I'm (finally!) returning to writing with an outline of my idea for Barbados to accelerate local research and development to solve our own problems.
In 2016, Barbados took great pride in celebrating 50 years of independence despite economic insecurity; no mean feat for a Caribbean island nation of 430 square kilometres and a population of 280,000 persons. 3 years on, Barbadians must now look outside of itself for growth and revitalisation.
The United States of America and the United Kingdom have built strong tech industries based on immigration climates that were well-regulated and welcoming to highly-skilled foreign workers. After nearly two decades of war against extremist terrorism, partially instigated by attackers that exploited these immigration laws, that climate has become steadily less welcoming; the USA and UK has seen a steady decline in foreign students, who choose instead to go to Australia, Canada and even China.
Research has shown that a growing proportion of these students - up to 43% in 2012 - choose STEM-oriented degrees, particularly for post-graduate studies. Immigrants such as Sergey Brin, Steve Jobs and Elon Musk have co-founded half of the billion-dollar tech companies in the United States, such as Google, Apple and Tesla.
With the chilling of immigration approval from the current governments in both the USA and the UK, these brilliant problem solvers are looking for new grounds to found their dreams.
Barbados should do all in its power to attract these pioneers.
Internationally focused companies such as Lenstec and Bitt have admirably shown Barbados' capacity for new ventures. Also of note is our potential for medical tourism, with facilities such as the Barbados Fertility Centre in Hastings.
We cannot ignore the presence of the University of the West Indies (UWI) along with other tertiary and scientific institutions in the region providing highly educated Caribbean graduates with a research platform, albeit with limited funding.
Barbados’ Grantley Adams International Airport (GAIA) allows direct flights to and from major international cities on global airlines such as Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, American, Jet Blue and Air Canada, while embassies and high commissions from countries in every continent provide key support for potential visitors.
A combination of our national healthcare scheme with legally enforced sick, maternity and family leave benefits would offer great appeal to STEM practitioners with family considerations, along with our nation's abundance of school and religious freedom.
Along with significant tax benefits for software developers, new data privacy legislation finally in the works, as well as fibre optics-based networks having replaced copper lines as our backbone to the Internet, the time and environment is right for the Government of Barbados to aggressively engage in research and development.
In order to balance the attraction and maintenance of this new sub-sector of international business with the development and protection of current citizens, a number of guidelines must be developed and enforced.
Highly skilled citizens of CARICOM member states already enjoy considerable freedom of movement within the region; to further encourage the movement of labour, ideas and capital, the Government of Barbados should look at how best to expand this notion to those born outside of the region.
A Special Entry Permit could be developed for STEM-educated persons, particularly those who are either studying at universities in the region or funded entrepreneurs who have citizenship and/or qualifications from the USA, the UK and other Commonwealth Countries, various African nations such as Ghana, China and Japan. This permit should require personal interviews among other strategies to reduce abuse.
Private-public partnerships should work to renovate vacant industrial plots into accessible and convertible commercial and residential facilities, complete with clean rooms, laboratories, condos, improved transportation networks, high-speed telecommunications and modern redundancy systems. The Barbados Investment & Development Corporation (BIDC) already has a number of qualified properties both on Harbour Road and in industrial estates across Barbados that could be rejuvenated.
Local law firms and the Corporate Affairs and Intellectual Property Office (CAIPO) should encourage proactive patent application, review and approval, thus building new commercial law expertise that could be offered internationally.
While welcoming highly-skilled workers, Barbados should rely on the vast experience of global security agencies, as well as those embassies in the island, to avoid security risks. Highly skilled immigrants should have a clean police record and valid visas for travel from major international ports of embarkation.
Additionally, the programme should start with offers for temporary resident status, with every effort being made to encourage future pioneers from Barbados and the wider Caribbean. On a company level, 51% of employees should be locally or regionally born, particularly as the company expands beyond the strictures of a small or medium enterprise. Of note, all agencies, particularly the regional National Insurance Schemes (NIS), should monitor all hiring to enforce equal and fair compensation and benefits across the board.
In order to strategically defend and develop local research efforts, international companies should be encouraged to patent discoveries with the UWI and other regional institutions. Incentives in either taxation or regulation should be created to facilitate such sharing models and the local legal fraternity should prepare to successfully defend these patents at the international level.
Finally, we must target specific technologies and skills that would be ripe for use by and inclusion into the Barbadian and Caribbean society. Such fields as agro-technology, bio-technology, renewable energy and water management, artificial intelligence, robotics and pharmaceutical development should be high-priority targets, particularly as such nascent realms could allow for greater Caribbean-driven research, development and manufacturing.
Barbados, with its highly educated workforce, wide-reaching relationships, international airport, world-class Internet connectivity and favourable geography, is poised to direct the Caribbean in building the platform for a new type of visitor; the extra-regional nomad of the scientific, technological frontier. Over the long-term, this platform will encourage more than foreign direct investment; it will pave our way upwards and onwards.