Mention the Caribbean and few people think of innovation. But the capacity to innovate is crucial to growth here, just as in many other developing regions around the world. Decision makers in Caribbean countries are now realizing that an effective Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) policy can galvanize large parts of their economies. Whether in agriculture, music or tourism, so much can be done: from helping entrepreneurs to clustering to upgrading value chains.
The creativity, desire and will are all there. What remains is to build capacity, first by sharing knowledge, then by applying new approaches to real-world needs. This was the mission background to UNU-MERIT’s latest ‘Design and Evaluation of Innovation Policies’ (DEIP) course. The June 2013 edition was an intensive one-week training course for more than 35 participants, co-organized by UNU-MERIT and the University of the West Indies (see below for an AV slideshow and six brief interviews with speakers and participants).
This DEIP was special from the start in terms of audience diversity and seminar content. Professor Carlo Pietrobelli said: “The programme specifically looks at innovation and innovation policy in and for the Caribbean countries. Within Latin America, it’s a special case. Caribbean countries are many and small and essentially islands. So they each tend to focus on one or two sectors and rely a lot on foreign investors. Their activities are essentially based on services, so they tend to face special challenges, which are generally different from those faced by Latin American countries.”
“What’s special about this region is the diversity within each country,” said course coordinator Dr. Michiko Iizuka. “Although they’re small island countries, they have very different characteristics. That makes it a challenging task to make a programme relevant for all of the countries.”
The course went well, despite the difficulties of tailoring content to such a varied audience, from many different professional backgrounds in several island states, each with different degrees of internal diversity. The audience was energetic and enthusiastic, open-minded yet with some clearly formed ideas. There was some disagreement among the participants, but always framed in respectful terms. In fact the different opinions helped to fuel the dialogue.
Professor Adam Szirmai said: “This is a very articulate audience and you get the feeling that you’re discussing with equals. They have the practical knowledge, they’re very aware of the problems, but they’re not able to put that into international perspective. So what we bring is a comparative perspective. It seems that the problems they have are very recognizable; some are very specific to the region while some are common to the world. It’s been a very enjoyable experience.”
“I was impressed by the quality of the questions put by the participants and the breadth of experience brought to the course by the group,” said Professor Fred Gault. “Participants came from universities, government departments, industry associations and some were consultants. All had a good knowledge of the problems of promoting innovation and the need for different kinds of policy interventions. The course provided the tools needed to fit that knowledge into the framework of innovation systems, and to support discussion of the place of policy in a dynamic, complex, non-linear and global system.”
by Howard Hudson, UNU-MERIT Editor / Communications Coordinator.