by Nicole Leotaud, Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI)

June 2022

 

Investment in COVID-19 recovery is an opportunity to transform Caribbean development models to address multiple intertwined global crises due to declining biodiversity and collapsing ecosystems, climate change and socio-economic inequities and injustices. How can increasing access to digital technologies accelerate a sustainable and inclusive recovery to the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure a healthier planet for all? Research by the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI) identified attention to digitisation and technological innovation in some public sector recovery initiatives, but there are opportunities to sharpen the focus on equity and justice for marginalised and vulnerable communities and sectors and to enhance participatory governance in the Caribbean.

Investment in COVID-19 recovery is an opportunity to transform Caribbean development models to address multiple intertwined crises due to declining biodiversity and collapsing ecosystems, climate change and socio-economic inequities and injustices. These occur at many levels and in many spaces but include those felt by:

  • marginalised and vulnerable communities (e.g., coastal communities) facing disproportionate impacts from climate change, degradation and destruction of natural ecosystems upon which their livelihoods depend, and injustices from a history of colonialism, imperialism, ongoing racism, etc.
  • invisible and underserved sectors (e.g., the informal sector and micro-enterprises) which are often excluded from economic opportunities
  • citizens and peoples who are bearing the brunt of these crises but have little to no input in governance in their communities, countries and at the regional and global levels (e.g., indigenous communities, poor resource users, communities impacted by pollution)

The value of access to green and digital technologies to address inequities and injustices was recognised in one of the messages in a background paper for the United Nations Stockholm +50 conference on sustainable development. The message was that “Strengthened cooperation to provide access to green and digital technologies is fundamental to accelerate green recovery processes and to scale up, mainstream and monitor actions”. This emphasised building capacity, enhancing access to technology and financing, fostering co-creation and local solutions, and supporting transparency, accountability and stakeholder engagement.

So, are COVID-19 recovery initiatives in the Caribbean facilitating enhanced access to digital and green technologies to address inequities and injustices?

Research on 446 public sector COVID-19 recovery initiatives in six Caribbean countries and at the regional level was conducted by the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI) with financial assistance from the European Union (ENV/2016/380-530), the MAVA Foundation and the Open Society Foundations. This found that only 38 (or 9%) aimed at using digitisation and technological innovation to support recovery across diverse areas (see Table 1). Support for the micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) sector was one of the main areas of focus, including support for business development via e-commerce platforms and digital marketplaces, digital financial services and capacity building, including particularly for female and youth entrepreneurs. The agricultural sector was another area of focus, with initiatives supporting the use of robotics, drones and autonomous equipment and other technological innovations. Digital information and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) tracking were featured for the fisheries sector. Recovery of the tourism sector included business development support and enhanced marketing using digital technologies. Other initiatives focused on enhancing digital technology in schools and training youths in digitisation, computer administration and repairs. National innovation hubs to support development of software and apps and increased use of digital platforms in government ministries and agencies were also presented.

   

While there is much to celebrate in these Caribbean initiatives regarding the focus on economic inclusion through digitisation and technological innovation, more attention can be paid to three specific areas to better address inequities and injustices:

  1. Supporting access to digital technologies by the most marginalised and vulnerable. Public sector initiatives prioritise the MSME sector, but within this broad focus special attention is needed to support the micro-enterprise and informal sectors which are not addressed in many enterprise development programmes. CANARI’s research has shown the need to enhance access to digital finance through the provision of infrastructure (including in rural areas and informal settlements), alongside capacity building in the use of digital technologies. Tailored platforms can be created for financial and business support as well as marketing. Private sector finance and business support providers have a direct role here alongside government. Coastal and rural communities and resource users also require support to be able to access digital technologies (including GIS, drones, smart phones and mobile apps). These technologies can be applied using participatory approaches that draw out local knowledge and enable effective community participation in decision-making, for example in assessments of vulnerability to climate change and natural hazards and planning to build resilience (for example for the fisheries sector). CANARI has pioneered use of participatory information and communication technologies (ICTs) which can be scaled out across the region and included in policy framework, plans and programmes of government agencies.
  2. Going beyond technology transfer, to green technology co-creation. Adoption of green technologies is important for environmental sustainability, but co-creation of technologies in the Caribbean and for the Caribbean are important to start to shift the power imbalance and dependency model at all levels. Some Caribbean initiatives focus on regional and national innovation hubs, and this is a useful model to provide access to funding and other resources to build capacity within Caribbean SIDS. These hubs can be used to channel resources from international development partners to better reach marginalised and vulnerable communities and sectors. New models for innovation are needed, with new types of partnerships and at new levels, including at the local community and micro-enterprise level. Local micro-innovation labs can be explored to support co-development of green technologies, for example for climate proofing of rural community nature-based micro-enterprises. Civil society, private sector and academia all have potential roles to play.
  3. Using digital technologies to support inclusive governance and accountability. Increased use of digital technologies by governments can include a focus on accessible online platforms to enhance transparency and access to information by citizens. Amplifying citizen voices can also happen via online citizen journalism (e.g., Cari-Bois environmental news network), use of mobile apps to share information, collect local knowledge and conduct monitoring (e.g., mFisheries), and use of social media for movement building (e.g., online environmental justice campaign). Digital technologies can be a powerful tool to support participatory decision-making to address needs on the ground and support information access and accountability.

COVID-19 recovery is an opportunity to transform Caribbean development to address intertwined development challenges – Caribbean public sector initiatives and investments must support this and explicitly focus on delivering sustainability, equity, justice and climate resilience. Bold action is needed to scale existing good practices and explore new approaches to increase use of digital and green technologies to deliver economic, environmental, social and climate justice for marginalised and vulnerable stakeholders.

 

This research was conducted by CANARI with financial assistance of the European Union (ENV/2016/380-530), the MAVA Foundation and the Open Society Foundations. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of CANARI and can under no circumstances be regarded as reflecting the position of the European Union, MAVA Foundation or Open Society Foundations.