Big things are happening.
Not just globally but regionally as well. In today’s globalised world, one must not expect to just sit in their corner and eke out a comfortable existence in a vacuum. Nations once considered economically secure due to the privilege of being blessed with natural resources now find themselves struggling for purchase and economic stability in the evolving world economy. One such Caribbean nation is Trinidad and Tobago. At one point in time in recent history it effortlessly topped its neighbours in indicators ranging from growth to economic competitiveness and development milestones.
Now it finds itself wrestling to maintain a competent credit rating amongst international bodies while managing its debt and various failing state-run economic entities. In the shadow of these mounting problems, it was announced, just prior to its Independence Day celebrations ironically, that its state owned Petrotrin refinery would be closed. In the flurry of reports that followed, the original estimate of roughly 1,700 jobs being affected soon rose to 3,5002 with estimates increasing ever since per each new analysis. A topic of intrigue and political machinations, the state run company had been saddled with years of debt, numerous accusations of corruption, exorbitant spending, declining productivity and finances that would have long sent any private venture bust. All while adamantly serving, as many state owned entities tend to, as a pillar more for boasting considerable employment figures and benefits than profits.
However, we’re not here to analyze Petrotrin or other state run companies today but before we move on, consider, underscoring the earlier point of changing economic landscapes, neighbouring Guyana’s fortunes. A 2017 analysis from Oil Now estimated that soon Guyana may very well be earning close to $1 million USD per day from oil profit royalties alone if its recent forays into energy go as planned. Trinidad and Tobago’s days as an uncontested energy king are numbered one way or the other. What is it to do then?
Embracing The Digital Revolution
Some may say tourism is the answer, but realistically speaking that ship has sailed. The ideal window of opportunity is now closed. There is however another avenue. By embracing the ‘Digital Revolution’, T&T can anchor itself as a stable regional economy ahead of its competitors; many of which are also yet to fully embrace this path. Consequently, this initiative shouldn’t be one overseen entirely by the state and state investment alone. Instead it should be done by way of a ‘Triumvirate’, that is, between 3 influential entities, the state, private sector and educational establishments.
After all, a digital revolution is as much an intellectual revolution as well. It inevitably requires a tech savvy and highly educated populace. What we want to see are programmers, software developers, graphic designers as well as managers and marketers plying their trade with the wholehearted adoption of modern technology.
A Knowledge Economy
To achieve this requires the establishment of a Knowledge Economy. An OECD development paper summarised a Knowledge Economy as one where growth is inextricably linked to the accessibility of information among the populace. This also means the quantity and quality of the available information is also imperative. Indeed, a case study from Izmir University researchers highlighted the connections between ICT advancement, a Knowledge Economy and prosperous development in OECD economies.
In a nation where dependence on mineral resources is no longer possible due to changing economic tides, fostering the maturation of an economy revolving less around finite commodities should be a priority. To achieve this, we need a concerted effort, as mentioned above, by various sectors in society, particularly the trio of educational, state and private benefactors. We want to see IT related subjects become a core part of the school syllabus from young. Make learning HTML or a simple programming language mandatory in secondary schools. Have school based assessments where participants are tasked with designing a simple but useful app or website. This can also come with the possibility of endorsement and financial support from private benefactors if, for example, the final product both innovates and satisfies a demand in the market.
An Overlooked Economic Booster
Can everyone be a Digital Age entrepreneur? The answer to this is obvious. However, a highly skilled populace augments and boosts existing economic sectors as well. Furthermore the economic benefits to such an approach won’t be witnessed overnight. Indeed, much like the difference between economies with a more literate than a less literate populace, an ICT minded society’s benefits shine in multiple ways but only after a period of maturation has been achieved.
A piece from The National Academies Press titled “Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need To Know More About Technology” highlighted some of the more immediate benefits of an ICT ready populace. These ranged from improved and faster decision making capabilities, to health and lifestyle benefits due to increased knowledge and access to conveniences. Of importance though, was that it stressed how ICT knowledge is not something limited to youth. It should be embraced across all age groups.
How can this boost an economy you may ask? The answer is via a trickle-down effect. This increased knowledge and capability will inevitably be applied by the populace in their everyday activities. It will be incorporated into their business ventures, their planning, and their trade. There can also be broader support for it to be incorporated into state mechanisms as well. Consider also the efficiency and productivity increases technology could grant economically. Furthermore, this degree of competence across all sectors in society would open up more specialist economic avenues ranging from tech manufacturing to overseas investment by companies in need of high tech professionals such as programmers and electronic engineers.
Thus, while it may not be immediately observable, on connecting the dots we can easily see how innumerable the benefits of an ICT focused development plan are. As such, in a time of threatened energy and industry based revenues, massive state cuts and stymied private sector growth, an economy like Trinidad and Tobago’s would do well to start thinking outside of the box and showing more economic initiative.