Development has and always will be an issue for the Caribbean region. Its size, limited resources and reduced global bargaining power means that its nations must either struggle for meaningful independent growth or serve as a satellite of some greater power in order to achieve some benefit or security. Yet, adversity has served throughout history as a catalyst for innovation, and in spite of more cynical perspectives; there are still options at hand for the region. One such is the Triple Helix model of development. Though not often cited it has still served as the bedrock for success stories, particularly where STEM-based development is concerned. Silicon Valley, for example, can be attributed to Triple Helix at its best.

Breaking It Down

What then, is Triple Helix? Put simply, Triple Helix is a system built on the cohesive cooperation of the three pillars that are Industry, Education and Government. Unlike other models that seek more fixed and measurable forms of growth through direct development and investment, the onus of Triple Helix is to foster greater innovation. From this innovation more jobs, investment and by extension, economic development can spring forth. In theory, it sounds absurdly simple but we must remember that innovation is a risk-based investment. Two nations can embark on the very same programme to foster it with radically different results.

Triple Helix Development
(Simple in theory yet potentially complex in application, Triple Helix can be catered to a nation’s needs – Photo Courtesy Biocluster)

Indeed, this is likely why the Triple Helix model has been largely noted as a success in nations that were already developed and experiencing prosperity such as those of North America and Europe. At this point, one is prompted then to wonder why, if it all, this model should be utilized in the Caribbean given its developing status. The answer is simply that the Caribbean should cater its own application of the model to accommodate the region’s scale, needs, and economic realities. For one, the cooperation between the aforementioned three pillars can be used to facilitate a greater diversification of economic activity rather than a world-changing information-technology breakthrough.

Bringing It Into Context

A recent piece from purported that, in a post-coronavirus landscape, ‘Design Thinking’ would be both required and economically beneficial for regional economies. That is, industry and business should be approached from a problem-solving perspective similar to that of a designer where creativity and the convergence of form, as well as function, are paramount. After all, things are going to be different. Some jobs may become increasingly digitized while general consumer relations and the way business is conducted will be subject to drastic changes globally. Consequently, the economic slowdown as well as the push to digitize more jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic brought to light considerable environmental realities. Skies became clearer, waterways became cleaner and undeniable environmental improvement occurred during this time.

Thus, not only will more businesses need to adapt in the interest of health and safety but also in aid of environmental concern. For the Caribbean, this is doubly important given the region’s balancing act between seeking modernization and industrial development while attempting to preserve its islands’ pristine beauty and ecosystems. Indeed, given the region’s reliance on tourism, this should be an imperative priority. How then, does all of this tie into Triple Helix?

When Life Gives You Lemons

As we slowly lift quarantine policies enacted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, vulnerable island economies are expected to suffer considerable economic losses and contraction due to the global slowdown in commerce. These hardships should prompt us to restructure and reform, with Triple Helix serving as a potential model. With both private and state entities hurting, an onus on cooperative growth will be extremely beneficial. Partnerships have already existed wherein foreign investors and local entities helped fund scholarships, internship programmes, or partnered with state entities to stimulate youth creativity.

Triple Helix Development

Initiatives such as Idea2Innovate (i2i) from CARIRI (Caribbean Industrial Research Institute) which aim to provide funding grants to creative and innovative ideas are ideal examples of this. However, we should go further and, rather than have the state be the primary partner, attempting to create a more far-reaching and influential paradigm. One of the key things to note with Triple Helix is that the state is not the primary controller, financier, or benevolent benefactor. Rather, it paves the way and sets about policy that makes both business and education more able to function without facing many hurdles. In this regard, policy reforms improving ease of business, investment and reducing bureaucratic red tape for startups are ideally required. These can run the gamut ranging from tax breaks to digitizing the process of business registration and setup.

Both regional and foreign partners can then be sought after, with the right investment incentives, to set up and establish themselves here. These should not be typical industry and manufacturing but also services such as finances, customer support, research and so on. It is here that educational establishments will come into play further. Partnerships with public and private educational bodies amongst these investors can both enrich a nation’s pool of skilled workers as well as guarantee a steady supply of talent for firms involved. In fact, it’s not so uncommon for skills training outlets and industry to even be part of the same investment portfolio or parent company.

Wrapping Up

Thus, we see that there is a range of ways in which Triple Helix can both be applied and be useful for the small Caribbean region without directly emulating its implementation from larger nations. However, all of these would require political will, administrative reform and the initiative to begin a movement towards economic transformation. Many governments, particularly given the uncertainty of current times, maybe wont to take these risks however in the greater scheme of things we see its more than necessary.