Address by Bernadette Lewis, Secretary General, Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) at the launch of the Caribbean ICT Roadshow 2011 Programme

Bernadette Lewis, Secretary General of the Caribbean Telecommunications Union, speaks at the media breakfast launch of the Caribbean ICT Roadshow on January 7th at the Trinidad Hilton, Port of Spain.

Eighteen months ago, the Caribbean Telecommunications Union (CTU) embarked on an odyssean journey to visit its 20 member countries throughout the Caribbean, with an initiative designed to educate, raise public awareness and demonstrate the transformative power of information and communications Technologies (ICT). A significant element of the programme was to promote innovation in the application ICT tools in order to realize their full potential.

The initiative, called the Caribbean ICT Roadshow, had as its theme “ Harnessing the power of innovation – the engine for ICT-enabled Caribbean development”.

The Caribbean ICT Roadshow is one of the CTU’s activities to commemorate its 20th anniversary which was celebrated on 28th April, 2009. However, the main reason for developing the initiative, was the recognition that there was a fundamental lack of awareness and understanding of the transformative power of ICTs; their potential to impact every sphere of endeavour and the need for innovative approaches when employing ICT tools and resources. This lack of understanding, extended from the level of governance to the man on the street.

 

Flags of CARICOM Member States

Many Caribbean Governments have placed ICT on their national Agenda as a significant element of their developmental strategy to achieve competitiveness. There have been large investments in ICT, by organizations and by individuals, but few compelling examples of ICT-enabled transformation. We are, as a region, investing in the technology but are far from realizing their full potential because we have not taken the time makes our citizens aware and to to educate them how the power of the technology can be unleashed.

The Caribbean ICT Roadshow journey has been one of discovery. Each roadshow has been customized to address specific issues in each country it visits and the Roadshows are designed to initiate programmes that will yield tangible benefits.

We began, with great optimism in August 2009 in St. Kitts and Nevis. We found that there were whole sectors of the society who felt that technology had nothing to do with them and would not attend the formal Roadshow sessions. As a matter of fact it was ICT practitioners, who attended the Roadshow.

Since the initiative was designed to engage all sectors of the national community, we went back to the drawing board and crafted Community Outreaches to engage citizens in their communities and to present ICT in the context of their environment. This approach proved to be very effective in driving home the message “ICT is for everyone”.

The Roadshow actively promotes innovation. Each Roadshow showcases local ICT innovators. We travelled to, Antigua and Barbuda and Belize, and by the time we reached to St. Vincent and the Grenadines we had met many ICT innovators with world class ideas but no support for them in creating sustainable revenue-generating businesses. These innovators did not appreciate the power of their own ideas and how fundamentally the world had changed and new global opportunities for business.

It was clear to us that there was a wealth of creative talent in ICT that was being squandered. We believed that innovation can be sparked and entrepreneurs cultivated, so we developed a programme of assessment, training, mentorship and exposure and established a framework to support these innovators.

One young man from Montserrat, when we met him, wanted to be the best software developer in the Eastern Caribbean. We put him through our programme and from the last we heard, he was about to sign a lucrative contract with Formula-1 in Saudi Arabia. We are looking forward to hearing great things from him.

As we continued the journey to Curacao, Suriname and Montserrat, the issue of Internet traffic routing, and the need to establish local Internet Exchange Points (IXP’s) and the possibilities for spawning new types of businesses associated with an IXP was brought to the attention of Caribbean Governments. We developed an Internet Exchange Point Symposium to explain the issue in greater detail. This symposium was delived in seven countries. The British Virgin Islands now on course to establish the first IXP in the English-speaking Caribbean as a result of the Roadshow and other countries are moving towards establishment of a national IXP.

By the time we got to St. Lucia, Jamaica and Dominica, we had recognised that, as practictioners, we took much for granted and assumed that the people, who are not intimately associated with ICT, understood what we speak about as a matter of course. This was not the case, so we have added ICT 101- An introduction to information and Communication technologies that explains in layman terms what ICTs are about. One Member of Parliament said he had learned more about ICT’s in the two days of the Roadshow than the two years of his tenure.

The Roadshow has a strong emphasis on youth engagement – they are born into the technology and have a natural affinity for ICT. We have programmes designed to alert them to the very real dangers in cyberspace and because many parents, teachers and guardians, are not literate we have incorporated sessions entitled “What Parents Don’t Know”. These sessions have been revelatory for both young people and adults.

We have come to understand that it is not just about the technology, but about people and engaging them at a level where they can see the benefits and voluntarily embrace the ICT tools so we give compelling examples and demonstrations of the transformative power of ICT.

These are but a few examples of what the Roadshow initiative has achieved.

Every country we have visited confirms our initial premise, that there is indeed a fundamental lack of understanding of ICT that needs to be addressed, because we have seen:

  • Computers being used as typewriters
  • People walking around with backberrys but only using them to make telephone calls
  • The contemplation of bans on cell phones in schools
  • Principals who do not recognize that ICT provides new avenues for pedagogy

We have seen:

  • The results of applying 19th century systems and processes to 20st century technology – it does not work
  • He frustration of young professionals trying without success to encourage ICT use in their organisations
  • The smothering of innovation
  • Young people with unfettered access to the Internet being enticed and led astray in cyberspace and
  • Parents who are clueless

These observations strengthen our resolve to continue the Roadshow in 2011.

The Caribbean ICT Roadshow has been effective in meeting the real and present needs of citizens in the 12 countries we have visited. We commenced the initiative Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday with a Community outreach programme in Siparia.

  • One primary school student was so excited when we introduced him to google earth, he wanted to know when we were coming back
  • A parent said she had to reconsider what she was putting up on Facebook during the break she called several of her friends to tell them about the programme.
  • A teacher said that the information she had received would help her tremendously as she was dealing with an issue of students posting pornography on the internet.

We are going to visit five other communities and the Roadshow will culminate in 2-day event on 10th and 11th February during a week of dedicated to a number of ICT activities:

  • 8th Ministerial ICT Strategic Seminar
  • An Innovation and Entrepreneurship Workshop
  • An Electronic Numbering Seminar
  • The Caribbean ICT Roadshow

I believe that all of us here are all serious about enhancing the Caribbean’s competitiveness and ICT presents an opportunity for a new type of economy – an information society but this requires a critical mass of citizens who understand and are able to leverage the transformative power of the technology and the Caribbean ICT Roadshow initiative has been providing the keys to unlocking ICT’s potential.

We will be visiting 10 more countries in 2011. Educating our citizens is a collective responsibility so I encourage you to partner with the CTU in taking the Roadshow to the remaining Countries in 2011.

Please join us on this incredible journey.

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