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Digital Globalization : How countries can engage the Digital Economy for prosperity

Carlvon Ramsingh, June 1st, 2017

Susan Lund and James Manyika writing in Foreign Affairs, May 2017  concluded “Like the globalization of trade, digital globalization is not a zero-sum game. One country’s participation does not necessarily come at another’s expense. The digital economy has introduced a new set of legitimate concerns, but it is important to address these through frameworks that do not limit the substantial benefits that digital globalization can bring. Now more than ever, it is time for countries to establish a framework that allows them to take advantage of the opportunities beyond their own borders.”

The unprecented velocity at which the Internet has developed as a backbone for globalization consolidation as a driver of economic wealth, social transformation and exiciting opportunities requires countries, especially small countries, to establish digital strategies to take advantage of these opportunities. 

In order to do so, countries must engage in a strategic thinking and planning initiatives to emerge and identify their own competitive advantages as a basis for digitalizing their own products and services. With this, a second stage of relentlessly executing will follow to successfully achieve objectives. The third stage of iteration will create innovation and advance new objectives demanded by the global environment.

Strategic thinking will seek to emanate insights of the resource base of the country, which, no matter how seemingly insignificant they appear, can be converted to a revenue generating asset, in today’s world of high demand for uniqueness. The capability and accessibility of the new smartphones, tablets, the Internet of Things, satellite phones and wifi connectivity have created a platform for products and services which were never in demand prior to the emergence of the Digital Age.

Deep horizon environmental scans are needed. It does not require political will or expediency. The democratization of technology, as Thomas L. Friedman posits in The Lexus and The Olive Tree, will ensure pressures from populations demanding more bandwidth and digital services as owernership of technology become commonplace as it already is.  When ,not if is the reality. 

It is therefore a key imperative that infrastructure for digital age living is developed. Internet bandwidth, resiliency and scalability are key front-burner issues, especially in a traditional global economy that has become sluggish. Internet access reliability, speed and cost effective are issues for immediate attention, especially in lower income countries such as the island economies of the Caribbean.

With the exception of Trinidad and Tobago, and the emerging Guyana as oil and gas driven economies, the future prospects of the smaller islands are vulnerable to traditional economic growth and Development through tourism and subsistence agriculture and farming. In these smaller islands, their economies depend to a very large extent on walk-tourism from vacationing tourists from cruising. Cruiseshipping is a big deal, and the growing cruising segment from yatchies from actress the globe are encouraging. But the model of economic dependence of tourist patronage is risky, especially as the island’s are vulnerable to natural disasters like hurricanes. Taking advantage of the digital economy is a lifeline that brings into play, culture and content, such as music, folklore, design, fabric and others.

The Caribbean Community, CARICOM, recently announced a workplan for The Single ICT Space, which is conceptualized as the digital layer of the CARICOM Single Market Economy (CSME). The Single ICT Space is described as encompassing ” the management of Regional information, Human Resources, legislation and infrastructure in the sector, to elicit maximum benefit for the Region’s populace.”

The initiative is a step in the right direction, and it makes championing the cause for the digital economy of small island states easier, with the political will already headed in the same direction. On fruition, it will be significant as island sets compete in a technologically leveled digital playing field. However there are some concerns to be raised.

The Single ICT Space is a derivative of the Regional Digital Development Strategy 2010-2014. 

In commenting, the Caribbean Telecommunications Union speaks to the difficulty of creating the Single ICT Space. The CTU says ” it is a complex ndertaking which presents many challenges.” It is also dated. The Workplan, coming from this regional body, reflect the traditional ICT thinking focusing on a regional collective of legislative and regulatory framework, infrastructure and policies with very little on the actual production of digital goods and services i.e. Content, Services in Artificial Intelligence, Programming, Design & Development.

In the final analysis, it is cumbersome, complex and complicated, and bureaucraticly boggged down by the lack of resources available to complete such an initiative. It may very be a premtive strike and with self interest by the CARICOM. The larger countries in the region may very well choose to got alone, since it requires action now, not five years from now. 

Legal and policy frameworks, infrastructure, common services are good, but the real benefit of engaging the global digital economy, is to encourage the free will and creativity of the people of the Caribbean to express themselves on a global playing field, where uniqness is a competitive advantage. 

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