Friday 16 November, 2018

ICT expert calls for policy to support the youth in digital economy

A regional ICT expert is urging Caribbean Governments to include and support the youth in the development of a regional digital economy.

In delivering the feature address at the Sir Arthur Lewis Memorial lecture hosted at the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank in St Kitts, Bevil Wooding urged leaders to unleash the youth and empower communities.

Wooding, Strategic Adviser on Technology to the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission and one of the region’s leading advocates for technology-enabled Caribbean development, said for a digital economy to exist, we must move from being merely consumers to producers.

“A digital economy develops when users shift from merely consuming content to producing and exporting digital content and facilitating digital transactions, on interconnected networks. The domestic digital economy develops when users shift from merely consuming content hosted outside of a country or jurisdiction, to producing local content and facilitating local transactions, all run on local networks,” he said.

Wooding said market forces alone will not generate the societally optimal level of ICT-enabled development.

“There are investments the private sector will not make. There are investments governments should not make. There are things that our entrepreneurs and innovators-in-waiting cannot do for themselves. There are things the policy-makers and the financial services sector can and must do to translate the ICT-promise into development reality.

“A combination of strategic and practical mechanisms can be deployed, to generate local content; create local value chains; and provide local transaction support. This includes: reforming the education pipeline, addressing public sector service delivery, leveraging regulation to encourage local investment, competition and innovation and prioritizing programs that provide tangible public benefit,” he said.

In the Question and Answer segment, Wooding stressed the importance of adopting policy to lay the supporting infrastructure for the development of a digital economy.

Wooding, who pioneered mobile app development and digital content creation programmes, exposing over 1500 Caribbean youth to the opportunities in the digital economy, gave the example of working in seven Caribbean countries with young people in the development of mobile applications.

He said in St Kitts, he was sent about 85 at-risk youth with no technological background.

“We spent the first two days talking about identity, this is who you are and you have the right and ability to stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone in the world. This is who you are and this is why we must build the applications that solve our problems. We sent them out on the third day, come up with the areas you want to tackle. They came back and dealt with things such as agriculture, there were a lot of proposals for agriculture. We made them pitch to each other. We taught them about comportment, how to make their statements and positions clear.

“By Friday of that week, they were presenting mobile apps they built from scratch, tackling real issues. The ones who couldn’t build or programme were providing assistance with writing, research or real criticism. They all had a part to play. They presented, there was applause, they were all celebrated,” said Wooding.

He said, however, the youth were stalled when they needed real-world assistance to make their apps fully functional.

“I made a call after the presentation of the applications to the adults in the rooms, we need mentors. I made an appeal to the telecom providers, we need these apps on your networks; they are actually dealing with real local service delivery needs. We made an appeal to the media, we need you to profile these young people so others could be inspired,” he recalled.

“It’s one thing to come up with the idea, it’s another thing to have the technological skill to build it and address real needs but for it to be sustainable it has to interface at some point with systems that are external to your ideas and that is why I keep putting the spotlight on the policy issues. Cause those young people could not get the banks to give them merchant accounts, these young people couldn’t get the ISPs to say we will by default preload or provision our phones with these applications,” he said, noting that this was the same in all the islands he conducted his experiment.