In 1966, as I completed my sophomore year at university, Barbados was hoisting its ultramarine and gold flag with a broken trident in the centre. Both my country and I were young and inexperienced, but prepared to take risks in a new direction. Fifty years later we have learned a lot in the school of hard knocks – the best way to build strength, confidence and knowledge.
Independence does not come with instructions. Apart from a few visible changes – the flag, the national anthem and the absence of a colonial structure – Barbados soon discovered that, with no natural resources, it had to work more than ever with global partners, as it settled into its independence, through tourism and international business. The “difficult to define” resources of a knowledge–based society, surrounded by a naturally beautiful environment, spearheaded this development.
Barbados’ invisible gains have come with some pain. After fifty years it is time to take stock and move Barbados, aka “The Rock”, forward.
Here are ten reasons why “The Rock” rocks at 50:
- For those of us who were born in 1966 and after – which constitute the majority of our population today – they could be known as the Independence Generation. Apart from what has been heard about pre–independence, this majority continues to ride a wave of self–determination which, in many ways, could be described as a wave of freedom to determine our own destiny. Of course, this carries with it a huge level of responsibility to manage our resources efficiently and to share in the gains.
- We have built a signature destination catering to some of the best–known high net–worth individuals, many of whom have made Barbados their second home. Barbados has become the playground of the rich and famous. The trickle–down effect has reached every citizen.
- The world is within reach – our connectivity is the envy of most developed countries. Modern technology provides us with the ability to work from home as if we were living in any major city.
- Our standard of education measures up to that of successful countries, as our University develops strategic partnerships as far away as China.
- Bridgetown has been adopted as a World Heritage Site and the recognition of the importance of heritage adds an essential dimension to our cultural and psychological development – knowing where we have come from gives us a better sense of who we are and where we have to go.
- Our Barbadian Diaspora has emerged as a major strength. It is a known reality that more Barbadians live overseas than on The Rock, after several generations of emigration to some of the world’s major cities such as New York, London and Toronto.
- Our main celebrity, Rihanna, is a global phenomenon and a household name.
- In the Caribbean context, Barbados is seen as a mature island that has become a model for development.
- We have retained our character as a nation, so that the Barbados of today remains linked to our past – maintaining family structures, respecting our institutions and respecting each other in spite of religious, ethnic or other social differences.
- The future promises to be even more exciting as we use our technological linkages to keep us ahead of the competition.
The 2008 downturn in the global economy can be seen as a setback to our growth strategy. However, such setbacks, taken in the context of a fifty year review, suggest that, on balance, our achievements have vastly overshadowed this recent recessionary period. What has worked in our favour has been the tremendous goodwill established prior to the downturn, which has provided the momentum to bring us to where we are today, as we celebrate our fiftieth year of independence.
The way forward in the next fifty years will require new and bold strategies, commonly referred to as “thinking outside of the box”. Here are ten examples of bold strategies for the next fifty years:
- Expansion of tourism product, focusing on the redevelopment of our town centres and making use of our world heritage designation.
- Development of incubator/venture capital start–up industries, promoted by our world–class University of the West Indies, to foster a new entrepreneurial society,
- Greater focus on our neighbours in South America for tourism expansion and strategic partnerships.
- A thorough review of our energy policy, with the goal of becoming energy self–sufficient over the next five years.
- A thorough review of our agricultural policy using new farming methods, such as Permaculture, which have been scientifically proven to extract the largest amount of food from the smallest acreage.
- Redefining residential communities through the adaptive reuse of existing infrastructure within our five town centres – Bridgetown, Speightstown, Holetown, Oistins and Warrens – as opposed to developing new, green–field communities in rural areas.
- Linking these town centres through an efficient mode of transportation, such as a pod transportation system similar to the one used at Heathrow Airport – where driver–less, solar–powered vehicles move along narrow, curbed pavements.
- The development of an off–shore island, north of the Barbados’ Coast Guard base, creating a marina between this island and Brownes Beach as well as an extension to the deep water harbour on the west–facing side. This would be our prime, new development land.
- Making use of our Rock’s strategic location – linking North and South America – creating a hub for major international businesses with the attached concessionary legislation.
- Building on our historic leadership within the CARICOM community to promote new strategic development with our CARICOM partners, focusing mainly on Guyana as the greatest opportunity requiring our skills.
It is clear that Barbados has done extremely well over the past 50 years and that the next 50 offer even greater opportunities. A 50th year anniversary allows us to take time out to measure our successes and to understand where the new opportunities lie. True leadership demands the setting of long–term objectives and the key to achievement must be tied to efficiency and facilitation, which allows the best ideas to flourish.
Rock on, Barbados!