CDB President concerned at region’s sustainable welfare path

CDB President, Dr. Hyginus 'Gene' Leon (Photo via CDB)

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, CMC – President of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Dr. Gene Leon, is urging regional countries to take “bold and innovative steps” to overcome the significant development challenges that have been amplified by the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and to shift to a new development trajectory.

“Our development challenge is not merely to recover lost ground and close the distance to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), but to fundamentally alter the development path so that our societies can be placed on a higher and more sustainable welfare path in the future,” Leon said, as he addressed the virtual 22nd annual Sir Arthur Lewis Institute of Social and Economic Studies (SALISES) conference.

“This is the legacy that we need to leave for future generations,” said CDB president to the conference that ends on Thursday.

The St. Lucian-born economist, who called for strengthening social resilience to place the Caribbean on a sustainable welfare path, said that the education system is the starting point to build social resilience.
He said academic institutions should bridge the gap between technology and activity that allows the private sector and the international development partners to provide the financing and technicalities to take products to market.

However, such an emerging system, which will reward ideas, encourage risk, and promote diversification needs to be supported by an enabling environment, Leon noted.

“We are all aware that education is the bedrock of any innovative society. The region needs to refocus its education system away from pure certification to one that embraces and rewards enquiry-based innovative thinking, discovery, and problem-solving.”

He told the conference that as the region’s knowledge and information management processes are still quite fragmented, which has so far limited the ability to initiate and sustain important policy reforms, there was need for a regional knowledge hub.

He said communities of practice and the knowledge hub should be developed through cooperative arrangements with regional actors, including the University of the West Indies (UWI), the Caribbean Community (CARICOM, the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), the Caribbean Regional Technical Assistance Centre, central banks and other multilateral partners.

Leon said that the knowledge hub would include a tracker for the region’s progress and serve as a platform for policy options and design based on the SDG. Moreover, the knowledge hub would become a database with comparable social and environmental statistics while providing a fertile ground for cultivating an innovation lab.

He told the conference that the CDB, the region’s premier financial institution, already has cooperative agreements with key regional institutions and is looking to strengthen these arrangements while establishing new strategic partnerships to facilitate the establishment of the regional knowledge hub.

He highlighted the importance of leveraging digital transformation in the region as it has the potential to revolutionise economic and social life.
Leon encouraged the adoption of a digital transformation agenda through a deliberate and joint-responsibility action plan, at both national and regional levels and across private and public sectors to tear down the digital divide by 2035.

However, he warned that, according to a CDB study, several countries in the region are not sufficiently well-positioned to be competitive in a digital future world, and need to invest in cutting-edge infrastructure, comprehensive regulatory, security protocols, and a workforce with sophisticated digital skills.

The CDB president noted that significant financial investment would be needed to address vulnerability and build resilient and sustainable economies in the region.

CDB estimates that its investment expenditure needs to more than double to halve poverty in the region by 2030 while similar increases in investment are necessary to achieve the SDG.

“A holistic approach will be needed that encompasses traditional forms of development finance, as well as a range of alternative and innovative financing instruments,” Leon said.

While some progress has been made in deploying innovative financing, such as catastrophe bonds in Jamaica and insurance risk coverage through the Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility in several countries, Leon suggested that new financial tools, such as resilience bonds, climate for debt swaps, and regional bond issues should be explored.

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