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You’ve previously talked about the massive impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Barbados economy. How is the country now emerging? Have any positives come out of it?
Absolutely! There has been an agility led by our Prime Minister who is always ahead of the curve. Her leadership on global issues like the climate crisis, equity in vaccine access and global moral leadership has redounded to the benefit of our people. Most noticeable has been the acceleration of digitization on many levels and with that, the urgency of ensuring more even and reliable internet access opportunities and devices for those who are socially marginalised.
Most importantly, as a tourism-dependent nation, after the decimation by COVID in 2020 and largely last year, we have rebounded with occupancy levels moving between 85 and 90 per cent. That gives us great optimism.
Could you describe the principles behind the National Transformation Initiative, and what progress is being made?
The NTI is at the core of our home-grown Barbados Economic Recovery and Transformation (BERT) program, supported by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We are central to the ‘Retooling, Empowering, Retraining and Enfranchising’ (RE-RE Program) for all Barbadians. It is a comprehensive retraining of Barbadian workers in an effort to make the workforce ‘globally fit for purpose’.
Following the start of our operations in mid-2020, we have to date trained 40,323 Barbadians – 14,115 via our Learning Management System where 8 instructional designed eCourses are accessible to all and 23,013 via a flagship partnership launched mid-2021 with Coursera, which is the world’s largest MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) provider. This is a major filip to our transformation efforts, as it allows upskilling and retooling at scale.
What are the main technological developments you would like to see in Barbados?
In a phrase, I’d like to see Barbados become the Estonia of the Americas. A SMART Barbados engaging the world requires ongoing efforts to transform both mindsets and skillsets as we equip our citizens to be global citizens with Barbadian roots
Barbados passed a new data protection act last year. Do you expect more countries in the Caribbean to follow suit?
A number of countries have either tabled laws, passed laws previously tabled or brought laws already passed into effect. 11 Commonwealth Caribbean jurisdictions have passed data privacy laws to-date. Seven jurisdictions, therefore, are without any substantive laws to govern the protection of personal data. Six of the seven jurisdictions without any privacy law have some activity, indicating steps towards the eventual passage of privacy laws.
What are the most common regulatory issues being discussed in the Small Nations Regulatory Forum at the moment, and what do you see coming on to the agenda?
Small Nations Regulators are not a homogenous group as the geographic differences vary and therefore while there are commonalities, there are also variations in stages of digitization. The key areas of common interest, as surveyed by IIC, are regulating digital networks in a converged environment, the anatomy of regulatory frameworks for small nation regulators and the implications for rolling out 5G, including fiber connectivity and spectrum co-ordination. AI and cybersecurity also feature highly.
Looking ahead, I think emerging themes will be: (a) the gaps in scale and speed, which continue to be a challenge for SIDS (Small Island Developing States) like ourselves in the Caribbean and: (b) the implications of the Metaverse and what it presents to regulators.
Many people take the view that, with the disruptive effects caused by the emergence of the ‘large platform’, competition regulation will become of greater importance in the coming years. How should regulators, especially those in smaller nations, respond? Is investment a greater priority than competition?
This is where the divergence between large players and SIDS becomes noticeable. The main parameters of competition in digital markets are ‘quality, choice and innovation’ but, as is often the case in digital platform markets, quality depends wholly or partly on scale. While feedback loops and network effects may provide benefits to consumers, they can also ‘contribute to the development and durability of platform monopolies’.
The key challenge for competition law enforcers is to distinguish anticompetitive practices that will harm consumer welfare from practices, which although they may be commercially aggressive, stimulate competition and innovation. For SIDS, competition may help economically in driving prices down but monopolies from a small pool of players place us at a major disadvantage to adequately compete or even leverage unique considerations, especially given economies of scale.
Are you broadly optimistic about the role of women in the tech industry in the future? What more do you think needs to be done?
I am definitely optimistic about the role of women in tech in the future (in our region especially). While women globally hold just 10 per cent of leadership roles in the industry, evidence continues to show that women are gaining ground. Deloitte Global predicts that large global technology firms, on average, will reach nearly 33 per cent overall female representation in their workforces in 2022, up slightly more than two percentage points from 2019. I think this augurs well for the future as we have a younger female workforce that is unafraid to take their rightful place at the front of the line.
In this latest conversation, we speak to Dr Allyson Leacock, Chairman, Barbados Broadcasting Authority, Director of the National Transformation Initiative, Government of Barbados, and Chairperson of the IIC Small Nations Regulators’ Forum.
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