Commentary: Intelligent Islands
by Caribbean Net News
A look at the list of the very rich countries of the world based on recent estimates of GDP per capita reveals interesting facts. Bermuda is first on the list. Out of the top 15 economies, no less than 4 are small island states. The British Virgin Islands is 11th on the list. These states deserve all praise for this achievement - despite being vulnerable in many ways by history and circumstance, they have been able to create and sustain an environment conducive to growth.
Being a small country does not matter in today’s world. What is challenging is how these countries build on their success and ensure that the benefits enrich the lives of all their people.
To begin with it is important to remember that:
Long term growth strategies are best based around resources which are naturally available in a country - especially those that will continue to be there for generations to come. Dubai’s growth was initially based on oil. Now it is increasingly based on the sand, the sea and the growing ability of its people in governance and innovation. Such resources, perpetual in nature, are in reality the most precious of all.
Each country and its people are unique and the wholesale adaptation of prescriptions often from larger countries is not always appropriate.
Benefits of economic growth need to reach all the population; discipline, efficiency and thrift in all activities are essential practices in a competitive world.
Human potential for enterprise and innovation has no boundaries given self esteem, skills and motivation.
Amitava Chaudhuri is currently the Adviser from the Commonwealth Secretariat to the Department of Trade and Consumer Affairs in the Office of the Premier, British Virgin Islands. Earlier he has worked in Central Asia, South Asia and southern Africa with two national governments, the UN system and the EU.
Opportunities abound for successful small island states. Their people are healthy and educated and have access to continuing free education and sport. A vast majority of the world population is not so fortunate. It is education, sport and family support that give rise to self esteem and motivation. School and college curricula need to keep this in mind and instill a continuing sense of importance in the minds of children and the youth. The rest is bound to follow.
Under utilization of potential
The vast ocean that lies all around the island states is an asset for which many countries have fought hard in history. Chengiz Khan, the great leader of landlocked Mongolia in Central Asia, took great risks and sacrificed many lives to reach India in the south and China in the east, only to have access to the sea.
To use the sea, one needs to understand it and made friends with it. If it is used only for tourism, it is an under utilization of its potential. Countries are able to do large scale fishing, tap seabed resources, extract power from its unending energy and conduct research on its immense storehouse of living things.
The island states are green and verdant. With additional topsoil in some places, poultry and agriculture can be taken up on terraced hillsides, through cooperatives if required. The issue is not a matter of economies of scale. Well advanced countries with hugely diversified economies spend large sums to support their agriculture sectors. Japan is said to treat is rice sector as virtually sacred. Many countries honour their farmers regularly to raise this activity to a form of patriotism. In addition to fruits and vegetables, there can be lucrative niche markets to tap, like those for orchids and other exotic flowers. They can be grown well on the islands. Markets are close by. They can be shipped in the morning from the Caribbean to be sold on not- far-away Broadway in New York in the evening.
The island states’ beauty, tranquility, security and good governance combined with the availability of banking, insurance and infrastructure, are a combination sought after by many think tanks and organizations engaged in higher technology and research. They are often small in size, use the Internet extensively and employ highly educated people. Such organizations, carefully selected, can be given the incentive to consider relocating some of their activities to the island states. This will expose educated local youth to advanced technologies and strategic thinking.
To increase efficiency in all activities in the island states it is useful to fall back on their indigenous perpetual resources. The sun and the wind are two such resources. They are also the source of unending energy. It is vital to understand the integral linkages between the energy sector and the economy of small islands and the many economic, social and environmental benefits that would accrue from a comprehensive development of indigenous energy sources. One has only to travel to Israel to see the extensive use, practicality and benefits of solar energy in a sunshine surplus land.
The use of the Internet and privatization are other tools for efficiency improvement. Small islands need to limit their travel and make extensive use of e-conferencing and other e-facilities in their governance and activities. Privatization of organizations can also be effective but it may not always be the answer. One needs remember that sometimes the aims of privatized enterprises may not be consistent with the aspirations of the people.
The goal is the creation of small societies in these island states - highly intelligent and productive, rich in creativity, pride and innovation. States which make extensive use of high technology but support tradition while enriching the lives of its entire people. A lot has already been done in this direction. Now the successful island states need to reposition themselves and work without creating a ripple in their pristine environments.