It has been almost four years since I first became involved with the regional public-private dialogue initiative, the Caribbean Growth Forum (CGF). In June 2012, I walked into the conference room at University of the West Indies, Mona Campus for the Launch of the first phase of the initiative and there was something electric in the air. It was new and fresh, but old fears lingered; was this to become 'just another regional talk-shop?'
Wide-eyed and optimistic I was determined that for my small part it wouldn't turn out that way.
Through my involvement, my mind has opened to regional possibilities and I have seen how building relationships with colleagues in other countries brings with it the benefit of access to new markets. With a captive market of 15 million people, including the Dominican Republic, trade within CARIFORUM now seems like a real possibility for me. It has made me consider colleagues I have in different countries, and by talking to them about their experiences at home, I have gained a better picture of what regional business is like now and, most crucially, what it could become.
My experience with the Growth Forum has changed my perspective of myself as regional business person; it has broadened my thinking beyond the 166 square miles of my native Barbados.
In 2012 I met fashion designer Tamiko Browne (founder, TamiB Designs) from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I was able to sit with other entrepreneurs, government officials and many of the technical team involved in putting together the forum. At the time, for a 25 year old sole trader, it was an intimidating learning experience. In 2013 I worked with students from the college of the Bahamas to manage social media for the event. In 2015, I was honoured to address the forum as a youth participant and share my views about how the CGF can be shaped moving forward. And in 2016, I was able to connect with more colleagues around the region and network with like-minded individuals.
Through the CGF I have seen that we face communal challenges and share strengths and, together, we can take advantage of opportunities by partnering across national boundaries and using the CARICOM Single Market & Economy for what it was designed for, regional cooperation.
Apart from helping to frame and shape policy implementation and reform on the macro level, on the micro level it is so much more. Minds meet, interact and share ideas. I have learnt so much from colleagues on the ground in Jamaica, like Danielle Terrolonge (founder, DRT Communications) whose story reminded me that business can be just as much about jumping and growing wings, as much as calculated planning and effort and from start-up star Jessica Colaco from Nairobi while in St. Lucia (founder of iHub and Brave Venture Labs). I have also seen start-up incubator models from Trinidad that I know can be scaled up regionally to spur entrepreneurship, which is a key driving force for growth, not only regionally but around the world.While there is so much left for me still to learn, one thing is clear. The region has benefited from the Forum. When I see the reforms in progress, proposed and implemented, it paints a brighter picture for the future of the region. And it is inspiring to know that, behind the scenes, the support teams are there to guide development, and to ensure this process works.