Create a Silicon Valley in Jamaica
By Christine Stewart-Nembhard
We are a couple months into the new year and the question on many Jamaicans' mind is, what's in store for our economy? Are we, too, heading towards our own fiscal cliff? The devaluation of the Jamaican dollar, violent crime, increased unemployment, and the drawn-out International Monetary Fund talks mean that 2013 will be one of our most challenging years.
While traversing various communities in Jamaica, one can see the hopelessness on the faces of many of our youth. Today, you can count the number of idle hands on the road and cannot help but wonder how the human capital of this country can be put to more productive use. Unless we are able to create more jobs very soon, the crime rate will spiral.
While we would love for our graduates to stay and build the country, if they, too, cannot find or create jobs, and continue to face undue hardship, Jamaica will continue to experience massive brain drain.
The country needs solutions - and not just textbook solutions, but workable options that will move the country forward. We cannot keep going to the IMF for bailouts. The practice of borrowing from Peter to pay Paul is a vicious cycle. The country needs to become more self-reliant.
One route to self-reliance is to innovate our way out of poverty. The solution is for us to build a product-development hub in Jamaica that is similar in concept to Silicon Valley. This business hub would facilitate Jamaicans with product ideas, not just technological ideas. Scientists, engineers, programmers, researchers, and marketers, among others, could volunteer to assist to work with innovators to bring the products to market. Once the products are successfully developed, profits/earnings would be shared among the parties.
There is a saying that the burial ground is one of the richest places on earth as many persons take their ideas to the grave. This may be due to lack of opportunity to explore their development after the initial thought or idea.
Though there is always the fear of products being copied, especially by manufacturers in China, we cannot be daunted. We have to learn to teach our people to be innovative, but we must also learn how to protect the ideas and products generated in our country.
The problem is that many Jamaicans with product ideas do not know where to readily find the local skills, or where to necessarily go to get assistance with product development. Building a business hub and having the necessary local skills in one place will help retain innovative potential in Jamaica instead of persons looking overseas.
If programmes already exist to assist Jamaicans with product development, it is obvious that more awareness programmes are needed.
There are many ideas to be generated if Jamaica would just encourage innovation. Take, for example, the health sector. The health sector in the United States is a thriving business. What innovative products do we have in Jamaica that we could market internationally?
There are many students graduating from university who are sitting at home doing nothing. If we have a product-development hub, these students could be encouraged to try to come up with business ideas and then utilise the hub to bring products to market. Innovative business moguls like 'Butch' Stewart, his son Adam, Douglas Orane, Michael Lee-Chin, Don Wehby, Kenny Benjamin and Earl Jarrett, among others, can be brought on-board as mentors.
It is time Jamaica built a culture of innovation. We are a very creative people. If other countries can do it, so can we.