Saturday, January 23, 2021

Pandemic offers opportunity for creation of Caribbean 2.0

Regional business leader Wayne Chen has said that the COVID-19 pandemic has catapulted the region into the future as far as jobs are concerned, while noting that an opportunity would have been wasted if, emerging from the pandemic, our economies and societies look, think and react in the same ways it did before.
Chen, a Jamaican, was at the time speaking at the CARICOM Digital Dialogue hosted by the CARICOM Girls ICT Partnership, which was held virtually last Wednesday under the theme “Jobs, work and opportunities in the post-COVID-19 Caribbean.”
According to a CARICOM press release, Chen said the crisis was allowing the region to focus on matters that were under discussion for a long time, including the future of work, the digital economy and digital societies, while he also made reference to the measures that were being taken to stop the spread of COVID-19, particularly working from home, abandoning classrooms and moving functions online. Also making presentations were President of the Caribbean Congress of Labour (CCL) Andrew Lewis, who according to the release spoke of the inequalities exposed by the pandemic, and Helen Royer, Human Development Director at the CARICOM Secretariat, who pointed out that the pandemic had worsened pre-existing inequalities and had exposed vulnerabilities in social, political and economic provision.
Lewis was quoted as saying that “everything that we do must be aimed at reducing inequalities.”
In saluting the workers who were at the forefront of fighting COVID-19, the release said Lewis pointed out that nurses, maids, cooks and sanitation workers were under-recognised and that “we must address the structural issues that have resulted in those workers being some of the lowest paid workers… must have an appreciation of the challenges faced by our women in our societies, the world over.”
The necessity for an inclusive society which does not discriminate against women was especially an area of concern for participants, the releases noted.
Royer was quoted as saying that the pandemic has “increased the urgency to safeguard the access and delivery of quality education and ensure equal access to basic services, and appropriate new technology for all women and men by 2030. In the context of the gender gaps in the digital divide, these relate to access and women’s empowerment, affordability, skills and education, content and services, and online safety for women.”
“Thus, making sense of the post-COVID 19 landscape as it relates to opportunities for job creation and continuing employment becomes a concern that is even more urgent for girls and women. This, given that girls and women have disproportionately experienced job loss. Women generally earn less, hold more jobs in the informal sector and carry greater responsibility for unpaid care work. Also of note is the number of women serving on the medical front line as nurses and child care providers for essential workers.”
The release said that the matters which Chen highlighted as being under discussion for a long time were not new, but only that the pandemic has accelerated the acceptance of ideas “that we know are correct for the future, and what we have really done is fast forward [to] the future.”
He was further quoted as saying “I want us to imagine, as we have done before … a new version of the Caribbean, a new version of our economies and a new version of our societies, what I have dubbed Caribbean 2.0, as distinct from Caribbean 1.0 because we would have wasted a great opportunity if, emerging from the pandemic, our economies and societies look and think and react and act in the same ways that it did before the pandemic.”
According to the release, Chen singled out agriculture, the global services sector, the creative industry, and the green and blue economies “that were ripe for leading the way in creating new jobs, building economic resilience, and diversification from over-reliance on tourism and other traditional sectors,” while underlining that education and training were “paramount in everything that we do.”
The release went on to say that Chen pointed out that the transformation of education meant new thinking and new jobs, even as he encouraged youth to “learn as much as you can”, never to lose their passion and zeal for learning, and to market their new-found skills set online.
Lewis, the release said, raised several issues regarding the changing world of work, including work-life balance, boundaries, and the question of who would be liable for injuries workers could suffer at home while on the job.
“As we adopt technology, we must continue to address the inequalities in our societies, and this is a discussion that we need to have urgently to change the ways that our workers have been remunerated, because the leading workers who have been fighting COVID-19 right now have been the lowest paid workers,” Lewis was quoted as saying.
Also speaking at the forum was Guyana’s CARICOM Youth Ambassador, Samantha Sheoprashad who the release said shared Chen’s sentiments, but pointed out that the education sector needed to be disruptive as critical thinking, entrepreneurship and policy driven changes, emotional intelligence and resilience are needed. The release said she told the session that youth were in “crisis mode,” which could translate into a “hotbed” of creativity but that there was need for effective infrastructure for them to take full advantage of that creativity and other opportunities. “Many persons are facing difficulties because the digital ecosystem is not well equipped or prepared to give us the opportunities that we so crave,” she was also quoted as saying, while pointing to disparities in education and access to the internet. Last Wednesday’s dialogue was the second in a series that the CARICOM Girls in ICT Partnership is organizing.
It aims to develop policy by 2021 which will support four stakeholder groups: Students/ parents; Teachers; Employers; and Academia. Specifically, the Partnership seeks to examine inequity and means to bridge that divide; challenge perceptions regarding male and female participation in STEM, and by extension, ICT; develop coherence in the sector and at the same time build; and leverage partnerships in the ICT Sector across the Caribbean Community.

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