Use crisis to propel Region into future – business leader

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The COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted the Region into the future, as far as the jobs landscape was concerned, regional business leader and author, Mr. Wayne Chen, said Wednesday.

He was at the time speaking during a three-hour CARICOM Digital Dialogue hosted by the CARICOM Girls ICT Partnership. It was held via the Zoom and Facebook platforms under the theme ‘Jobs, work and opportunities in the post-COVID-19 Caribbean’.

The crisis, Mr. Chen said, was allowing the Region to focus on matters that were under discussion for a long time, including the future of work, the digital economy and digital societies. He made reference to the measures that were being taken to stop the spread of COVID-19, particularly working from home, abandoning classrooms and moving functions online.

“What we have today… is not new ideas, but we have a pandemic that has accelerated the acceptance of ideas that we know are correct for the future, and what we have really done is fast forward (to) the future.

“I want us to imagine, as we have done before … a new version of the Caribbean, a new version of our economies and a new version of our societies, what I have dubbed Caribbean 2.0, as distinct from Caribbean 1.0 because we would have wasted a great opportunity if, emerging from the pandemic, our economies and societies look and think and react and act in the same ways that it did before the pandemic,” he told participants, placing much emphasis on technology and the creation of a fully functional digital environment.

Mr. Chen singled out agriculture, the global services sector, the creative industry, and the green and blue economies that were ripe for leading the way in creating new jobs, building economic resilience, and diversification from reliance on tourism and other traditional sectors.

Underlining that education and training were “paramount in everything that we do”, he pointed out that the transformation of education meant new thinking and new jobs. He encouraged youth to “learn as much as you can”, never to lose their passion and zeal for learning, and to market their new-found skills set online.

Guyana’s CARICOM Youth Ambassador, Samantha Sheoprashad shared Mr. Chen’s outlook, but pointed out that the education sector needed to be disruptive. Critical thinking, entrepreneurship and policy driven changes, emotional intelligence and resilience were needed, she argued.  

She told the session that youth were in crisis mode which could spark innovations but that there was need for effective infrastructure for them to take full advantage of that creativity and other opportunities.

“Many persons are facing difficulties because the digital ecosystem is not well equipped or prepared to give us the opportunities that we so crave,” she said, as she pointed to disparities in education and access to the internet.

Pandemic exposes inequalities

The necessity for an inclusive society, that does not discriminate against women, especially, was another area of concern for participants and presents at the session.

Mr. Andre Lewis, President of the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL) said that “everything that we do” must be aimed at reducing inequalities. In saluting the workers who were at the forefront of fighting COVID-19, he pointed out that nurses, maids, cooks and sanitation workers were under-recognised.

“We must address the structural issues that have resulted in those workers being some of the lowest paid workers… We must have an appreciation of the challenges face by our women in our societies, the world over,” he said.

He raised several issues regarding the changing world of work, among them work-life balance, boundaries, transfer of operational costs for those working from home, and the interesting question of who would be liable for injuries workers may suffer at home while on the job.

“As we adopt technology, we must continue to address the inequalities in our societies, and this is a discussion that we need to have urgently to change the ways that our workers have been remunerated, because the leading workers who have been fighting COVID-19 right now have been the lowest paid workers,” Mr. Lewis said.

Sharing his sentiments, Ms. Helen Royer, Director, Human Development at the CARICOM Secretariat, pointed out that the pandemic had worsened pre-existing inequalities and had exposed vulnerabilities in social, political and economic provision.

“It has increased the urgency to safeguard the access and deliver of quality education and ensure equal access to basic services, and appropriate new technology for all women and men by 2030. In the context of the gender gaps in the digital divide, these relate to access and women’s empowerment, affordability, skills and education, content and services, and online safety for women.

“Thus, making sense of the post-COVID 19 landscape as it relates to opportunities for job creation and continuing employment becomes as concern that is even more urgent for girls and women. This, given that girls and women, have disproportionately experienced job loss. Women generally earn less, hold more jobs in the informal sector and carry greater responsibility for unpaid care work. Also of note is the number of women serving on the medical front line as nurses and child care providers for essential workers,” Ms. Royer said.  

The Dialogue on Wednesday was the second in a series that the CARICOM Girls in ICT Partnership is organizing. The CARICOM Girls ICT Partnership held its first Dialogue on 23 April to mark International Girls in ICT Day 2020. That session was held under the theme ‘Regional Resilience of ICT, STEM and Youth’. The featured speaker was Barbara Reynolds PhD.

The Partnership aims to develop policy by 2021 which will support four stakeholder groups: Students/ parents; Teachers; Employers; and Academia. Specifically, the Partnership seeks to examine inequity and means to bridge that divide; challenge perceptions regarding male and female participation in STEM, and by extension, ICT; develop coherence in the sector and at the same time build and leverage partnerships in the ICT Sector across the Caribbean Community.

The Partnership comprises Ministries of ICT, Youth, Education and Gender in CARICOM Member States and Associate Members, and regional and international organisations. Those organisations are: Guyana Animation Network (GAN) Inc, European Union – Guyana, STEM Guyana, Women and Gender Equality Commission (WGEC) – Guyana, Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE), University of Guyana, University of the West Indies, United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), CARICOM Youth Ambassadors corp. (CYAP), Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU), Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC), International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Commission, Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Caribbean Association of National Telecommunications Organization (CANTO), and Caribbean Cybersecurity Centre (CCSC).

The Partnership is planning another session for July that will focus on youth. The final session later in the year will zero in on teachers and how they can be re-skilled and re-equipped, said Ms. Jennifer Britton, Deputy Programme Manager, ICT4D, CARICOM Secretariat.

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