“Your beginnings will seem humble, so prosperous will your future be” – Job 8:7
Barbados, a relatively small island with a population of 270,000 and a paucity of natural resources, has had a proud run of success over the last 60 years as it evolved from a colony, through adult sufferage, internal self government to an Independent State in 1966, some 40 years ago. It is now aspiring to attain the lofty status of a first world country.
This success has been due to a stable political system, an effective trade union movement, positive benefits from the colonial administration, a dynamic private sector and a sound post-emancipation educational system which has provided a foundation on which to build. In the last 15 years the Social Partnership (government, trade unions and the private sector) has inspired five Protocols underpinned by a focus on productivity (human, process and technology) enhancement as a means towards increased global competitiveness.
The sugar industry (at one time 70% of the land area in Barbados was cultivated in sugar cane) and remittances from the Diaspora (since emigration of nationals to Britain and North America in the 1950’s) provided an economic base from which to diversify the economy. Barbados is blessed with an abundance of sun, sandy beaches with crystal clear sea water, the basic primary ingredients for attracting tourists to the island. There have been some forays into traditional manufacturing and offshore financial services, and we mine oil and natural gas commensurate with one third of the needs of the community.
The vision for Barbados would be holistic sustainability in the context of the spiritual, economic, social, cultural and physical environments. As we aspire towards this vision we must pursue a path of excellence and efficiency which will, ultimately, eradicate the pockets of poverty that still exist, and which will lead to socio-economic well-being for the populace.
Dr. E.F. Schumacher is the author of the book “Small is Beautiful – A Study of Economics as if People Mattered”. In 1976, he was invited by the Central Bank of Barbados to give the First Sir Winston Scott Memorial Lecture. His topic was “Independence and Economic Development”. For me, one of the rich reflections about that lecture was his observation which I now paraphrase. “You can benefit from economies of scale in production (Savings achieved in the cost of production by larger enterprises because the cost of initial investment can be defrayed across a greater number of producing units), but there is no such corresponding benefit in management. There is an optimal number of people that can be effectively managed by one management unit which, if exceeded, results in diminishing returns. He went on to posit that the optimal number of people that can be managed by one administration is about 250,000. Barbados has this size naturally and should exploit it.”
So what, then, are the prospects for national progress and development in Barbados? What do we have to do today to protect Barbados for our children and grandchildren? Our challenge is to identify the resources that we do have available to us and to exploit them in the global environment, which is now influenced by the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) revolutions. If we are not aggressive in accepting this challenge, we will be left behind.
It should be recognised that, irrespective of the natural resource base with which we have been bestowed, our people are our most important asset and we must develop them to the fullest.
If one were to plot the tertiary education institution output per capita against the GDP per capita for all the countries in the world, one would get as close to a straight line as makes no difference. This tells us that there is a high correlation between tertiary output per capita and GDP per capita, and that those countries which have a low tertiary output per capita are destined to lag behind in terms of their economic development. In Barbados this statistic is less than 20%, compared with 80% in North America. It is, therefore, mandatory that there should be a strategy for increasing tertiary output per capita which is exemplified in the current “brain train” thrust at the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados. I believe that economic development, as measured, say, by GDP per capita, is a necessary condition for poverty alleviation, even though it is not sufficient. This tells us that economic development must be given priority and that the development of our intellectual capital is essential to this process.
I have never quite understood why, in an environment where we aspire to become a first world country, the immigration policies have not been changed to keep apace with the thrust to develop our people. There are so many people resident in Barbados with specialised skills who are unable to work because of the Law. If this situation were relaxed totally, then the resources necessary to develop our country would be available in abundance and it would only remain for us to ensure that we had a user-friendly enabling environment to access all those opportunities that are available. A spin-off effect of this strategy would be to have our own people work alongside the imported expertise – a fast track towards sustainable development (to be continued).