practical Outcomes.”

It was an intense 3 days covering a multitude of topics, ranging from environmental sustainability, to space exploration (no joke) and the history development in the Caribbean.

Here are some takeaways that I found most interesting:

1. Collaboration is essential for the development of our region
  • We know how important regional collaboration is, but emphasis was placed on the need for a clearer long-term vision of where we are going as a region. 
2. Education & Language
  • Languages divide us all: As civilisation made up of dozens of languages, our education system does not mandate Spanish, French & English. It was suggested that we take a page out of EU's book, and make sure everyone speaks the languages of our neighbours. I found this most interesting and I felt quite embarrassed when this was raised, as I could not communicate with the Spanish youth representatives at my table.
  • Access to tertiary education was put forward as critical to poverty reduction and alleviation. It was emphasised that entrepreneurship should be central to any education reform.
3. Big Data
  • Need for data transparency and the creation of policy driven by knowledge, data generation and research
4. The role of the youth in regional development
  • One objective was to “amplify the voices of dynamic young leaders willing to challenge the status quo and champion new solutions” and though better understanding of and harnessing the role of youth was a major theme throughout the event, there was very poor youth representation, which was most disappointing to me. The Shapers sat on the panel on the first day, but by the third day the 'Youth' segment was squeezed out of an already tightly timed lunch break session. 
Islanders are often accused of 'talking shop' and sadly I felt like this event was no exception, even though it had the best intentions. Though they promised 'disruptive' ideas, for the most part the dynamic was participants listening to academic lectures, versus more a more action-oriented design for the conference. I think I was expecting something on the level of One Young World, whose very existence is based on the notion of empowering young people to make lasting connections and develop solutions to some of the world's most pressing issues. I have yet to see tangible outcomes from the discussions and debates that took place at this Forum, though I have high hopes that they will consider the feedback for the next event.

On a more positive note, this was my first time attending a regional conference and I was blown away by the event itself, which on a whole, was very professional [and the Trini food was amazing!] The structure of the event, which was broken up into sessions and many coffee breaks, offered great opportunities for me to network with public/private sector and Government representatives from across the Caribbean. We had the pleasure of meeting Amina Mohammed, Special Advisor to the UN Secretary-General on Post-2015 Development Planning, pictured below with Richard Blewitt, the UNDP regional representative. Amina gave a very inspiring speech during the "Bold Action and Outcomes: Governance Challenges." This lady means business and it was really inspiring to meet such a strong woman who is very humble and real. We were a bit shy to ask her for a photo, but her personal assistant was so nice and took a group shot of us before whisking her away to a meeting. To our dismay, it came out blurry, so I sprinted after them and asked for a retake (!) Thankfully she has a sense of humour too and happily obliged.

Another major highlight for me was the opportunity to get to know the Kingston & Port of Spain Global Shapers Hub. I knew a few members by name, but by the end of the 3 days we all became friends and I was really inspired by the friendly dynamics between the Hub members. The Bridgetown Hub is tiny by comparison, but as the incoming Curator I hope to increase our membership and foster an environment similar to that of the POS Hub, with Shapers from diverse backgrounds and varying interests.

I also had the opportunity to connect with Giselle and Maurice of the Volunteer Centre of Trinidad and Tobago. I stalked them before coming to Trinidad and was really excited to meet them in real life! They're doing amazing work with the Centre and I hope that we can have a similar institution in Barbados soon (I'm working on it, stay tuned!) 

Overall, I came away from this event feeling very inspired by the people I met, many of them under the age of 30, who are all doing incredible things to improve and develop the region. I just wish those people were given more of an opportunity to highlight the work that they're doing and how the youth can play more of an active role in regional development.

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